Painting by Jaya Rama Dasa (1977) oil on canvas, for illustration in Shrimad Bhagavatam Copyright BBTI

The origins of the ancient healing science known as Ayurveda are lost in cosmic antiquity. According to the ancient text Caraka-samhita, this "Science of Life and Longevity" is eternal and is revealed in each universe in each of its infinite cycles of creation and destruction. This healing science is generally revealed by great sages or demigods. Occasionally, the Supreme Lord Himself descends as the avatara (incarnation) Dhanvantari and re-inaugurates the tradition of Ayurveda. This extremely rare appearance of God is recorded in the Vedic literature of ancient India.

Dhanvantari's appearance is celebrated each year on the 13th day (trayodasi) of the waxing moon a few days before the Divali, corresponding to October 17 in this year of 1998. Follow these links to enjoy the story, and rare pictures, and even a recital of the stotra of the avatar of Dhanvantari.

The Birth of the Unborn

The avatara of Dhanvantari appeared billions of years ago. Although an avatara is unborn, He takes His divine birth among the living beings to display His divine pastimes.

The First Appearrance of Dhanvantari

In this epoch (kalpa), He first appeared during the great churning of the cosmic milk ocean to deliver amrta (nectar) for the nourishment of the demigods. The churning of the milk ocean is one of the most famous episodes in Puranic history and is celebrated in major way every twelve years in the festival known as Kumbha Mela. The story is related in the Srimad Bhagavatam, a major work that describes the avataras in great detail. Here is what happened:

The great leader of the demigods Indra was riding on his elephant, when he came across Durvasa Muni. Seeing the great demigod, Durvasa offered him a special garland (mala). Indra accepted this garland and put it on the trunk of the elephant. The elephant threw the garland onto the floor, thus enraging Durvasa Muni. In a fit of anger, the sage explained that the garland was the dwelling of Sri (fortune) and was therefore to be treated as prasada. (1) Therefore cursed Indra and all the demigods to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune (Sri).

In the ensuing battles, the demigods were defeated in battle and the demons headed by Bali gained control of the universe. The demigods sought out the help of Lord Vishnu, who instructed them in the art of diplomacy. The demigods then entered into an alliance with the demons to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among them. Of course, the demigods were told by Vishnu that He would arrange for them alone to obtain the nectar, which would empower them to defeat the demons.

All kinds of herbs were cast into the milk ocean and using Mandara mountain as the churning rod and Vasuki as the cord, they proceeded to churn the ocean. This churning was so arduous that Lord Vishnu Himself interceded in so many ways to aid the demigods: He was present as Lord Ajita pulling on the side of the gods, as Lord Kurma who supported the great Mandara mountain which was in danger of sinking, and Lord Vishnu Himself sat atop the Mountain infusing the demigods and the serpent Vasuki with energy. Many great beings and objects were produced from the ocean and were accepted by various demigods as offerings. Laksmi-devi, the goddess of fortune, appeared from the ocean and Vishnu and Her were reunited as husband and wife after having been separated for many ages.

Then as they continued churning, a very wonderful male person appeared. The Bhagavatam tells us, "He was strongly built; His arms were very long, stout and strong; His eyes were reddish, and His complexion was black. He was very young, He was garlanded with flowers, and His entire body was fully decorated with various ornaments." (2)

Lord Dhanvantari was "dressed in yellow garments and wore brightly polished earrings made of pearl. The tips of His hair were anointed with oil and His chest was very broad. His body had all good features, and He was stout and strong as a lion. In His hand, He carried a jug of nectar."

The demons stole the jug of nectar and Lord Vishnu appeared as Mohini, a beautiful woman, who fascinated the demons and recovered the nectar from them. The demigods took the nectar and drank it and were invigorated with energy. Thereafter, the demigods fought the demons and were victorious. They greatly rejoiced and worshipped Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, and resumed their position in the heavens.

Dhanvantari's Second Appearance (3)

The second appearance occurred at the beginning of the reign of the current Manu in the second Dvapara-yuga, two billion years ago. Lord Vishnu foretold at the time of the churning that Dhanvantari would appear again in the human society and be offered sacrifices and worshipped by human beings. He would also teach them the science of Ayurveda. Dhanvantari at that time was residing in the heavens and Lord Indra seeing the misery of human beings afflicted by disease on earth, requested the Lord to teach Ayurveda to the human race.

At the same time, the King Dirghatamas of Kasi was performing penance, desiring a son. The king desired to propitiate Lord Dhanvantari for the sake of a son. Thereupon, Dhanvantari appeared to him and urged the king to choose a boon as he pleased. The king said, "O Lord, if You are pleased with me, be my son, bestower of my goal." The Lord replied, "So be it," and He vanished.

Lord Dhanvantari was then born in the royal household of Kasi. He developed ascetic tendencies even as a young boy and performed severe austerities. Lord Brahmawith great difficulty persuaded Him to accept lordship over the city of Kasi and since then He bacame known as Kasi-raja. As a king He prepared the samhitas on Ayurveda in eight divisions for the benefit of humanity.

Lord Dhanvantari's teachings are recorded in the Agni Purana 279-289 as well as through the teachings of His disciple Susrutha.

The Bhagavatam states "smrta-matrarti-nasanah" One who remembers the name of Dhanvantari can be released from all disease.

A final note:

Those who are new to Vaishnava and Puranic thought may wonder at the purpose of the Lord's array of avatars especially during the churning of the milk ocean. After all if God is all powerful, why couldn't He accomplish all His ends at once? Why does He have to act through so many different forms? In answer to this, the Vedic literature affirms the omnipotence of the Lord in His various avatars. However, when the Lord descends, He Lord seamlessly fuses His serious purpose (in protecting the demigods and humanity) with sheer sport. In the form of Mohini, He enchants the demons and the demigods. As Lord Dhanvantari, He diminishes the misery of the world by teaching the medical sciences. As Lord Ajita, He enjoys assisting His devotees directly in their struggle for victory. At times He even desires His devotees to be glorified, which is why Lord Shiva drank the poison produced of the ocean. The poison turned his neck dark-blue, hence the name Nila-kantha. In short, although the devotees never stop glorifying the Lord, no one can fully understand His divine play (lila).

(1) Visnu Purana 3.10.12
(2) Srimad Bhagavatam 8.8.32
(3) The story of the second appearance is told with details in the Brahmanda-purana ( and Bhava-prakasa (purva-khanda, 1) a minor Ayurvedic text.

Iconography of Lord Dhanvantari

(based on S.K.R. Rao's Pratima kosha (1990)

According to the Visnu-dharmottara-purana (1.73.41) which is a major text on iconography, Dhanvantari is to be presented as suruupa (handsome), and priyada rsana (pleasant-looking) with two hands, each carrying amrta-kalasham (pots of nectar). According to the Ramayana, Dhanvantari held a water-pot (kamandal u) and a mendicant's staff (danda) when He emerged from the ocean.

More frequently, the icons of Dhanvantari are four-armed, carrying a conch and discus in the upper arms, and a jalauaka (leech) and amrta-kalasha in the lower hands.

The Prapancha-sara-sangraha mentions several dhyana-slokas describing various forms for contemplation. He is dark-complexioned (kalambhodojivalaandgam) in yellow silken garments (kati-tala-vilasaccharu-pitambaradhyam) and four-armed (holding conch, discus, leech, and nectar pot). Another sloka describes Him as bathing Himself in with nectar flowing from two pots He holds over His head. This form is is to be visualized as seated on the devotee’s own head, or upon the lunar orb on a full-moon night. Yet another sloka describes Him as handsome (mano-haranga), with a tranquil face (prasanna-mukha-kamala), residing in the solar orb (ravi-bimbastha).

This illustration shows Lord Dhanvantari in His four-armed form holding the wheel (Sudarsana Chakra) and Conch (sankha) in the upper right and lefts hands as do most Vishnu incarnations. In the other two hands, there are the nectar pot (amrta-kalasha) and a herb. According to the Prapancha-sara sangraha, the Lord holds a leech (jalauaka) in place of the herb in His fourth hand.

"Within all of us is the archetype of the Divine healer. This Divine healer is the true healer in all beings, not any particular individual or special personality. To heal ourselves or others we must set it in motion within ourselves. Dhanvantari, an incarnation of the God Vishnu, ...represents this truth in the tradition of Ayurveda. His statue is found at most Ayurvedic schools and clinics. It is a reminder that however much we know or skillfull we become, everything still depends on the grace of spiritual nature. Hence, this book is dedicated to the divine healer within you." writes David Frawley in the dedication to his book, Ayurvedic Healing.

This illustration by Gail Frawley appears on the cover of Ayurvedic Healing Copyright 1989 Morson Publishing

This is a statue of Dhanvantari, sold online through JBL online. In this representation, there is a leech and a herb along with the conch and nectar pot.

Udupi Sri Krishna as Dhanvantari

This is an ancient Deity (arca-vigraha) of Lord Krishna currently located in Udupi, South India. Here Lord Krishna is dressed as Lord Dhanvantari and one can see the nectar pot (amrta-kalasha) in His hand. Particularly special is the moon in the background. The ancient text Prapancha-sara-sangraha descr ibes that one may meditate on Lord Dhanvantari situated on the lunar orb.

During Lord Krishna's manifest pastimes five thousand years ago, His wife Queen Rukmini carved and worshipped this Krishna Deity in the kingdom of Dvaraka.
This was eventually lost and finally rescued by Sri Madhva Acharya in the 13th century. Today one can see this ancient Krishna Deity worshipped in Udupi in the southern state of Karnataka, India. The complete details of this fascinating story are given in Madhva Vijaya, the biography of Madhvacharya, and the story is summarized at the Dvaita site.

This is incorrect information. The Deity was carved from a Shaligram stone by Vishvakarma and then given to Rukmini who worshipped the Deity during her time in Dwarka See more on my Madhwa page and Shaigram page on Udupi.

Ancient Dhanvantari Archa-vighraha

This is an ancient Deity (arca-vigraha) of Lord Dhanvantari that has been worshipped for 750 years in Udupi, South India. One can see the nectar pot (a mrta-kalasha) in the left hand of Dhanvantari. His Holiness Sugunendra Tirtha Swamiji from Udupi is currently on tour in the United States and worships this Deity of Lord Dhanvantari every day according to ancient Vedic rites. For info on his tour, see Dvaita Website.

Special thanks to the Swamiji from Udupi who was kind enough to give me the darshana and permission for photography of this Deity.

This picture of the Deity of Lord Dhanvantari is a one off, they don't allow pictures of Him at this temple in South India. It was given to me as a gift a few years ago, I believe the Deity is either in Melkote or Sri Rangam.

Sri Dhanvantri Mantra

Om Namo Bhagavate
Maha Sudharshana
Vasudevaya Dhanvantaraye;
Amrutha Kalasa Hasthaaya
Sarva Bhaya Vinasaya
Sarva Roka Nivaranaya
Thri Lokya Pathaye
Thri Lokya Nithaye
Sri Maha Vishnu Swarupa
Sri Dhanvantri Swarupa
Sri Sri Sri
Aoushata; chakra Narayana Swaha

"Obeisances unto the Supreme Bhagavan known as Sudarshana Vasudev Dhanvantari, the holder of the Kalasha full of nectar of imortality, who removes all fears, who removes all diseases, the well wisher of the three worlds, and sustainer of the three worlds, He is Vishnu swarup, by the name Dhanvantari empowered to heal the Jiva souls."

Sri Dhanvantari Stotram

English Translation and Recitation by Dr. Vasant Lad

This ancient stotra glorifies the divine form of Lord Dhanvantari. The Sanskrit text below has been translated and recited by Dr. Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute (Copyright 1994)

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