The king who treated a snake
A physician is a doctor specialised in treatment other than surgery. Treatment of injuries or diseases by cutting or removing parts of the body or surgical operation is performed by a surgeon. The diseases and injuries of animals, veterinary medicine studies is done by a veterinary surgeon. He is a person who is skilled in the treatment of animal diseases and injuries.
Our proud history, which is recorded in Mahavamsa gives a comprehensive report, relative to Sri Lanka rulers and their achievements.
Turning the pages of Mahavamsa, we come across many colourful and unforgettable characters and personalities.
One of them is a physician, surgeon, veterinary specialist all rolled in to one. He is Buddhadasa, the pious Buddhist King, who ruled Sri Lanka from 340-368 AD. He is the 57th ruler of Sri Lanka. His personal history is always worth recording and narrating, because, it is very rarely that we come across this kind of brilliance in a ruler of a country. Even as a person, Buddhadasa displayed a certain trait that may well astonish modern historians.
King Buddhadasa was the son of King Jettatisa, (331-340 AD) who was famous for artistic skills.
He was an expert in fine arts, especially carving ivory. This was his favourite pastime. He ruled Sri Lanka for nine years. After his demise, Buddhadasa ascended the throne.
Mahavamsa describes Buddhadasa as a “Mind of virtue and an ocean of gems”. He was the only Sri Lankan King, who excelled in medicine, surgery and veterinary science. According to Rajavaliya, Buddhadasa’s royal clan was known as “Bujas” Going through Mahavamsa, we come across many, unbelievable, fantastic stories woven round King Buddhadasa, which I presume, will be interesting reading for our physicians, surgeons, anaesthetists, medical consultants, specialised men of veterinary sciences as well as the general public.
A bhikkhu who went about begging in a village called Thusarettika in the Anuradhapura District. He partook dry boiled rice containing worms. He fell sick. King Buddhadasa treated the monk.
One of the kings, guards rushed into Royal palace and informed him that one of the horses in the palace stable had suddenly taken ill. After examining the Buddhist monk, he rushed to treat the horse. A minor surgery was performed on the animal. The king collected the horse’s warm blood into a basin. He rushed back to treat the monk, taking with him a cup of blood collected from the horse. He gave the monk the blood of the horse to drink.
After a few minutes the king told the monk that what he drank was the blood of a horse.
The monk started vomiting and threw out the putrid milk and worms. According to Mahavamsa the King saved both the monk and the horse.
There are two other interesting incidents recorded in the Mahavamsa. In one instance the king extracted parasites from a human body.
A villager who had drunk water from a well accidentally swallowed the spawn of a water snake.
It began to grow internally and the villager was in a pain. King Buddhadasa kept him on a low diet for a week. The patient was well bathed and anointed and laid on a comfortable bed. Very soon the patient fell into a deep sleep with his mouth wide open. The king kept a piece of raw meat tied to a string into his mouth.
The little snake attracted by its smell, crept out and sised it and was about to with draw into the body. The king at once pulled the snake with a string and placed it in a basin of water.
King Buddhadasa, once performed a brain surgery. Once the spawn of a frog had entered the nostrils of a man who was drinking water. Soon it developed into a tadpole. To remove it the king performed a brain surgery and saved the life of the patient.
One day when King Buddhadasa was on a visit to a Putthabhaya Vihara in close proximity to Tisawewa, Anuradhapura, he spotted a huge snake, wriggling and rolling on an ant-hill, apparently suffering from acute pain.
The King descended from the royal elephant and told the snake, “I will cure you. How can I touch you and treat you? On hearing this the snake thrust his head into a hole.
The king then cut open the belly of the snake and performed an operation.
As a token of appreciation, the snake gave him an invaluable gem known as Siyaminiruwana. The king donated the gem to Abahayagiri Vihara.
He built many hospitals and appointed medical officers.
Further he appointed veterinarians to cure animals. King Buddhadasa established hospitals along the main roads for the benefit of disabled people.
He emulated Jeevaka the renowned physician who lived during the time of The Buddha.
King Buddhadasa was also a erudite scholar and a man of literature. He composed a medical treatise known as “Sarathasangrha”.