LORD DHANVANTRI – The Original Teacher of AyurvedaPaul Batth
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 this energy in motion within ourselves. Lord Dhanvantari, 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 was revealed by the great sages or rishis of our time. The Supreme Lord Himself descended as an Avatara (incarnation) named Lord Dhanvantari, bringing with him the knowledge of Ayurveda. This extremely rare appearance of God is recorded in the Vedic literature of ancient India.
The First Appearance of Dhanvantari
In this particular time period (kalpa), Lord Dhanvantari 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 a 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 (blessed offering). He then cursed Indra and all the demigods were drained of all strength, energy, and fortune (Sri). In the ensuing battles, the demigods were defeated in battle and the demons 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 amongst them. All kinds of herbs were cast into the milky ocean and using Mandara mountain as the churning rod and Vasuki as the cord, they proceeded to churn. This churning was so arduous that Lord Vishnu Himself interceded to aid the demigods: He was present as the embodiment of Lord Ajita pulling on the side of the gods; and as Lord Kurma who supported the great Mandara mountain which was in danger of sinking. Additionally, Lord Vishnu Himself sat atop the Mountain infusing the demigods and the serpent Vasuki with energy. 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 Dhanvantari 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 shocking all the 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.
Dhanvantari’s Second Appearance
The second appearance occurred at the beginning of the reign of the current Manu in the second Dvaparayuga, two billion years ago. Lord Vishnu foretold at the time of the churning that Dhanvantari would appear again in human society and be worshipped by human beings. He would also teach them the science of Ayurveda. Dhanvantari 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 beings. At the same time, the King Dirghatamas of Kasi was performing penance, desiring a son. The king desired to propitiate Lord Dhanvantari for the sake of a son. Thereupon, Lord Dhanvantari 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 Dhanvantari 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 became known as Kasi-Raja. As a king He prepared the Samhitas on Ayurveda in eight divisions for the benefit of humanity. Lord Dhanvantari’s teachings are recorded in the Agni Purana 279-289 as well as through the teachings of His disciple Sushruta. SrimadBhagavatam states “smrita-matrarti-nasanah” One who remembers the name of Lord Dhanvantari can be relieved from all diseases.
Iconography of Lord Dhanvantri
According to the Vishnu-dharmottara-purana which is a major text on iconography, Dhanvantari 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 Dhanvantari 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 incarnations especially during the churning of the milk- ocean. After all if the Creator is all- pervading, 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 support. In the form of Mohini, He enchants the demons and the demigods. As Lord Dhanvantari, He diminishes the misery of the world by teaching the science of life. 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.