Published: 23rd February 2022
What The FAQ: Charaka Shapath vs Hippocratic Oath — Which one is apt for Indian medical students?
The Charaka Shapath is a portion of the text (paragraphs 13–14 in Chapter 8 of the Vimanasthana (the third Sthana)) of the Charaka Samhita, a Sanskrit scripture on Ayurveda
Medical students and doctors across India were worried that the National Medical Commission (NMC) has been pushing for saffronisation of Medical education by barring the Hippocratic Oath and introducing the Charaka oath. After a few short-lived protests at the Calcutta Medical College (CMC) and statements from the IMA (Indian Medical Association) and opposition parties, it was clarified that it was a miscommunication and nothing more. The Charaka oath was mentioned but it is not a compulsory directive to be imposed.
So, what's the Charaka oath or Shapath and how does it differ from the Hippocratic Oath? We explain and clarify some details about the recent developments.
What did the NMC meeting with colleges really decide upon?
The minutes of the meeting held on February 7 and presided over by Dr Aruna V Vanikar, President of the UG Medical Education Board of NMC, reportedly mentioned, "No Hippocratic Oath. During the white coat ceremony (with parents) the oath will be ‘Maharishi Charaka Shapath’ present on the NMC website." After protests started at the Calcutta Medical College, the principal clarified that it wasn't a directive and the Charaka Shapath or oath will not be the norm.
What is the Charaka Shapath?
The Charaka Shapath is a portion of the text (paragraphs 13-14 in Chapter 8 of the Vimanasthana (the third Sthana)) of the Charaka Samhita, a Sanskrit scripture on Ayurveda. It was probably written between 100 BC and 200 AD. The Charaka Shapath is a set of instructions from a teacher to their prospective students of medicine. It says that one needs to abide by the oath before one is taught the science of medicine. The passage extensively talks about the necessity of practising asceticism during student life, student-teacher relationship, the importance of committing oneself fully and completely to the well-being of the patient, whom to treat, how to behave with women and several other related issues.
What is the Hippocratic oath?
Written in and around the fifth and third century BC, the oath is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world. The Hippocratic Oath is one of the most widely known Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear by a number of healing gods to uphold specific ethical standards. But its true essence has been adopted by various institutions in their own way and contextualised over the ages.
So, what's the difference between the two?
Scripture-wise, the Charaka Shapath is pledged before the commencement of medical education, while the Hippocratic Oath is pledged by new physicians and surgeons.
What did Calcutta Medical College do?
The first-year students read out the Charaka Shapath during their induction but Principal Dr Raghunath Mishra assured that they will take the Hippocratic Oath when they join as interns — after they finish medical education. In principle, the purpose of the two pledges are different and CMC did follow the essence properly.
Do other medical schools use the Charaka Shapath?
Yes, AIIMS Delhi has been doing so for years. “Not for the self; Not for the fulfillment of any worldly material desire or gain, But solely for the good of suffering humanity, I will treat my patient and excel well,” is what the students say during their convocation. This too is a modified version of the actual text.