India is a country that is known for the existence of different cultures, religions, languages, dynasties and considered for its unity in diversity. But the contribution of Ancient India to the entire world has been quite immense in different fields, and one such field is the field of Medicine. India’s achievements in this particular field are not known Ancient Ayurveda comprehensively to the world even today. One of the major reasons was that the medical information of Ancient India was written in the language Sanskrit which was only comprehended by the Sanskrit scholars. The second most important reason is that the medical knowledge was guarded closely among the Vaidyas or the physicians and their families. Sharing of this knowledge or writing books in order to preserve them from any kind of posterity didn’t appeal to them.
In the 18th century, with the pioneering efforts of western scholars who had an interest in Sanskrit studies led to the revelation of this ancient knowledge whose journals were made available in English translations of Sanskrit literature. A few more scholars from the Western world also created an interest in the Sanskrit literature study. Ever since the Renaissance, this Sanskrit literature discovery was considered to be among one of the most substantial events in the history of both culture and language studies. Sanskrit medical classics were then discovered, and they were translated only after initial interests generated in Literature and History. However, this didn’t arouse the much-needed interest and only in the 20th century that the Great Medical classics’ translations become easily available to the West. Even then there was a continued obsession in the West about the origin of scientific medicine which was supposed to be from Greece.
What is Ayurveda?
The term Ayurveda comes from the term “Ayuh” which means life and “Veda” which means to attain or to know. Hence, Ayurveda is about the science of knowing the methods through which the life can be lengthened and prolonged.
There are four Vedas or sacred books in India, the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda and they were raised to the Veda level to give the science of medicine both its sanctity as well as importance.
Since these Vedas are considered to be composed of the Goods and then they are passed on to the ancient sages or Rishis by word of mouth, the Science of medicine must also be a divine revelation to these rishis. There exist two versions, with the medical school which traces its origins to Sage Bharadhwaja and the tracing of surgical school to Dhanvatari. Both of them are supped to have received the knowledge from the King of Gods, Indra.
The time of four Vedas, i.e. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda is dated back to nearly five thousand years back. These Vedas teach the fundamental philosophy related to the human life. In the fourth Veda, the Atharvaveda describes the various practices and principles of medicine on which the basic fundamentals of the Ayurveda are based. Ayurveda is the oldest and ancient system of healing. It promotes the longevity of life. Ayurveda has an impact on various ancient systems of healing such as Greek, Chinese and Tibetan medicine. This is why the Ayurveda is touted as the mother of different healing sciences.
References to medicine can easily be located in the different ancient texts which also includes Vedas. Ayurveda originated from the Brahma who is the creator of the universe, passed the knowledge of Daksha Prajapati. Daksha Prajapati then passed the knowledge to Atreya Punarvasu. The very first Veda, the Rig Veda describes the great divine powers of physician Rudra as well as cure of Chyavana’s senility by the Aswini Kumaras who were the divine twins and the healers of the God. The passed it to the King of Gods, Indra who revealed to Sage Bhardwaja in the form of three Aphorisms., the Hetu (causes), the Lings (Symptoms) and the Aushada (remedies) of the diseases. Bhardawaja then revealed it to Atreya who taught his six disciples orally- Agnivesha, Jatukarna, Bhela, Harita, Parasharaa, and Khsirapani. All of these six disciples then went on to complied treaties on it. The knowledge of medicine is found at different places and scatters in the Rig Veda, but the most comprehensive and systemic details of various diseases, as well as their cures, can be traced back to Atharva Veda only.
In the Rig Veda texts, there is occasional references which are made to various diseases and their cures. In Atharva Veda, the medicines are referenced as an amalgam of religion, magic and removal of spirits. Diseases which are caused by possession of evil spirits, evil deeds and anger of specific Gods, as well as sorcery of enemies, were easily be cured by Vedic medicines. The Atharva Veda which is incantations and spells book dealt with the treatment of different diseases by advising rites, offerings, penances, homas or rituals and mantras along with fasting. These were also supplemented by amulets and different devices to remove witchcraft. Slowly the medicinal practice with the help of medicinal herbs started to increase, and this signifies the beginning of more rational treatment against the so-called magico-religious medicines in the Vedic times.
Following the Atharva Veda for few centuries, the medicine seems to be confined to Bhuta Vidya and Sarpa Vidya. During the six centuries before the birth of Christ, Buddhism, as well as Jainism, were started. Hinduism gave rise to six different systems of thoughts which were Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Mimasa, Vaisesika, and Vedanta. Around this particular time, there were popular physicians, Charaka and Sushruta. There were three important Samhitas, the Bhela Samhita, the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. These three groups formed the major sources of the classical medicine.
The system of Vedic medicine follows the perception of Vedas as well as the conscious intelligence of nature. The early scientists of Ayurveda were able to find and observe that there exist attributes of the environment which were grouped together as five states of matter or great elements- space, fire, air, water and earth. Understanding the human being was considered to be a microcosm of this macrocosm and these scientists recognized the method by which these five elements combine in order to create what we call the three doshas in the humans.
The doshas are metaphors for the different ways the intelligence of body promotes health via its various systems. Vata or air and either, Pitta or fire and water, and Kapha or water and earth are the intelligent movement’s powers, transformation as well cohesion that both of them constitutes as well as govern the body. As body’s functional intelligence, the doshas are quite subtle in nature. They can’t be seen by naked eye or even under a microscope. But they can be identified via their qualities. Hot/cold, light/heavy, wet/dry etc. are like doshas’ language which are also perceptible via the normal human senses. Every Ayurvedic practitioner has to learn to understand the world and their patients via this qualitative language.
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