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Potency Therapy in Classical Indian Medicine

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This paper examines the traditional Indian ideas about impotency, virility, and potency therapy as found principally in the Sanskrit medical treatises of Caraka and Suśruta. Included is a detailed discussion of the potency formulas and what they contain. The analysis of this material leads to six important conclusions: 1. Caraka relies on a brahminic explanation of and justification for potency therapy, which is wanting in Suśruta. 2. The use of symbolism to empower certain medicines seems to reflect a local tradition of folk medicine. 3. Certain animals are used as potency symbols. A similar use of potent animals occurs throughout Sanskrit literature. 4. The mention of meat in the potency of formulas of both treatises indicates that meat-eating was not forbidden at this time in certain contexts. 5. All but one of the potency formulas were to be consumed, and where believed to give general nourishment and bodily strength. Moreover, the consumption of animal semen as an ingredient in certain formulas was forbidden by the twelfth century CE. 6. The only non-consumed potency medicine was a foot balm, which may have been derived from an early tradition of Indian eroticism, known as Kāmaśāstra.


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