Dhanavantari … and his leech.

Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.
Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.

Today is Dhanvantari Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Dhanavantari, patron-god of Ayurveda and the healing sciences.

Bhagvat Purana tell us that Dhanvantari emerged during Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean.

Dhanvantari’s anniversary falls on the thirteenth day of the dark half of Ashvina, two days before Deepavali. Hence, it is called Dhantrayodashi. This day also honors the goddess of wealth, and is also called Dhanteras.

Ayurveda is the world’s first organised system of medicine. Acharya Charaka’s Samhita is the first written compendium of Ayurveda and dates back to 800 BCE.  Acharya Susruta, the world’s first surgeon, compiled his Samhita during 600 BCE. But the actual practice of Ayurveda goes back much further.

Dhanvantari is accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu and is usually portrayed with four arms. In his upper arms, he holds Vishnu’s Shanku-chakra (Conch and Discus). In his lower left hand, he holds a kamandal (copper pot) containing amrita and more important, in his lower right hand, he holds a leech.

That’s right. A leech.

Known as ‘jalouka’ in Ayurveda, leeches have been used in India since Vedic times. Susruta describes twelve species of leeches, of which six were used by him for various ailments.

Over time, leech therapy spread across the world. Leeches are still used in modern medicine. What is significant is that leeches are still used for the same ailments that Susruta used them for, two thousand years ago.

Leeches are used in reconstructive surgery, varicose veins, psoriasis, thrombophlebitis, arthritis and gangrene. Leech saliva has several proteins with medicinal properties, notably anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, vasodilation and anticlotting.

There are just a few temples in India specifically devoted to Dhanvantari, most of which are in Kerala. However, in almost any major Vishnu temple, like the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam for example, you will find a Dhanvantari shrine.

And he will invariably have a leech in his lower right hand.

Many ‘modern’ discoveries that the West lays claim to, originate from India. Leech therapy is a typical example.

Om Dhanavantaraye namaha!

Cheers … Srini.

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