William Harvey who was born in 1578 A.D in Folkestone, Kent discovered the blood circulation in 1628 A.D. he said that the heart is essential for blood circulation but could not describe how blood reaches the heart.1 Another scientist Marcello Malphigi from Italy who was an embryologist discovered capillaries and solved the missing links in the year 1661.
He is called as the father of microscopical anatomy, histology, and physiology.
But there is a fact that the heart and the process of blood circulation were known to the people of ancient India. In the Shatapath Brahmana the heart which is called Hradayam (हृदयं) in Sanskrit is defined as follows:
The word Hrdayam is made up of three Sanskrit root words,
“Hru” meaning ‘harinay’ or that receives or gathers.
“Da” meaning ‘daanaay’ or that gives or donates.
“yam” meaning ‘ayaati’ or that circulates.
Hence the etymology of the word itself describes the function of Hrdayam or the heart. Its description has also been given in the Yajurveda as:
“Pundareekam navdwaram tribhirgunebhiravritam |
Tasmin yad yaksham maatvanvattad vai brahmavido viduh ||”
– Yajurveda, 18|8|43
Meaning: The anatomical structure of the heart looks like an inverted lotus bud with nine openings in all – three in the right atrium, four in the left atrium and one each in the left and right ventricle.2 Not only the heart but also the description of arteries, capillaries, and veins can be seen in the Brihat Trayee. Brihat-Trayi constitutes the following three famous ancient Indian medical scriptures:
- Charaka Samhita which was composed by Agnivesha in 2nd century B.C. and later edited by Charaka.
- Sushruta Samhita which was written by Sushruta in 5th century B.C
- Ashtanga Hridayam Samhita was composed of Vagbhata in 6th century B.C.
- In Brihat Trayee the terms like arteries, veins, and capillaries are described in Sanskrit as Dhamani, Shiras, and Srothas.
“Dhmānāddhamanyaha saravaṇat srōtamsi saranat shiraah ||”
Meaning: Blood flows with force in dhamani, seepage takes place in srotas and blood flows in shiras. Here the inherent relationship between the arteries, veins, and capillaries in cyclic motion with the heart acting as a pump is well described in the Brihat trayee.3
Sushrut in the Uttar Tantra of Sushrut Samhita has described heart diseases as:
“Kapha pittavaruddhastu maruto rasa murchitah |
Hrdisthah kurute shulam uchchavasarodhakam param ||”
Meaning: Doshas like Pita and Kapha are the causes of heart diseases and thus thickening or narrowing of coronary arteries resulting in a heart attack.
Hence it is clear that many centuries before William Harvey and Marcello Malphigi gave the description of heart and blood circulation, these things were known to the people of ancient Bharat/India which can be seen through the description in different Sanskrit scriptures.
Sharma Aachaarya Privrate, “Ayurveda ka Vaigyaanik Itihaas”, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi (2003)