Āyurveda or the ‘science of longevity’ is a very ancient health science having its origins in the Veda itself. It is sometimes called ‘Aṣṭāṅga’ since it has eight limbs (aṣṭa = eight, aṅga = limb), like śalya (major surgery), śālākya (minor surgery), kāya-cikitsā (therapeutics) and so on. Among the few texts largely used by the students of Āyurveda, the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya (sometimes called Aṣṭāṅga-hṛdaya-saṁhitā also) of Vāgbhaṭa has an eminent place.
Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya is a basic extant work on Āyurveda, one of the three such works known as Bṛhattrayī, the other two being the Saṁhitās of Caraka and Suśruta.
Two Vāgbhaṭas have been known to the historians of Āyurveda, one the author of Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha and the other of Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya. Though opinion is divided as to whether the two Vāgbhaṭas are identical or different, most of the scholars are inclined towards the view that Vāgbhaṭa II was a different person and was the grandson of Vāgbhaṭa I. He was the son of one Siṁha Gupta and a disciple of Avalokiteśvara. He probably lived in the 7th/8th centuries A. D.
The work, composed in anuṣṭubh verses, comprises of six ‘sthānas’ or sections. Sūtrasthāna, the first, consists of 30 chapters and deals with many fundamental concepts of the science and prelimi-naries common to the other sections. Śarīrasthāna, the second, spread over 6 chapters deals with anatomy and physio-logy. Nidānasthāna, the third, comprising 16 chapters deals with pathology. Cikitsā-sthāna, the fourth, deals with therapeutics in its 21 chapters. Kalpasthāna, the fifth, has 6 chapters on toxicology. Uttarasthāna, the last, is a long section spread over 40 chapters and deals with a number of miscellaneous topics like paediatrics, mental diseases, diseases of the eye, the E.N.T., poisons and their antidotes, venereal diseases as also virilification.
An elaborate discussion on the chemistry of digestion and prescription of several medicines prepared out of metals like gold, silver, copper, tin and lead is one of the specialities of this work.
As many as 36 commentaries (both in Sanskrit and in vernaculars) have been listed by scholars on this work. Out of them, 11 are not available now. Of the rest, the Sarvāṅgasundarī of Aruṇadatta (A. D. 1220) is best known.
It has been quoted in the Arabic work Kitabul Fihrist (A. D. 888) under the title Asaṅkar or Aṣṭaṅkar.