Synonyms play a crucial role in Ayurveda. There is more to them than just words. They have a wide spectrum of implications depending on the context. Let’s look at the synonyms for “disease” contained in various Ayurvedic texts.
What is a disease (vyadhi)?
Ayurveda has a very interesting definition of “the disease.”
Let us look at the meaning of the word “vyadhi.” This word emerges from another word called “adhi” meaning something that brings pain. “Vyadhi” is translated as “something that makes people uncomfortable with different types of pain.”
Every disease troubles the patient on multiple levels –
A disease disturbs the natural metabolism and brings discomfort. For example, a person suffering from urinary tract disorder may suffer from burning micturition.
A disease may cause physical problems that degrade the overall quality of life. For example, a person suffering from rheumatoid arthritis is not able to walk properly.
There are two aspects of mental discomfort. Firstly, the disease can cause mental distress or interfere with the normal functioning of the brain. Schizophrenics, for example, imagine nonexistent entities. A disorder may also lead to anxiety and stress. Diabetics, for instance, may worry about their health.
Social embarrassment can result from a disease. Vitiligo patients, for instance, may feel humiliated in public.
A disease can drain the financial assets of a person. Cancer treatment, for example, can exhaust the patient’s resources financially.
Ayurvedic synonyms of disease
In Sanskrit, the word “disease” has many interesting synonyms. In each case, the meaning is very different. Here are some of the disease synonyms according to Charak Samhita.
अत्र व्याधिरामयो गद आतंको यक्ष्मा ज्वरो विकारो रोग इत्यनर्थान्तरम्।
Charak Nidan Sthan 1/5
These synonyms are not mere words. They encompass an entire range or class of disorders.
This word emerges from the Sanskrit root “am” which signifies diseases. Ayurveda has a unique concept of ama or metabolic toxins.
ama forms inside the body as a result of the wrong diet, lifestyle, or state of mind. It hinders the natural physiological functions and in this process, it forms diseases. Ama can also serve as an incubation ground for pathogens.
All general disorders produce ama or metabolic toxins in their advanced stages.
The word Gad refers to poison. The disease spreads in the body like poison and compromises vital metabolic functions. Therefore, Gad or poison is one of the synonyms for the disease.
Ama is also compared to a poison. However, there is a difference between ama and Gad. Ama is a metabolic toxin. It forms inside the body. While, Gad or poison can be external as well, for example – snake bite or contaminated food.
Ayurveda toxicology is called Agad tantra, as Agad is something that removes or neutralizes Gad (poison).
The word Atanka refers to panic. This synonym of disease conveys the psychological impact of disorders.
There are two aspects to the psychological impact of disorders.
Firstly, all disorders trigger anxiety in the patient. This anxiety reduces immunity and adds to the disease burden.
Secondly, severe disease may trigger wide-scale panic. Panic is a natural reaction especially to fatal disease conditions like cancer, HIV AIDs, etc. However, serious communicable disorders like SARS and COVID-19 may trigger social panic, which has a huge impact on the morale of individuals and society as a whole.
The word Atanka primarily refers to mental disorders or the psychosomatic impact of physical disorders.
The word Yakshma is very close to the word shaya or deterioration. Yakshma refers to the gradual breaking down or wasting of the body tissues.
There are some diseases, where tissue wasting is a major pathological outcome. For example, muscular dystrophy or wasting of the muscular tissue is a distinct group of diseases. Multiple sclerosis is a disorder characterized by a gradual wasting of the nervous tissue.
A person with tuberculosis suffers from severe weakness and gradual deterioration of all body tissues. Therefore, it is also called raj yakshma, or the king of tissue wasting diseases!
Jwara is typically associated with fever. However, in a broader perspective, Jwara stands for inflammation. And there is a significant difference between fever and inflammation, esp chronic inflammation.
Science has proven that chronic inflammation is the most serious of all diseases. There is some trace of inflammation in all disorders.
It has been known to Ayurveda for ages that Jwara is the most severe disorder. This is the reason why all ancient Ayurvedic texts list it at the top of all diseases. Ayurveda states that jwar or inflammation accompanies a person right from the time of birth to his deathbed.
The word Jwara signifies a range of fevers, chronic inflammation, and other inflammatory disorders like IBS, Crohn’s disease, etc. It may also include autoimmune disorders with inflammatory symptoms.
The word Vikara means “any distortion from the normal.” Therefore, anything that distorts the normal functions of the mind, senses, and body is a Vikara.
Vikara is like a building block for disorders. One syndrome can include many Vikara or metabolic disturbances. For example –
Anemia is a Vikara. Lack of periods is another separate Vikara. These Vikaras can exist as separate conditions. However, these and many other Vikaras also combine to form a more complex disease like PCOD.
Vikara also refers to deformity. The deformity may not be an active disease. However, it degrades the quality of life. Blindness and polio feet, for example, are the result of previous diseases, but they are not active disorders. However, the Vikara or deformity severely impairs the quality of life for the person. Therefore, a blind person who is otherwise healthy cannot be called a patient. She can be called deformed or vikrit.
The word Roga is derived from the Sanskrit root “ruj“, which means pain. Therefore, Rogas are disorders characterized by pain as their primary symptom. This category includes all acute or chronic pain-related diseases. For example, chronic pain is an integral part of migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease.
The word Papma originates from the word paap or sin. This paap or sin has multiple aspects.
- It can be a dietary fault. It is interesting to note that gluttony (excessive eating) is also a synonym for sin.
- A paap can be a lifestyle error like sleeping late at night.
- The most fascinating aspect of paap is guilt. A sense of guilt, shame, or regret has far-reaching health consequences whether these feelings are in your conscious or unconscious mind.
For example, Charak Samhita identifies sin as one of the significant causal factors of leucoderma.
Besides, paap or sin does not happen to you like seasonal changes. Paap always has a doer. It is intentional. Whether to indulge or to skip a health violation is up to you. Thus, Papma or disease is caused by willful health trespass.
The word dukh signifies misery. It is not exactly discomfort but a consequence of the same. In a hut, a monk might feel comfortable. However, a rich merchant used to luxuries may be unhappy. So, Dukha is an optional state of mind.
Some people are sick, but they are peaceful and hopeful; while others may crib about their health conditions.
Hence, Dukha symbolizes the mental impact of a disorder, or mental disorder itself. It is the mother of disorders like depression, anxiety, compulsive eating, etc.
The word abadh emerges from the word bandha which means hindrance. All diseases are essentially a barrier to normal metabolic functions.
However, there is a range of disorders where obstruction or restriction is the central feature. For example, diseases like tumors, atherosclerotic plaques, congestive respiratory disorders create blockade in the metabolic pathway. Thus, abadh may refer to all kinds of obstructive disorders in Ayurveda.
The word tapa means burning or inflamed. It also refers to tapas meaning penance. Fire converts everything to ashes. Hence, tapa refers to transformational change. The disease produces a pathological change in normal physiology. An Uptapa (disease) may burn and destroy the body tissues.
Jwar is almost synonymous with this term. As per Ayurveda, jwar is the most serious illness that accompanies a person from birth to death. Uptapa may be a less serious condition.
There are many names for “disease” in Ayurveda. Each name has a unique meaning and context. Each name also denotes a different range of disorders. For example, jwar, on the other hand, refers to inflammatory disorders, while Papma, on the other hand, means the mental impact of disorders.
I hope this blog helps you to gain a deeper understanding of Ayurvedic pathology. In the next blog, let us discuss the Ayurvedic classification of diseases.