Ayurveda is believed to be an alternative medicine system that has its origins in the Indian subcontinent. It is also considered to be a branch of the Vedas. This stream of knowledge and wisdom in the field of medicine was passed down from generation to generation, similar to the way Vedic scriptures and Vedic literature were. As per legends, Ayurveda was founded by Brahma (Creator), and this science was passed from one celestial being to the other. The knowledge of Ayurveda is endless and shows itself in each of the cycles of the formation of the universe.
As the story goes, when required, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Lord Dhanvantari and reinvented the tradition of Ayurveda in the universe to help reduce some of humanity’s trials and tribulations.
Who is Lord Dhanvantari?
Dhanvantari is renowned as a divine physician or a doctor of celestial beings. He is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the God of Sustenance and Protection. He is widely regarded as the deity who gave us Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine. Thereby, he is gratefully honored as the ‘Father of Ayurveda’. As per a popular story, during the Samudramathan, Lord Dhanvantari emerged from the churning of the Ocean with the nectar of immortality to save celestial beings. In Hinduism, it is a common practice for devotees to seek the blessings of Lord Dhanvantari for good health for themselves and/or others, particularly during Dhanteras or Dhanvantari Trayodashi (National Ayurveda Day).
Origins in Hindu Scriptures
It is detailed in both Balkanda of Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana that Lord Dhanvantari arose from the Ocean of Milk and with a pot of Amrit (nectar for immortality) during the Samudra Manthana while the massive ocean of milk was churned by the Devas as well as the Asuras. They joined hands to churn the ocean of milk with the help of the Mandara mountain and the Vasuki serpent to obtain the elixir of life. The Asuras grabbed the pot of Amrit. But Lord Vishnu assumed the Mohini avatar and took away the nectar from the Asuras. Lord Dhanvantari is also credited for disseminating the science of Ayurveda. The treatise of Dhanvantari-Nighantu explains Dhanvantari’s medicinal plants.
Hindu Iconography of Lord Dhanvantari
Hindu scriptures commonly showcase Lord Dhanvantari in his divine form. He is depicted as a handsome man with a blue complexion and is usually clad in bright yellow silk. He is generally shown to have four hands. On one hand, he holds a well-adorned pot containing the exquisite Amrit (nectar). In another hand, he is shown to hold the blood-sucking insect leech, which is considered to have played a vital role in the ancient science of medicine.
A few texts depict him as holding Amrit (nectar), a conch, a book of Ayurveda, and medicinal herbs. Certain texts portray him holding Shankha, Chakra, Jalauka (leech), and a pot encompassing Amrit. He is often represented holding a leech in one of his hands as opposed to scriptures. In certain places, he is depicted wearing a tulsi-seed garland around his neck along with a plant-wreath halo.
Legend behind Lord Dhanvantari
According to the ancient Hindu scriptures, when the universe was created, the Devas and the Asuras were keen to obtain Amrit – the divine elixir of life as well as the antidote to death, which would put them on the path to immortality. The nectar could only be achieved by churning the ocean. So, the Devas and Asuras joined hands to complete this challenging task. The Madura Mountain was used as the churning pole and the hundred-headed serpent Vasuki as the churning rope. They looped the serpent around the mountain and pulled it to and fro. The ocean of milk fizzed and gurgled as they churned it.
All types of herbs were cast into the churning. It was so laborious that Lord Vishnu himself had to show up in several avatars to assist them in this process and avert it from going nowhere. He even materialized as Lord Vishnu himself where he sat atop the mountain and instilled Indra and his comrades with energy. The churning of the ocean of milk also generated a lethal poison that only Lord Shiva could gulp without being impacted by it. When he was swallowing the deadly poison, his better half Parvati pressed his neck so it was not able to reach his stomach. It ended up staying in Lord Shiva’s throat, thereby turning the color of Shiva’s neck to blue due to its potency. This is the reason why the deity is also referred to as Neelkantha, the blue-necked one.
As the churning persisted, Lord Dhanvantari (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) at last appeared. He was a handsome young man who was strongly built with a broad chest and bluish-black complexion. He had sturdy arms, reddish eyes and was draped in bright yellow with curly hair that was anointed with oil, and was wearing shimmering pearl earrings. As he materialized, he was holding a conch, healing herbs, leech, a chakra (one of the godly weapons of Lord Vishnu), and a pot of ambrosia.
The greedy asuras grabbed the pot filled with nectar. The demons began arguing with each other as to who would drink the Amrit first. Lord Dhanvantri took advantage of the in-fighting and decided to deceive the asuras. Lord Vishnu decided to assume the form of the seductress Mohini, a drop-dead gorgeous woman who was the object of desire of every demon and was able to retrieve the nectar from them. Lord Vishnu circulated the Amrit to all the devas and left nothing to the asuras. As soon as the demigods were able to drink the nectar, they were revitalized with energy and successfully defeated the demons.
While the churning was ongoing, Lord Vishnu informed the devas that Lord Dhanvantari would emerge again in this universe to teach the science of Ayurveda. After Lord Indra witnessed humanity plagued by pain and disease, he beseeched Lord Dhanvantari to appear into the material world and impart the knowledge of Ayurveda to human beings.
As per the forecast of Lord Vishnu, Lord Dhanvantari was born on earth. According to stories, the ruler of Kashi (Benares) King Dirghatamas was performing rigorous austerities and worshipped Lord Dhanvantari in the hopes that he would be happy and bless him with a son. Pleased with the king’s devotion, the lord soon appeared before him and bestowed him with a boon. The ruler requested the king to be born as his offspring. The deity granted him his boon.
Soon after, the royal household of Kashi was blessed with a baby boy who was Lord Dhanvantri in human form and eventually succeeded as the king. Even as a little boy, he was blessed with ascetic qualities and was exceptionally disciplined, performing severe austerities with ease. He was able to teach Ayurveda orally to the many sages and rishis (seers) who eventually became his disciples. His teachings are documented in the Agni Purana. As per the scriptures, a devotee who sincerely worships Lord Dhanvantri can be released from all diseases.
Significance of Lord Dhanvantari
Lord Dhanvantari offered the universe the elixir of life – Amrit – that was considered to have the power to treat any ailment and deliver eternal life – key to immortality. It is not a surprise that he is acknowledged as this renowned Vedic physician and an exemplary doctor who blessed the world with the science of Ayurveda in the field of medicine. Therefore, Lord Dhanwantari is also referred to as the Father of Ayurveda. This deity is worshipped all over India as the God of Medicine.
Teachings of Lord Dhanvantari
It was Lord Dhanvantari who dispensed the knowledge of Ayurveda to the globe. He methodically segregated Ayurveda into eight sections, each with a different specialization. This system of medicine was made even more popular and passed down from generations thanks to his disciples, among whom Sushruta (father of surgeries) made an immense contribution.
Lord Dhanvantari’s teachings are chronicled in Agni Purana via the lessons imparted by his celebrated disciple Sushruta. This deity was able to show us how to reduce suffering through his human appearance as Kashiraja. Ayurveda emphasizes and promotes human health in general and not merely the curative element of medical science.
Interesting Facts about Lord Dhanvantari
Lord Dhanvantari was blessed with the divine power to cure all kinds of diseases and ailments, including the ones considered to be incurable. According to a couple of traditional tales, the deity is believed to have the magical ability to cure snake bites and can also counterbalance the impact of lethal poisons.
As per ancient Hindu scriptures, it was discovered that Lord Dhanvantari was the one who found out about the preservative properties of salt and antiseptic properties of turmeric. Furthermore, the deity also used to integrate these medicines in the treatments he provided. Several stories consider Lord Dhanvantari to be an expert in modern medical practices like plastic surgeries.
Lord Dhanvantari is typically depicted holding a leech (jalauka) in one of his hands. Why? This is because the leech held by the deity was considered to be a part of the doctor’s kit in the ancient era as it was known to suck out contaminated blood from the patient’s body. Even today, its saliva can be used to avert clotting.
How to Perform Dhanvantari Pooja at Home?
- Begin with Achamama by holding water in the right hand, Sankalpa, trailed by Athmashodham, which is dropping a little bit of water on yourself.
- Devotees should meditate and set up the idol of Lord Dhanvantari.
- Now you must cleanse the feet of the deity and offer flowers, Gandha, Dhoop as well as perform Panchamrith Abhishekham.
- You must offer Naivedya, Tamboola, and Dakshina.
- Perform Pradakshina and finish the puja by reciting the Dhanvantari shlokas.
Benefits of Worshipping Lord Dhanvantari and Performing Puja
Praying to Lord Dhanvantari and performing the puja with utmost sincerity is believed to offer relief to devotees who are afflicted with physical, mental and psychological issues. This puja can be conducted by parents whose kids are suffering from ill health or those who have chronic health conditions. A few individuals perform this puja to improve their health and life in terms of longevity. Ayurvedic practitioners and doctors also perform this puja on Trayodashi day to pray for a successful career.
You can also book Dhanvantari Puja online with Rudra Centre where it will be performed by learned Karam Kandi priests from Shivakasi.
If you wish to visit temples to pray to Lord Dhanvantari, there are several shrines exclusively dedicated to the deity, particularly in South India. One of the most popular is Thottuva in Kerala. Notably, this site is also renowned for its Ayurveda practice. A couple of other famous Dhanvantari temples in Tamil Nadu is the renowned Ranganathaswmay temple at Srirangam and Varadarajaswamy shrine at Kanchipuram.
The blessings of Lord Dhanvantari can help worshippers to seek respite from grave illnesses and incurable diseases. They can also be rid of physical suffering. The deity is known to bless his worshippers with robust health and help them lead a long and contented life.
Festivals Dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari
Dhanteras Lord Dhanvantari’s birth is celebrated with great pomp and fanfare by devotees as well as by the practitioners of Ayurveda annually, on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. Why is it celebrated? As per mythology, Lord Dhanvantari materialized with Amrutha Kalasam. He is believed to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu.
How do people celebrate Dhanteras? A lot of people adorn the entrance of their homes by drawing beautiful and colorful rangolis. Many in India also buy precious metals such as gold and silver on this occasion. This is because the devotees believe that purchasing metals will bring them good luck.
It typically indicates the beginning of the Diwali festival. In South India, usually in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, a few temples are devoted to Lord Dhanvantari, God of Medicine and Health. In these temples, Dhanvantari Jayanthi is observed with utmost dedication and fervor.
It is also marked as National Ayurveda Day in India. The Ayurveda practitioners pray to the enormous statue of Lord Dhanvantari in the Ayurveda Maha Sammelan office, Dhanwantari Bhawan in Delhi.