Ayurveda, the ancient science of life has eight branches that are in many ways parallel to the areas of specialization in modern Western medicine. Damstra Chikitsa is Ayurveda’s Toxicology branch, for it deals with the science of poisons. It is also known as Agada Tantra. The word ‘damstra’ refers to the teeth of poisonous snakes, while ‘agada’ is a term for any agent that frees the body of ‘gada’ or disease. The tradition of Agada Tantra goes back to the time of the great sage and ayurvedic physician Kashyapa also known as Vriddhakashyapa. He established a school of toxicology, and the students of this school later became the royal physicians of the kings of yore. These physicians who specialized in Agada Tantra were entrusted with the task of not just treating cases of poisoning but also of protecting the members of the royal family from poisoning- and when the need arose, administering poison to their enemies!
Types of Poisons
According to Agada Tantra, there are two types of poisons- natural and artificial poisons. Natural poisons are further classified into animate and inanimate groups. Animate poisons are the venom of animals like snakes, scorpions, worms and insects. Inanimate poisons are toxins that have plant origin, like belladonna and aconite as well as toxic minerals, metals or metal ores, like lead and mercury. Artificial poisons are those that man has invented by combining different types of animate and inanimate poisons.
Agada Tantra deals with different methods of flushing poisons out of the body, and recommends antidotes for specific poisons. It also deals with air and water pollution that are the basic causes for epidemics. The toxins prepared in Agada Tantra are also used to treat several common and chronic diseases like vomiting, eye medication, and removal of residual poison as well as fever, cough, and diarrhea. What is interesting is that Agada Tantra often utilizes one poison to treat the effect of another poison. For example, in case of root poisoning, the venom of snake is used as an antidote whereas in certain cases of snake poisoning; plant poisons are used against them. Moreover, some poisonous minerals and metals like diamonds, rubies and even lead are used as medicines after proper processing.
The practice of Agada Tantra is traditionally administered by Vishavaidya families. They are specialists in this branch of Ayurveda and very often their knowledge is passed on from father to offspring so that it becomes a hereditary calling. Kerala, the lush green state in South India is especially famed for its ‘vishavaidyas’. This is because its abundant vegetation is the home of a rich variety of wildlife, many of which are poisonous. Snakes especially were very common in the olden days, and these ayurvedic physicians were often able to forecast, with the help of astrology, when a snake bite victim would be brought before them. It is said that these great physicians would collect the herbs needed for treatment the previous day itself, so that when the victim was rushed to them, treatment could be started at once without delay!
Today, when the very air we breathe and water that we drink are polluted, Agada Tantra is the path that will help us take the special care needed to eliminate unnecessary toxins from our body and enjoy the best of health.