“There is no better medicine than mercury, no greater god than Mahadeva, no better friend than the physician, and no better deed than a gift.” –B. Mukherji
The Science of mercury is known as Rasa Vidya or Rasa Shastra in Ayurveda. I spent some of my most memorable time in India working with this science to understand it. Here is a small paper I wrote in 2001.
Rasa is a word that has many meanings; in this present context it is used to mean the element mercury. Shastra means science. Rasa Shastra literally means the “science of mercury” but generally refers to the science of making minerals assimilable for the body so they can be used as medicines. Ayurveda believes that nothing is good for everybody and everything is good for somebody. Various minerals, some like mercury considered toxic, can by proper procedures be made into medicines. This essay explains the general basics of Rasa Shastra and gives a closer look at the magical rasa itself.
In India, the Ayurvedic doctor uses 20% pure herbal preparations, 30% pure mineral preparations and 50% herbal and mineral preparations. This percentage of usage shows there is much value to using mineral preparations.
In the Vedas, gold and silver had a ritualistic use, the uses of bhasma (prepared minerals) came after the vedic period. Rasa Shastra is believed to have come about in the 6th and 7th century. The Buddhist sage, Nagarjuna, is considered the first to use mercury and to have done much in the propagation of rasa shastra.
Rasa Shastra is divided into two main categories: Alchemy- turning mercury into gold, and Rasayana- rejuvenation of the mind-body-spirit. It is said in the rasa texts that metallurgy is a science which was taught by Shiva (God) Himself. It is also stated that mercurial operations are successful by the grace of God. Rasa Shastra is a very spiritual science with many facets to see and understand.
Just as herbs have their rasa, virya, vipak, so do minerals. For example, gold is madhura (sweet) and kasaya (astringent) in rasa, snigdha (oily) and laghu (light) in guna, sita (cold) in virya, and madhura in vipak. It’s actions are visanga, varnya, rasayana, brimhana, rucikara, dipana, medhya, smriti vardhana, and it is the best vrisya (aphrodisiac). It is used for yaksma, unmade, tridosha rogas, garavisa, and jara. It checks wasting of the body tissue in rajayaksmadi, improves body complexion, and acts as an antimicrobial, and antipyretic. Silver is kasaya (astringent) and amla (sour), snigdha and sara, sita in virya, madhura in vipak. Its actions are vayasthapana, lekhana, vrisya, balya, rucya, vatapitta hara, it gives strength to the brain, heart and stomache. It is indicated for bhrama (vertigo) and unmade (insanity), palpitations, pre-ejaculation, and mada (intoxication).
Many minerals also have a more magical type of prabhav. For example, Charaka says that no poison can be sustained in the body of people who have ingested gold because the presence of gold destroys the effects of all types of poisons especially Garavisa. It is said that people who ingest tin preparations never get sukraksaya even during dreams. Lapis lazuli produces feelings of well being while expelling all doshas from the body.
Mercury and other minerals have to go through shodana (purification) before they can be made into medicine. The procedures are called samskaras (works or procedures) for purification and assimilation. For mercury, there are 18 samskaras in the extreme method. Shodana removes the harmful substances or impurities present minerals or drugs that would cause toxic effects or diseases in the body. Listed in rasa literature are disorders associated with impurities in each substance. For example, “unpurified and not properly purified incinerated silver if used internally may cause sariratapa (burning sensation in the body), vidbandhata (constipation), sukranasa (loos of semen), ayunasa, balanasa (loss of strength and longevity), destroys sariapusti (growth of body tissues), and produces many diseases”. Improperly purified shilajit gives rise to inflammation, hysteric fits, giddiness, loss ofappetite, hemorrhage, and constipation.There are generally remedial measures for taking impure rasa kalpas. For example, to remove the effects of taking impure shilajit, ¼ tola a day of maricha (black pepper) in ghee for seven days is administered.
Most substances are used only after they are made into bhasma or pishti forms, this process is called marana. Marana processes make the substances into fine particles so they can be properly digested and absorbed easily into the system and mix with the dhatus. Proper assimilation allows for their desired effect to take place without any harmful side effects. Improper digestion and assimilation would lead to ama. Marana processes are also used to increase the natural property of the drugs and some times new properties are introduced to the mineral compound.
Rasa kalpa (substances) are mixed with herbs because they are considered nirindriya. Metals have no senses, so by preparing them with herbs they are converted to saindriya (with senses). An example of how this is done can be illustrated with iron chacopyrite, more commonly called pyrite and known in Sanskrit as suwarnamakshika (looks like gold). It is used as a rasayana, for brain disorders, and to increase hemoglobin. First it is powdered. It’s shodana (purification) is in two parts, the first is called limbooswarasa, where it is heated for 3 days, 8 hours a day in castor oil, it then changes color. Then is nimboswarasa, where it is heated with citrus (lemon) for three days. Next is marana where it is put in a grinder for 8 hours a day with aloe (the whole plant inside and out). It is then dried in the Sun and marana is done again for a total of 20 times. The aloe is the Maharana, the herb you grind the mineral with, which is determined by the reason it is being prepared. In this way a mineral can be given senses with which it will affect different places in the body. As another example, if a rasa preparation is made with kutaki (arogyavardini) it will affect the liver, if it is made with brahmi (smritisagaras) it will affect the brain. In relation to the herb the mineral is then a yogavahi (catalytic carrier), it carries the herbs more potently.
In the over 100 texts on Rasa Shastra there are about five different ways to prepare suvarnamakshika, adding different herbs to make it saindriya –to give it a tendency. If it is mixed with triphala it works on the eyes, if it is mixed with ashwagandha it works on the reproductive organs.
What are the benefits of using rasa kalpa (mineral products)? They are effective in smaller dosages. In India, they do not regularly capsulize their herbs and will often put the powder directly into the mouth and then drink it down. Smaller dosages meant there would not be as big a problem with taste which improves patient compliance. The shelf life of rasa kalpa are much longer. Kutaki (Picrolize kurro) is a liver herb that removes obstructions in the bile duct, and increases fat metabolism. It is very bitter in taste. Alone a patient needs to 2tsp 3x a day for jaundice or hepatitis. Its shelf life is six months. Arogyavardini is a rasa kalpa that has kutaki as the first ingredient with kajjoli (mercury and sulfur) to boast metabolic effect. The patient now only needs 450ml. The shelf life of arogyavardini is 3-4 years. Rasa kalpa can also increase the speed of a healing action because they act fast.
The science of working with minerals is named after rasa (mercury). This is because it is considered such a powerful medicine. It is said that when mercury is properly prepared, it balances all three doshas, has a soothing effect on the body, prevents disease and old age. It nourishes all the vital parts of the body and increases the strength of the eyes. It is vrisya (aphrodisiac), balya (tonic), snigdha (anointing), rasayana (rejuvenative), vrana sodhana and ropana (wound cleaner and healer), and krimighna (antimicrobial) . When it is compounded with any herb it heightens the medicinal properties. Mercury issaid to give a firm physique, a stable mind, and to be the best destroyer of disease .There are various reasons for the powerful effects of mercury in medicine. It is considered holy because it is the semen of Lord Shiva.
Mercury is known to contain all six tastes. The body has 13 agnis within it. The jatharagni is the gross digestive fire. Then there are subtle agni, seven dhatu agni and five bhutagni. A problem with meda is related to medagni, as a disease of asthi dhatu is due to a problem with asthiagni . Each dhatu has five bhutagni in a different proportion which gives it differentiation. So, for example, if one was treating a calcanial spur, one would look for an herb that works on both asthi agni and prthviagni (earth element agni) because it is the earth element of the asthi that is imbalanced. The action of an herb on the bhutagni is determined by the rasa (taste) of the herb as well as the plant appearance and the location it grows.
Mercury plays its role here by being shatras, which means it contains all six tastes. The potency of any herb is increased with mercury because of its ability to help the herb work on all bhutagnis of a particular dhatu or organ system .
Whenever there is mercury there is always sulfur. Mercury is considered the seed of Shiva and sulfur is the secretion of Parvati, the Goddess. When they are mixed together through a long process they are called kajoli. Many drug labels will not list mercury and sulphur but will refer to them as kajoli. There is much mysticism surrounding the use of mercury and its relation to Shiva, this is often attributed to its healing powers.
Some synonyms of mercury are Parada, Rasaraja, Maharasa, Mishraka, Shivaviryam, Suta, and all names which apply to Shiva Himself.  The name Rasa comes from the root ‘ras’ which means to eat. Mercury is given this name because of its ability to swallow every metal. To explain swallow, it can be seen that vegetables are unstable, they decompose. If a vegetable is boiled in lead it would be subsumed in the lead. Lead is subsumed in tin, which can be subsumed in copper. Copper is subsumed in silver, silver into gold, and gold is swallowed by mercury. It is believed that all metals can be swallowed by mercury. Just as individual souls attain the supreme by merging with Shiva, all metals are absorbed into mercury.  This is believed to make mercury competent to destroy the body of disease and prepare it for liberation.
There is also a large amount of spiritual teachings around rasa shastra and the use of mercury. For those who make rasa kalpa it is said they should have an image of the Shiva lingam made of mercury and gold in the laboratory. This is called a Rasalingam and is very auspicious to look at, touch and worship. It is said that “eating, touching, giving, meditating upon, and adoring of mercury are the five different ways of worshiping it –all of which tend to destroy great vices. The man who succeeds in subsuming even the minutest particle of mica, acquires the merit arising from performing one hundred sacrifices. This is what Shiva Himself has said. The man who vilifies mercury, which is the strength of Shiva Himself, and is the greatest of all things, rests in hell eternally. The man who gives patients mercury, duly purified and duly prepared over fire, attains for ever merits derived from the performance of Tuladana (a ceremony in which the performer gives away to the poor his own weight in gold) and Ashwamedha (a ceremony in which a horse is worshiped and sacrificed). The man who dies with mercury still in his stomach is freed from great sins, and attains emancipation.” 
Charak tells us that “Only that which can bring about a cure is a correct medicine. And it is only he who can relieve his patients of their ailments who is the best physician.”  It is important to understand the actions of the various rasa kalpa so as to use them efficiently.
What should determine whether you can use a rasa kalpa? First, one must look at the power of the disease and its stage, is it chronic or acute. Two, the power of the patient’s agni. Three, the patient’s economic situation.
There are some cautions to remember. Minerals shouldn’t be used with children, they are too powerful. Children don’t require hard drugs. Generally minerals are not given to those under age 9 or over 80 years of age. Minerals are considered hard to digest so one must consider the strength of the agni as well as the strength of other important points like marmas and organs. Minerals are like weapons; herbs are like wooden sticks, minerals are like guns. Make sure they are being used correctly or they can harm. There is less chance of harm with herbs alone.
There are some general directions for taking mercury, mixed or unmixed with other substances. A proper anupanna should be used according to the desired want of the practitioner. Just before one takes a drug they should pray to God in the form most appealing to one’s own mind. A sattvic and dosha specific diet should be followed as well as general dietary rules to make sure that agni is strong. Exposure to the sun should be limited in the hot time of year because of its ability to poison the blood with pitta. Sleeping during the day should be avoided. Excessive exercise is contraindicated. Rasa medicine should be taken on an empty stomach except by the old or weak who should take it with food. Rasa medicine should not be taken when thirsty, weakened by fasting, or immediately after taking food. Signs that the medicine is not being fully assimilated into the system are exhaustion, burning sensation, indigestion, fainting fit, head disease, uneasiness, and weakness. Improper digestion and assimilation of mineral preparations give rise to new diseases. If impure mercury is used the negative effects are removed by using correctly purified sulphur. There are also other herbs listed in the rasa texts if sulphur is not appropriate for the situation. Triphala or another mild laxative should be used if there is slight constipation from rasa kalpa, but flushing the system is to be avoided, the body should be made to assimilate the mineral preparation.
Understanding the purification and preparation of minerals and poisonous herbs and substances in Rasa Shastra gives us a clearer understanding of how they come to be medicine before us as practitioners. Understanding the minerals and how they work brings our herbal treatments to another level.This brief overview of Rasa Shastra should help inspire one to dig deeper into the knowledge of metals and minerals. This essay also lays the foundation for which other research can be grounded within.
1 Lecture at the International Institute of Ayurveda by Dr. Desponde, January 7, 2000
2 Dr. Desponde
3 Vaidya Godbole
4 Joshi, Damodar, p.33-41
5 Joshi, Damodar, p.34
6 Joshi, Damodar, p.62
7 Joshi, Damodar, p.269
8 Mukerji, B., p.158
9 Joshi, Damodar, p.III
10 Vaidya Godbole, January 8th, 2000
11 Joshi, Damodar, p.4
12 Mukerji, B., p.11
13 Lecture by Dr. Phaldake, January 19, 2000
14 Dr. Phaldake
15 Mukerji, B., p.10
16 Mukerji, B., p.12
17 Mukerji, B., p.11
18 Charak Samhita, chap 1, 
19 Dr. Desponde
20 Mukerji, B., p.365
21 Mukerji, B., p.365
Bhagavan Das. Charak Samhita.
Desponde. Lectures on January 2000. International Institute of Ayurveda, Pune, India.
Godbole, Vaidya. Lecture on January 8, 2000. International Institute of Ayurveda, Pune, India.
Joshi, Dr. Damodar. Rasamritam. ISBN 81-86937-00-5. Chaukhambha Sanskrit Bhawan, Varanasi, India. 1998.
Mukherji, B. The Wealth of Indian Alchemy and Its Medicinal Uses. ISBN 81-7030-582-9. Shri Sat Guru Publications, Delhi, India. 1998.
Phaldake, Dr. Lectures January 2000. International Institute of Ayurveda. Satara, India.
Tamrakar, B.P. & Pandey R.S. Pharmacaeutics of Metals in Ayurveda. ISBN 81-86782-22-2. Publication Scheme, Jaipur, India. 1998.
Akik pishti- agate processed
Audbhida lavana- reha salt
Ayaskantam- magnetic iron ore
Dugdha pasanam- talc/ soft stone
Gauri Pasanah- white arsenic
Gomed- zircon or Hessonite (depending on text)
Jasat Bhasma- processed calx of zinc
Haritalo- orpiment, As2S3
Hingula- cinnabar, HgS
Kajjali- black sulphide mercury
Karketena- chrysoberyl, crysolite
Kasisa Godanti bhasma- ferrous sulphate and gypsum calx. Hematinic, tonic, astringent. []
Krishna abharak- biotite mica (black mica)
Kshara parpati- dehydrated homogenous blend of ammonium chloride, potash alum, and potassium nitrate. Diuretic, lithotropic, febrifuge, anti-flatulent. Used in disuria, olyguria, colic, urinary infections, urinary calculi, and hyperacidity.
Makaradhvaja rasa- a gold containing red colored mercury compound
Makshik- ferri sulphuratum, iron pyrite
Malla sindura rasa- arsenic containing mercury compound
Manah Sila- realgar, As2S2
Manduram- iron oxide, rusted iron
Moti pishti- pearl processed
Naga Pasana- serpentine
Parpata ksara- ksara obtained from alkaline earth
Puspanjana- zinc oxide
Rasa sindura- a red sulphide of mercury
Rasaka- zinc ore
Rajavarta- lapis lazuli
Romaka lavana- common salt
Roupya- silver, argentum
Saidhara lavana- rock salt
Sambhara lavana- common salt
Samudra lavana- sea salt
Sange yasaba- jade
Sapheda- white lead
Sauvarcala lavana- black salt
Sindura- red oxide of lead
Shringa- cervus elephus
Shrungha- deer horns
Surma sapheda- calcite
Surya ksarah- potassium nitrate
Suvarna Makshika- chalcopyrite, copper pyrite
Svarjika ksarah- Borax
Upalam- chalcedony, opal, agate
Vanga- SNO2, aluminum oxide, tin, stannum
Vaidurya- aquamarine or cat’s eye (debatable)
Vida lavana- ammonium salt
Yavaksarah- potassium salt
Yeshalo pishti- jade processed