Comparative Guts

A human anatomical figure

Drawing, Nepalese, ca. 1800 (?)
Source: Wellcome Library no. 574912i
Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.

Although India has thousands of manuscripts of premodern medical texts, only a handful contain anatomical illustrations. Text was crucially important for transmitting medical teachings. Figure 1 combines text with an illustration of the body and its internal constituents. Although produced in Nepal, the work has been influenced by Tibetan traditions of illustrating bloodletting points. The text consists of excerpts from a sixteenth-century medical text called the Bhāvaprakāśa (`Bhāvamiśra’s Explanation’). The excerpts expatiate on the body’s external and internal parts, such as the winds, humours, tubes, receptacles, sinews, orifices and so on. Many of these are labelled in the illustration itself. In particular, the fire (agni) and the receptacles of the digestive system are depicted and labelled, including the intestines (pakvāśaya) and receptacles of faeces (malāśaya) and urine (mutrāśaya). Also represented are the places of nutrient fluid (rasasthāna) and semen (śuklasthāna), the final nutritive element of digestion. One curious feature of the illustration is the man’s open eyes, which suggest he is alive. However, the exposure of the internal organs and tubes is similar to a post-mortem dissection of a body.

Dominik Wujastyk, ‘A Body of Knowledge: the Wellcome Ayurvedic Anatomical Man and his Sanskrit Context’, Asian Medicine, 2008, 4: 201-248.