Ayurveda: World’s oldest holistic health science from India

Updated: May 26, 2020

If you stroll past the shelves of any well-stocked bookstore in the world, you will find at least a few books about Vedas. Even though Vedas are centuries old, many still remain unaware about the contents and nature of information written in the Vedas. The curiosity about Vedas has always been high and my goal is to unveil one of them through this article i.e. Ayurveda

What are Vedas?

The word Veda means ‘to know’. Vedas are compilation of knowledge & information. Written by the sages of India centuries ago in Sanskrit language, Vedas deal with a variety of subjects ranging from technology to mathematics and from philosophy to astronomy. Ayurveda too happens to be one of the gifts of Vedas.

Ayurveda has attracted medical experts from all around the world. During ancient periods, Indian universities in Nalanda, Takshashila, Sharadapeeth, Varanasi, and Ujjain routinely admitted students from east & west Asia as well as the Middle East to share the knowledge of Ayurveda. That’s why, many Asian systems of medicine such as Chinese, Tibetan, Unani and Japanese have their roots in Ayurveda.

What is the health science of Ayurveda?

The word Ayurveda is a culmination of two words — “Ayu” & “Veda”. “Veda” refers to knowledge and “Ayu” means life. The term Ayurveda, therefore, implies knowledge about life. In other words, Ayurveda is an ancient holistic healthcare system that has existed in India for many centuries. However, unlike most modern systems of medicine in the world, Ayurveda aims to find permanent cure for illness and emphasizes sustenance of health and prevention of disease by curating a lifestyle that nurtures one’s innate nature. For centuries, Ayurveda lifestyle has been ingrained in traditions of Indian society and after India’s independence in 1947 Ayurveda gained the status of a legally recognized medical system. At present, is is regulated by Ministry of AYUSH in India. AYUSH is an acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha & Homeopathy.

How ancient is Ayurveda ?

Ayurveda has been practiced for thousands of years in India and there is no precise answer to this question but the roots of Ayurveda lie in Vedic literature. For decades experts such as Max Mueller have tried to determine the exact period of Vedas and other Sanskrit texts. They put forward various theories and expressed different opinions. For several decades, it was widely believed that the most ancient Vedic text dated back to 1,500 BC and other Vedic texts and scriptures of Ayurveda were written afterwards. However more recent research has indicated that Vedas are far more ancient than previously proposed. Vedic period is probably as old as 15,000 BC which means that many Ayurveda texts were probably written around 11 to 12 thousand BC and have been serving as a source of Ayurveda ever since. This gives us an idea about, how long this healthcare system has existed and served the society. The principles and concepts of this ancient medical science reflect a highly scientific approach and systematic methodologies of practice and hence are equally valid today.

Which areas of medicine Ayurveda deals with?

For the convenience of study & practice modern medical science has been divided into various branches such as ophthalmology, neurology, gynecology, pediatrics, surgery and so on. Many may be surprised to know that a similar division was already done thousands of years ago in Ayurveda and the knowledge was also divided into 8 different branches for convenience of study & application. Ayurveda was therefore called as ‘Ashtanga Ayurveda’, the word “ashta” means eight and “anga” means part. The term “Ashtanga Ayurveda” therefore implies eight-folded Ayurveda wherein each branch deals with a specific area of medical problems and its treatment. The 8 branches are as follows:

  1. Kayachikitsa: “Kaya” means body while “Chikitsa” means treatment. The branch Kayachikitsa therefore deals with all ailments coming under the purview of medicine but not requiring surgery. Hence, Kayachikitsa implies internal medicine.

  2. Shalyachikitsa: “Shalya” means a foreign body. A branch that serves to remove foreign bodies and other unwanted things from body and repair damaged body structures through surgery is referred to as Shalyachikitsa.

  3. Shalakyatantra: The word “Shalakya” comes from word “Shalaka” which means a linear catheter, rod or speculum that was frequently used in the treatment procedures. Tantra means technique. So, Shalakyatantra summarizes treatment techniques of E.N.T & ophthalmic diseases i.e. ear, nose, throat & eye problems.

  4. Kaumarbhrutya: This branch collectively treats obstetric, gynecological and pediatric diseases. In other words, pregnant & non-pregnant women and children up to 18 years old are treated under this branch of Ayurveda.

  5. Agadatantra: “Agad” means poison and Agadatantra implies toxicology. Patients suffering from food poisoning or snake bites etc. are treated under this branch of Ayurveda.

  6. Rasayan: This branch aims at rejuvenation of entire body. This is a specialty of Ayurveda which was meant primarily for aged population.

  7. Vajikaran: The objective of this branch is to strengthen sexual abilities of a person and treat all related problems. This is yet another Ayurveda specialty which contains effective aphrodisiac treatments.

  8. Grahachikitsa: The purpose of this branch is to treat mental ailments and health issues caused by planetary effects.

Though not classified above, Ayurveda elaborately deals with many other aspects of medicine such as preventive medicine, nutrition science, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and pharmacy.