• Dr. M. Abhijit MD, DYA

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.

What are the authentic sources of knowledge of Ayurveda?

Ancient Sanskrit texts are the chief source of information about Ayurveda. They give systematic and comprehensive account of all aspects of the rich knowledge and science of Ayurveda. Major part of every text is in poetry form while some part is written in prose format. While some compendia deals with more than one of above mentioned branches, some are focused on a specific branch of Ayurveda. Here are few important scriptures which are primary sources of information about Ayurveda.

  1. Charak Samhita: It is the most ancient text and is considered as a physician’s Bible. It deals primarily with herbal medicines and their usage in Ayurveda. Charak Samhita discusses in detail about rasayan, vajikaran, grahackikitsa, preventive medicine, nutrition science, physiology, pathology and pharmacology. The text contains 120 chapters which have been divided into 8 different sections.

  2. Sushrut Samhita: Compiled in contemporary period of Charak Samhita, this text is considered as a surgeon’s Bible. It focuses on surgical aspects of Ayurveda and also discusses other topics like anatomy, physiology, preventive medicine, toxicology, ENT & ophthalmology. It has 186 chapters which have been divided into 6 different sections.

  3. Ashtang Sangraha: Compiled in approximately 6th century AD, this text is a gist of above two texts. The name Ashtang Sangraha itself means collection of 8 branches. So this text discusses 8 branches of Ayurveda in its 150 chapters which are divided into 6 different sections.

  4. Sharangadhar Samhita: Written in 13th century AD, this text is dedicated to various Ayurveda medicines and their applications i.e. pharmacy. It elaborates on manufacturing and storage of Ayurveda medicines. It has 32 chapters divided into 3 sections which also cover medicines required for Panchakarma procedures.

  5. Madhav Nidan: Nidan means pathology & diagnosis. Dedicated to Ayurvedic pathology, this text contains 72 chapters and was written by an Ayurveda expert named Madhav in 7th century AD.

  6. Nighantu: Texts which focus exclusively on pharmacology are called Nighantu which means pharmacopoeia. Dozens of texts are classified under this category and describe medicinal properties and usages of thousands of substances of plant, animal & mineral origin.

Apart from these, there are many more scriptures which add into Ayurveda’s literary treasure. The last Sanskrit text of Ayurveda was written in 16th century AD. Following that, books written in other regional Indian languages further expanded knowledge & scope of Ayurveda.

How did the knowledge of Ayurveda spread to rest of the world?

Ayurveda has always attracted medical experts from all around the world. In ancient periods, Indian universities in Nalanda, Takshashila, Sharadapeeth, Varanasi, Ujjain and so on routinely admitted students from east & west Asia as well as middle-east for education on various subjects, including Ayurveda. That’s why, many other Asian systems of medicine such as Chinese, Tibetan, Unani and Japanese have their roots in Ayurveda.

Some even argue that Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine used basic concepts of Ayurveda to postulate his own theories and had probably studied Ayurveda. In early 19th century, two French scholars wrote their thesis on Ayurveda during their researches in French universities. For that they referred a Latin translation of Sushrut Samhita. Though it remains unknown, who translated Sushrut Samhita into Latin and when, but it proves the transfer of Ayurveda knowledge into Europe at some point in time.

How to learn and practice Ayurveda in India ?

Since India’s independence in 1947, Ayurveda education is propagated by Indian universities and administered by ministries of health & education. A student having completed 12 years of school education with major in science is eligible to enroll for an undergraduate program of Ayurveda which consists of 4½ years of training followed by a 1 year internship. The course includes training of Ayurveda as well as modern medicine. Graduate course is of 3 years during which a student can specialize in a particular branch of Ayurveda. After completion of graduate program, a student needs to register himself into national registry and get a license to legally practice Ayurveda.

Which modern health issues can be treated by Ayurveda?

Ayurveda can treat large number of physical, mental & psychosomatic diseases. It includes digestive, biliary, respiratory, urinary, neurological, musculoskeletal, dermatological, endocrinal, menstrual, sexual, oral, ophthalmic, cardiac and allergic issues. Ayurveda can also support pregnant women, children and elderly people to deal with their specific health issues.

Why is Ayurveda considered the best natural medicine?

There are numerous reasons why Ayurveda is the best natural medicine system for you but here are top 3 reasons you should consider:

  1. Ayurveda has a holistic healing approach. It does not aim to suppress symptoms but to cure the ailment by identifying and fixing root cause of the problem and prevent its recurrence.

  2. Ayurveda preaches to live in tune with nature and promotes building one’s own immunity and healing ability.

  3. Ayurveda medicines are made with natural ingredients i.e. plants, roots, seeds, etc. and not with chemicals and hence are free from unwanted side-effects. In fact, many medicines are known to have side-benefits.

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About Us: Mayur Tulum is an Ayurveda healing center based in Tulum, Mexico.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Any information in this article should not be viewed as medical advice. Please seek consultation of a qualified Ayurveda physician in your area. Alternatively, you can also contact us to schedule your online consultation.

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