Nāvanītaka/ The Bower Manuscript

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Nāvanītaka/ Bower Manuscript: The oldest Indian manuscript extant

Nāvanītaka- The Bower Manuscript
From: kvramakrishnarao.wordpress.com


M. WINTERNITZ , 17 July 1902: The Times of India

DURING the last twelve years or so, the attention of scholars has been repeatedly arrested by remarkable discoveries of ancient Hindu manuscripts in Central Asia. In 1889, Lieutenant Bower found an ancient birch-bark manuscript in Kuchãr, in the northern portion of Chinese Turkestan. This “Bower Manuscript “was at once recognised as the oldest Indian manuscript extant. In 1891 and 1892, M. Petrovsky, Imperial Consul-General of Russia at Kashgar, and the Rev. F. Weber, missionary in Leh, Ladakh, made no less important finds of old manuscripts in the region of Kashgar. Again, in 1897, the French traveller M. Dutreuil de Rhins found, in the vicinity of Khotan, some leaves of a very ancient birch-bark manuscript, in which M. Senart recognised fragments of a Prakrit version of the well-known Buddhist text, the Dhammapada. Meanwhile Dr. Hoernle, then principal of the Calcutta Madrasah, to whom we are indebted for a splendid edition of the “Bower Manuscript,” had drawn the attention of the Government of India to the remarkable records of ancient Hindu civilisation to be found in Central Asia, and on his recommendation instructions were issued to the British officials in Kashgar and Ladakh concerning the acquisition of antiquities from Chinese Turkestan, and a “British Collection of Central-Asian Antiquities” was gradually formed at Calcutta.

Soma, food of the immortals

Marco Leonti. Laura Casu, The Times of India

Ethnopharmacological relevance

Food is medicine and vice versa. In Hindu and Ayurvedic medicine, and among human cultures of the Indian subcontinent in general, the perception of the food-medicine continuum is especially well established. The preparation of the exhilarating, gold-coloured Soma, Amrita or Ambrosia, the elixir and food of the ‘immortals’–the Hindu pantheon–by the ancient Indo-Aryans, is described in the Rigveda in poetic hymns. Different theories regarding the botanical identity of Soma circulate, but no pharmacologically and historically convincing theory exists to date. We intend to contribute to the botanical, chemical and pharmacological characterisation of Soma through an analysis of two historical Amrita recipes recorded in the Bower Manuscript. The recipes are referred therein as panaceas (clarified butter) and also as a medicine to treat nervous diseases (oil), while no exhilarating properties are mentioned. Notwithstanding this, we hypothesise, that these recipes are related to the ca. 1800 years older Rigvedic Soma. We suppose that the psychoactive Soma ingredient(s) are among the components, possibly in smaller proportions, of the Amrita recipes preserved in the Bower Manuscript.

Materials and methods

The Bower Manuscript is a medical treatise recorded in the 6th century A.D. in Sanskrit on birch bark leaves, probably by Buddhist monks, and unearthed towards the end of the 19th century in Chinese Turkestan. We analysed two Amrita recipes from the Bower Manuscript, which was translated by Rudolf Hoernle into English during the early 20th century. A database search with the updated Latin binomials of the herbal ingredients was used to gather quantitative phytochemical and pharmacological information.


Together, both Amrita recipes contain around 100 herbal ingredients. Psychoactive alkaloid containing species still important in Ayurvedic, Chinese and Thai medicine and mentioned in the recipe for ‘Amrita-Prâsa clarified butter’ and ‘Amrita Oil’ are: Tinospora cordifolia (Amrita, Guduchi), three Sida spp., Mucuna pruriens, Nelumbo nucifera, Desmodium gangeticum, and Tabernaemontana divaricata. These species contain several notorious and potential psychoactive and psychedelic alkaloids, namely: tryptamines, 2-phenylethylamine, ephedrine, aporphines, ibogaine, and L-DOPA. Furthermore, protoberberine alkaloids, tetrahydro-β-carbolines, and tetrahydroisoquinolines with monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAO-I) activity but also neurotoxic properties are reported.


We propose that Soma was a combination of a protoberberine alkaloids containing Tinospora cordifolia juice with MAO-I properties mixed together with a tryptamine rich Desmodium gangeticum extract or a blending of Tinospora cordifolia with an ephedrine and phenylethylamine-rich Sida spp. extract. Tinospora cordifolia combined with Desmodium gangeticum might provide a psychedelic experience with visual effects, while a combination of Tinospora cordifolia with Sida spp. might lead to more euphoric and amphetamine-like experiences.

Sushruta, Ayurveda and Soma

The Times of India

"Suśruta (Devanagari सुश्रुत, an adjective meaning "very famous") was an ancient Indian surgeon commonly credited as the author of the treatise Sushruta Samhita.....He is said to have been a physician originally active in Varanasi. His period is usually placed between the period of 1200 BC - 600 BC.....One of the earliest known mention of the name is from the Bower Manuscript (4th or 5th century), where Sushruta is listed as one of the ten sages residing in the Himalayas..... Texts also suggest that he learned surgery at Kasi from Lord Dhanvantari, the god of medicine in Hindu mythology."

"Sushruta, one of the earliest surgeons of the recorded history (600 B.C.) is believed to be the first individual to describe plastic surgery. Sushruta who lived nearly 150 years before Hippocrates vividly described the basic principles of plastic surgery in his famous ancient treatise 'Sushruta Samhita' more than 2500 years ago.".....https://ispub.com/IJPS/4/2/8232

"The great early Ayurvedic doctor, Sushrut, mentions 24 Soma plants, growing mainly on Himalayan lakes and named after Vedic meters. He mentions 18 additional Soma like plants, which are mainly nervine herbs. Soma, therefore, was likely part of an entire science of sacred plant preparations and not just one plant in particular. A number of Soma-producing and Somalike plants existed. The search for one single Soma plant is therefore misleading."....http://vedanet.com/2012/06/13/the-secret-of-the-soma-plant/

"The mythico-religious shlokas (hymns) associated with this civilization were compiled in Sanskrit language between 3000 and 1000 B.C. in the form of Vedas, the oldest sacred books of the Hindu religion. This era is referred to as the Vedic period (5000 years B.C) in Indian history during which the the four Vedas, namely the Rigveda, the Samaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda were compiled. All the four Vedas are in the form of shlokas (hymns), verses, incantations and rites in Sanskrit language.3 ‘Sushruta Samhita' is believed to be a part of Atharvaveda. ....‘Sushruta Samhita'(Sushruta's compendium), which describes the ancient tradition of surgery in Indian medicine is considered as one of the most brilliant gems in Indian medical literature. This treatise contains detailed descriptions of teachings and practice of the great ancient surgeon Sushruta which has considerable surgical knowledge of relevance even today."....https://ispub.com/IJPS/4/2/8232

"The exact period of Sushruta is unclear but most scholars put him him between 600 to 1000 BC......Sushruta lived, taught and practiced his art in the area that corresponds presently to the city of Varanasi (Kashi, Benares) in northern part of India. "

"...This master literature remained preserved for many centuries exclusively in the Sanskrit language which prevented the dissemination. of the knowledge to the west and other parts of the world. Later the original text was lost and the present extant one is believed to be a revision by the Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu (circa AD 360-350). In the eighth century A.D., ‘Sushruta Samhita' was translated into Arabic as Kitab-Shaw Shoon-a-Hindi and Kitab-i-Susrud. The translation of ‘Sushruta Samhita' was ordered by the Caliph Mansur (A.D.753 -774)..... One of the most important documents in connection with ancient Indian medicine is the Bower Manuscript, a birch-bark medical treatise discovered in Kuchar (in Eastern Turkistan), dated around AD 450 and is housed in the Oxford University library..... The first European translation of ‘Sushruta Samhita' was published by Hessler in Latin and into German by Muller in the early 19th century. The first complete English translation was done by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna in three volumes in 1907 at Calcutta."......https://ispub.com/IJPS/4/2/8232

"The Bower Manuscript is an early birch bark document, dated to the Gupta era (between the 4th and the 6th century). It is written in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit using the Late Brahmi script. The manuscript is notable for preserving one of the earliest treatises on Indian medicine (Ayurveda). Rudolf Hoernle (1910) suggested that the text of the manuscript contains excerpts of the (otherwise unknown) Bheda Samhita on medicine.The medical parts (I-III) constitute may be based on similar types of medical writings antedating the composition of the saṃhitās of Caraka, Suśruta, and as such rank with the earliest surviving texts on Ayurveda.....It is today preserved as part of the collections of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. "

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