Ayurveda – Indian system of Medicine
The ancient Indian wisdom of healing (or medicine) known as Āyurveda, is a part of the spiritual tradition of the Vedas. The Vedas include almost every aspect of life i.e. health, astrology, army, poetry and spiritual living and behavior. We find the roots of modern medicine in the Vedas. The Ṛgveda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest compilation of any knowledge system. The Ṛgveda refers to the cosmology known as Sāṁkhya which lies at the base of both Āyurveda and Yoga, contains verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment.
कायबालग्रहोर्ध्वाङ्गशल्यदंष्ट्राजरावृषान् ॥ 5 ।।
अष्टावङ्गानि तस्याहुश्चिकित्सा येषु संश्रिता ।
वायु: पित्तं कफश्चेति त्रयो दोषा: समासत: ॥ 6 ।।
विकृताऽविकृता देहं घ्नन्ति ते वर्त्तयन्ति च ।
– अष्टांगहृदयम् प्रथमोध्याय
aṣṭāvaṅgāni tasyāhuścikitsā yeṣu samśritā.
Vāyuh pittan kaphaśceti trayo doṣāh samāsatah
vikṛtavikṛta deham ghnanti te varttayanti ca.
– Aṣṭāngahṛdayam, Adhyaya-1
According to the Āyurveda, the body is comprised of three primary forces, termed Doṣa i.e. (i) Vāyuh (ii) Pitta, and (iii) Kapha. The state of equilibrium between the doṣa is perceived as a state of health; the state of imbalance is disease. Each Doṣa represents characteristics derived from the five elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth. Herbs are used to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity.
Aṣṭāngahṛdayam lists eight branches of the Āyurveda. They are-
Kāya Cikitsā (Internal Medicine),
Bāla Cikitsā (Treatment of Children / Pediatrics),
Graha Cikitsā (Demonology / Psychology),
Urdhvānga Cikitsā (Treatment of disease above the clavicle),
Śalya Cikitsā (Surgery),
Damṣtra Cikitsā (Toxicology),
Jarā Cikitsā (Geriatrics, Rejuvenation), and
Vṛṣa Cikitsā (Aphrodisiac therapy).
The Vedic priests were not only performing religious rites and ceremonies, they were also Vaidyas (physicians of Āyurveda). The sage-physician-surgeons were realized health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received the knowledge of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery through divine revelation. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form at a much later date. What is fascinating is Āyurveda’s use of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle and surgery. There were two main schools of Āyurveda; Ātreya– the school of physicians, and Dhanvantari– the school of surgeons. These two schools made Āyurveda a more scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system.
In Indian tradition, Brahmā is known as the creator of the world. Many diseases also emerged with the advent of life on the earth. To protect / cure from such diseases Brahmā passed the knowledge of Āyurveda to Prajāpati. Later knowledge passed on to Aśvinīkumars’ to Indra to Bhāradvāja to Ātreya- Punarvasu. Ātreya- Punarvasu had six students namely- Agniveśa, Bhel, Jatukarṇa, Parāśara, Hārīti and Kṣārapāṇi. All of them contributed for the development of Āyurveda. Agniveśa was the most intelligent and his compilation is known as “Agniveśa Saṁhitā” or “Agniveśa Tantra”. Ācārya Caraka edited this text and added some commentary, which was later known as “Caraka Saṁhitā”.
Suśruta, a student of Dhanvantari has contributed greatly in the area of surgery (Śalya Cikitsā) through his text known as Suśruta Saṁhitā. However, there were many parallel streams of knowledge (medical) practiced at that time, are evident through the texts like Kāśyapa Saṁhitā (by Kaśyapa), Śālākya Tantra (by Nimi or Videha) etc. There are two main re-organizers of Āyurveda whose works are available today – Caraka and Suśruta. Caraka Saṁhitā is mainly a medical text while Suśruta Saṁhitā concentrates on surgery. The third major treatise is called the Aṣṭāngahṛdayam by Vāgbhaṭa, which is a concise version of the works of Caraka and Suśruta.
Ancient Indian healing system used mix of religious practices with secular medicine. They used incantations in combination with administering drugs and performing operations. It involved observing the patient as well as observing their natural environment. They also used an extensive range of medicine; Caraka Saṁhitā listed 500 medicines while Suśruta Saṁhitā mentioned over 700 vegetable-based medicines. Indian medicine relied on the concept of marmas, which identified a series of points where an injury or damage could be fatal. Surgery was widely used and surgeons performed the most elaborate operations. Over 121 different steel instruments were used to sew up wounds, drain fluid, remove kidney stones and to perform plastic surgery.
Āyurveda is practiced in different parts of India since Vedic times. Over 70 percent of Indian population is dependent on this ancient knowledge of healing. The fundamental principles of Āyurveda are at the heart of many “alternative” therapies used in the West, today. Through this portal, an attempt has been made to establish the relevance of this ancient system of medicine in today’s world, by publishing the available texts and researches (analysis of the knowledge using modern scientific methods and standards practiced worldwide), in public domain.
Ancient texts on Āyurveda:
- Brahma Saṁhitā (Not available)
- Aśvinīkumar Saṁhitā (Not available)
- Ātreya Saṁhitā
- Agniveśa Saṁhitā
- Caraka Saṁhitā
- Suśruta Saṁhitā
- Aṣṭāngahṛdaya (by Vāgbhaṭa)
- Kāśyapa Saṁhitā
- Śālākya Tantra (by Nimi or Videha)
- Bhāva Prakāśa (by Śrī Bhāva Miśra)
- Śārṅgadhara Saṁhitā