Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery
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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 39  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 109-110

Life and times of Sushruta: Fact and fiction

1 Department of ENT, West Wales General Hospital, Carmarthen, United Kingdom
2 Department of Plastic Surgery, George Eliot Hospital, Nuneaton, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
V K Baskaradoss
Department of ENT, West Wales General Hospital, Carmarthen, Wales, SA31 2AF.
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-0358.26919

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How to cite this article:
Baskaradoss V K, Jose R M. Life and times of Sushruta: Fact and fiction. Indian J Plast Surg 2006;39:109-10

How to cite this URL:
Baskaradoss V K, Jose R M. Life and times of Sushruta: Fact and fiction. Indian J Plast Surg [serial online] 2006 [cited 2019 Jun 17];39:109-10. Available from:

Dear Sir,

Sushruta, the father of Indian surgery is generally believed to have lived around 600 BC [Figure - 1]. However he has puzzled scholars regarding the period when he lived and practiced, with opinions ranging from 1000 BC to 1000 AD. According to Indian mythology he was the son of sage Viswamitra and a disciple of Dhanvantari, Divodasa Kasi Raja.[1]

The ancient Indian epic, Ramayana tell us about the Sage Viswamitra and his relationship with Ram and his brothers. The chronology of the epic is placed somewhere in 1800 BC, so if Sushruta was actually the son of the sage then he lived far earlier to the times he is commonly associated with. Another misleading aspect comes from his own treatise, the Sushruta Samhita, in which he mentions Lord Krishna who is described vividly in the Mahabharata, another Indian epic which is dated somewhere in the 1300 BC. So it is possible that Sushruta was of the race of Viswamitra as represented in the Mahabharata - Anushasan Parva chapter 4.

Mythology takes us through the history of medicine in India. Brahma, the creator of the universe knew the basis of Avurveda through meditation and passed it to Daksha Prajapati, who in turn taught it to the Ashwini brothers. Lord Indra learned it from the Ashwini brothers and passed it to many sages including Sage Bharadwaj (Guru of Atreya) and the King Divodasa Kasi Raja (Lord Dhanwantari). Sushruta, approached Dhanwantari to accept him as his disciple. Under him Sushruta learned the basis of Ayurveda with special emphasis on Salya (surgery) and this is supposed to have happened in the Upanishadic age. After this, he started writing the Sushruta Samhita while teaching in the Benaras University, situated by the river Ganges in north India.[2]

Nagarjuna's Upayahrdaya (500 BC) refers to Sushruta and this takes him to a period before him which was around 2000 yrs ago. Further he is mentioned in both Mahabhasya of Patanjali and the Varttikka of Katyayana. No other Sushruta is known except the medical writer who was the propagator of salyantantra. Hoernle places Sushruta at about 600 BC as he counts only 300 bones in the body and on this ground, Hoernle believes him to have lived before Atreya and Yajnavalkya and thus taking him to somewhere around 600 BC.[3]

Also Johnston-Saint opined that the linguistic style of Sushruta belonged to the period of Buddha in 600 BC.[4] However, Wise contended that the ancient form of Sanskrit used in the Sushruta Samhita was prevalent in the ninth century.[5] The Bower manuscript, which was unearthed in the 1890 is probably the most authentic document of ancient India was studied carefully by Hoernle and placed its origin to around 500 BC.[3] The fact that Sushrutha's name is mentioned in it puts him in a period of between 600 and 800 BC.

In summary the figure 600 BC often mentioned in western literature as the life and times of Sushrutha is more empirical than historical. It is quite possible that his actual time predates it by many centuries. 


  References Top

1.Tewari M. Sushruta-The father of Indian Surgery. Indian J Surg 2005;67:229-30.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.McDowell F. The Source book of Plastic Surgery. Williams and Wilkins Co: Baltimore; 1977. p. 65-85.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Hoernle AF. Studies in the Medicine of Ancient India. Part 1. Osteology or the Bones of the Human Body. Clarendon Press: Oxford; 1907. p. 109.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Johnson-Saint P. An Outline of the History of Medicine in India. Indian Med Rec 1929;49:289.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Wise TA. Commentary on the Hindu System of Medicine. Thacker: Calcutta; 1845. p. 1.  Back to cited text no. 5    


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