Lord Dhanwantri

Lord Dhanwantri - The Originator of Ayurveda

The Originator of Ayurveda

Lord Dhanwantri - The Originator of Ayurveda
"Within all of us is the archetype of the Divine healer. This Divine healer is the true healer in all beings, not any particular individual or special personality. To heal ourselves or others we must set it in motion within ourselves. Lord Dhanwantari, an incarnation of the God Vishnu, represents this truth in the tradition of Ayurveda. The origins of the ancient healing science known as Ayurveda are a part of the cosmic antiquity. According to the ancient text Charaka-samhita, this "Science of Life and Longevity" is eternal and is revealed in each universe in each of its infinite cycles of creation and destruction. This healing science is generally revealed by great sages or demigods.

And the reply Supreme Lord Himself descends as His Avatara (incarnation) Dhanwantari and re-inaugurates the tradition of Ayurveda. This extremely rare appearance of God is recorded in the Vedic literature of ancient India.

Dhanwantari's appearance is celebrated each year on the 13th day (trayodasi) of the waxing moon, usually 2 days before the Diwali.

LORD DHANWANTRI'S The Birth of the Unborn

The avatara of Dhanwantari appeared billions of years ago. Although an avatara is unborn, He takes His divine birth among the living beings to display His divine pastimes.

The First Appearrance of Dhanwantari

In this epoch (kalpa), He first appeared during the great churning of the cosmic milk ocean to deliver amrita (nectar) for the nourishment of the demigods. The churning of the milk ocean is one of the most famous episodes in Puranic history and is celebrated in major way every twelve years in the festival known as Kumbha Mela. The story is related in the Srimad Bhagavatam, a major work that describes the avataras in great detail. Here is what happened:

The great leader of the demigods Indra was riding on his elephant, when he came across Durvasa Muni. Seeing the great demigod, Durvasa offered him a special garland (mala). Indra accepted this garland and put it on the trunk of the elephant. The elephant threw the garland onto the floor, thus enraging Durvasa Muni. In a fit of anger, Durvasa Muni explained that the garland was the dwelling of Sri (fortune) and was therefore to be treated as prasada. He then cursed Indra and all the demigods to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune (Sri).

In the ensuing battles, the demigods were defeated in battle and the demons headed by Bali gained control of the universe. The demigods sought out the help of Lord Vishnu, who instructed them in the art of diplomacy. The demigods then entered into an alliance with the demons to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among them. Of course, the demigods were told by Vishnu that He would arrange for them alone to obtain the nectar, which would empower them to defeat the demons.

All kinds of herbs were cast into the milk ocean and using Mandara mountain as the churning rod and Vasuki as the cord, they proceeded to churn the ocean. This churning was so arduous that Lord Vishnu Himself interceded in so many ways to aid the demigods: He was present as Lord Ajita pulling on the side of the gods, as Lord Kurma who supported the great Mandara mountain which was in danger of sinking, and Lord Vishnu Himself sat atop the Mountain infusing the demigods and the serpent Vasuki with energy. Many great beings and objects were produced from the ocean and were accepted by various demigods as offerings. It might not be known to most of us that Devi Laxmi, the goddess of fortune, appeared from the ocean and Vishnu and Her were reunited as husband and wife after having been separated for many ages.

Then as they continued churning, a very wonderful male person appeared. Srimad Bhagavatam explains, "He was strongly built; His arms were very long, stout and strong; His eyes were reddish, and His complexion was grey. He was very young, He was garlanded with flowers, and His entire body was fully decorated with various ornaments."

Lord Dhanwantari was "dressed in yellow garments and wore brightly polished earrings made of pearl. The tips of His hair were anointed with oil and His chest was very broad. His body had all good features, and He was stout and strong as a lion. In His hand, He carried a pot of nectar – The Amrit Kalash."

The demons stole the jug of nectar which shocked all demigods. Then Lord Vishnu again helped them and appeared as Mohini, a beautiful woman, who fascinated the demons and recovered the nectar from them. The demigods took the nectar and drank it and were invigorated with energy. Thereafter, the demigods fought the demons and were victorious. They greatly rejoiced and worshipped Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, and resumed their position in the heavens.

Dhanwantari's Second Appearance

The second appearance occurred at the beginning of the reign of the current Manu in the second Dvapara-yuga, two billion years ago. Lord Vishnu foretold at the time of the churning that Dhanwantari would appear again in the human society and be offered sacrifices and worshipped by human beings. He would also teach them the science of Ayurveda. Dhanwantari at that time was residing in the heavens and Lord Indra seeing the misery of human beings afflicted by disease on earth, requested the Lord to teach Ayurveda to the human race.

At the same time, the King Dirghatamas of Kasi was performing penance, desiring a son. The king desired to propitiate Lord Dhanwantari for the sake of a son. Thereupon, Lord Dhanwantari appeared to him and urged the king to choose a boon as he pleased. The king said, "O Lord, if You are pleased with me, be my son, bestower of my goal." The Lord replied, "So be it," and He vanished.

Lord Dhanwantari was then born in the royal household of Kasi. He developed ascetic tendencies even as a young boy and performed severe austerities. Lord Brahma with great difficulty persuaded Him to accept lordship over the city of Kasi and since then He bacame known as Kasi-raja. As a king He prepared the samhitas on Ayurveda in eight divisions for the benefit of humanity.

Lord Dhanwantari's teachings are recorded in the Agni Purana 279-289 as well as through the teachings of His disciple Sushruta. Srimad Bhagavatam states "smrita-matrarti-nasanah" One who remembers the name of Lord Dhanwantari can be relieved from all diseases.

Iconography of Lord Dhanwantri

According to the Vishnu-dharmottara-purana which is a major text on iconography, Dhanwantari is to be presented as surupa (handsome), and priyadarshana (pleasant-looking) with two hands, each carrying amrit-kalash (pots of nectar). More frequently, the icons of Dhanwantari are four-armed, carrying a conch and discus in the upper arms, and a jalauaka (leech) and amrita-kalash in the lower hands.

A final note:

Those who are new to Vaishnava and Puranic thought may wonder at the purpose of the Lord's array of avatars especially during the churning of the milk ocean. After all if God is all powerful, why couldn't He accomplish all His ends at once? Why does He have to act through so many different forms? In answer to this, the Vedic literature affirms the omnipotence of the Lord in His various avatars. However, when the Lord descends, He seamlessly fuses His serious purpose (in protecting the demigods and humanity) with sheer sport. In the form of Mohini, He enchants the demons and the demigods. As Lord Dhanwantari, He diminishes the misery of the world by teaching the medical sciences. As Lord Ajita, He enjoys assisting His devotees directly in their struggle for victory. At times He even desires His devotees to be glorified, which is why Lord Shiva drank the poison produced of the ocean. The poison turned his neck dark-blue, hence the name Neelkantha. In short, although the devotees never stop glorifying the Lord, no one can fully understand His Divine play.