Swarna Prashana: Ayurvedic “Vaccination”?

Swarna Prashana (also known as Swarna Bindu Prashana or Suvarnaprashana) is an Ayurvedic procedure involving the oral administration of Swarna Bhasma (gold ash) mixed with honey and ghee (often fortified with Brahmi, Shankupushpi, Vacha, etc.) to children, intended to potentiate the immunity and psychological and physical development for children from birth up to the age of sixteen years.

First referred to in the Kashyapa Samhita (c. 650 BCE), it has since ancient times been practiced as a means of promoting an optimal level of health, intellectual and physical development, psychological balance and enhanced immunity in young children. Swarna Prashana is considered to be one of sixteen Samskaras (life-event related sacraments, e.g., naming the child, first cutting of the hair, first solid food, ear-piercing etc.) mentioned in a variety of ancient texts. According to Acharya Kashyapa (Ka. Su. 18/4-5), the benefits of Swarna Prashana is utilized thus:

"Suwarna prashanam hyetamedagni balavardhanam ayushyam Mangalam punyam vrushyam varnyam grahapaham."

“By (the use of) Swarna Prashana the child develops medha (mental ability), agni (digestive power), bala, aayu vardhana; it (Swarna Prashana) is also mangalakara, punya, vrushya, varnya, ghuha baadha nashaka. If Swarna Prashana is done for one month then child will be parama medhavi, remains unaffected by vyadhi. If done for six months then child will be shruta dhara (he will remember what he hears)”

It is said thus to imbue its consumer with a host of benefits, including enhanced medha (intellect), agni (digestive/metabolic power), bala (strength), ayush (longevity), mangalam (auspicious circumstances), punyam (virtue), vrushyam (virility/fertility), varnya (clarity of complexion) and grahapaham (elimination of the effects of malefic planets).

The purpose of Swarna Prashana bears some resemblance to the modern concept of vaccination to prevent diseases by building immunity against invasive pathogenic microorganisms; however, Swarna Prashana has no targeted activity against specific microorganisms as do vaccines, but is said to act by improving the child’s overall immune response. Generally, speaking, Swarna Prashana is effective for precluding upper respiratory tract infections and preventing common cold as well as influenza. Its immunomodulatory impact is believed to have no limitation to bacterial or viral infections.

Swarna Prashana is said to be not only beneficial for normally-developing children, but to possess enhanced benefits for children with special needs such as autism, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, hyperactivity disorders, and development delays.

Composition

Swarna Bhasma

The ingredients of Swarna Prashana vary somewhat from one formulator to another but invariably include Siddha Ghritha (ghee fortified with medhya drugs, e.g., Brahmi, inter alia), Swarna Bhasma (gold bhasma) and Madhu (honey).

Swarna (metallic gold) is traditionally regarded one of the best medhya dravya (nootropic) drugs when prepared for medicinal use. Kashyapa held that the use of Swarna is said to promote lehana karma (substance-building action). The purpose and object of lehana karma being the prevention of disease by establishing immunity and promoting physical and psychic strength and resiliency. Swarna (metallic gold) cannot be administered directly into body as a medicine and for this reason the metal is processed into the form of a bhasma (superfine ash).

Traditionally, swarna is believed to be a medha vardhaka (memory-enhancing drug) which when administered in low doses is thought to potentiate the memory along with immunity and physiological resiliency.

Research utilizing mice and Wistar rats conducted on swarna bhasma showed the use of the substance in dose of 12.5 to 50 mg/kg body on mice weight had a stimulatory effect on peritoneal macrophages that may be helpful against infectious agents. It was believed that macrophages were stimulation due to presentation of the metal to cells in fine emulsified forms (nanoparticles). It has been established that Swarna Bhasma exerts a hepatorestorative effect and had no measurable toxic effect on the liver or the kidney when used in therapeutic dose.

Madhu

The main rationale for including madhu (honey) in Swarna Prashan is that it is believed when madhu is administered in low doses in early childhood the child gradually develops resistance to the allergens, microorganisms and xenobiotics present in the honey, gradually developing physiological resiliency. Ayurveda teaches that madhu has some of properties of the flowers from whence it was gathered and processed, thus nourishing the mind, nervous system, sensory acuity, and the immune response as well as promoting the elaboration of ojas. It promotes healing generally, and is used externally for the treatment of burns, wounds, ulcerations and infections. It also - importantly - acts as a medium for the enhanced absorption of drugs and has been used extensively as an anupana.

Siddha Ghrita (Ghee)

Ghee has the unique property of acquiring the gunas of dravyas which are added to it. In the case of Swarna Prashana, Medhyaushadhis like mandukaparni, brahmi, guducchi, yashtimadhu, and vacha (inter alia) are added to ghee. This siddha ghrta (medicated ghee) is useful in that it potentiates the action of the drug with which it is admixed, and as an Anupana, Ghee has a strong trophism for majja dhatu (the nervous system).

Administration

Swarna Prashana is traditionally administered from birth until the age of 16 years, on an empty stomach (feeding should be delayed for at least 30 minutes after administration) preferably in the early morning, before sunrise. It is said to be most effective when administered on the day of Pushya nakshatra.

It is usually administered daily for one month (extensible to 6 months) or alternately once monthly on Pushya nakshatra until age 16. Tradition holds that the parents should face north with their child facing east being given the medicine.

The exact dosage is not described in the Kashyapa Samhita. Hence, the dosage of Swarna Bhasma to be administered (either separately or as a constituent of Swarna Prashana) is often calculated for infants and children on the basis of its adult dosage. Different classical texts suggest different dosages of Swarna Bhasma, which vary from 15 mg to 125 mg, but currently the most accepted dosage of Swarna Bhasma in Ayurvedic practice is 15 to 30 mg twice daily. Therefore, the amount of Swarna Bhasma in Swarna Prashana can be calculated on this dosage. According to some authorities, the Swarna Bhasma dosage for infants and children should comprise 1 to 15 mg of Swarna Bhasma in a single dosage of Swarna Prashana.

Contraindications

Children suffering from fever, diarrhea, dysentery or digestive disorders should not be administered Swarna Prashana.

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