Saturday, June 3, 2017

1022. Dhanvantari and the blood sucking Leech.

Initially I was interested in studying and knowing the iconography of the Deities. I was pulled towards the Vaishnava Iconography and started to read Vishnu Kosha by S.K Ramachandra Rao, Vaishnava Iconography in the Tamil country by R.Champakalakshmi, The Iconography of Vaishnava images in Orrisa by Thomas E Donaldson, Vaisnava Art and Iconography of Kashmir by Bansi Lal Malla and a few more book on ancient sculptures depicting Maha Vishnu. It was interesting to find that the sculptures of Vishnu from the Gupta period (320 AD) had His attribute Sudarshana Chakra personified as a short and stout person with a pot belly.    
While knowing about the different incarnations of Maha Vishnu and its iconography I was wondering why we normally mention the Dasavataras alone where only the 10 incarnation of Maha Vishnu mentioned. In fact at the time of Kurmavatara (Tortoise incarnation) Maha Vishnu came as Mohini (damsel who distributed the Ambrosia) and also the one who brought the pot of Ambrosia Dhanvantari (the celestial physician). 

Though the tortoise incarnation became famous these two Mohini and Dhanvantari has not been talked about.
The iconography of Dhanvantari is very interesting. He has four arms and in His upper right and left He holds the Sankha (Conch) and Chakra (Disc) respectively. In His lower left hand He has Amrutha Kalasha (pot of Ambrosia) and in His lower right He holds a Jaluka (Leech).     

Leeches are creepy worms found in marshy places. They are generally blood suckers but why would Dhanvantari hold it in His hand is the question? 

Leeches came with Dhanvantari at the time of Samudra Manthana (churning of the ocean).  Ayurveda considers leeches to be the best to get the clotted blood out of the body. Leech therapy was used in ancient India when the soldiers in the war had the blood clot and in the reattachment of the severed limbs in the battle where the leeches were used periodically to suck the stagnant blood from the veins till it recovered. Amazing part is that the leech bite is not experienced as its saliva has aesthetic qualities; also it has enzymes and serums which stop blood from coagulating.

Recently the medical world is using leeches to treat varicose veins too. Leeches are given a wash in the water mixed with turmeric to make it sterilised and then they are left on the swollen veins to suck the stagnant deoxygenated blood in the veins.      
Ayurvedic practitioners say that using leeches on the diabetic patients can save them from the complications due to delay in healing of surgical wounds. It is said that the saliva from the leech is also used in cancer treatment and for cosmetic treatment too. One leech can suck blood up to ten times its weight. One section of sucking can make it sustain for several months. The leech grip is tight and it falls off on its own once it has had its stomach full of blood. There is no pain and the bites heal quickly too.

There are not many temples dedicated to Dhanvantari in North India but in South there are a few. Among the states in South India Kerala has many Dhanvantari temples. Off which the one in Nelluvaya, Thottuva, Koozhakottu, Anakkal, Maruthor Vattam, Prayikkara are most visited. This show how Dhanvantari and leeches are closely associated, we find more leeches in Kerala.  There is a Dhanvantari temple inside the famous Srirangam temple as well as Kanchi Varadaraja Temple.

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