Ayurveda is a vast and comprehensive science of life. It covers all aspects of human’s life challenges. Ayurveda has the power of healing with various best therapies and many remedies.
This extensive science is formally organised into eight sections or branches. These eight limbs are jointly called as Ashtang Ayurveda.
These branches formed the basis for the existence of different schools of Ayurveda. These branches are specialisations of Ayurveda.
Now a days, lot of research are going in these branches and one can even pursue post-graduation and doctorate in these branches.
Eight elite branches of Ayurveda
The branches of Ayurveda have evolved over the centuries. The knowledge of each branch is described in numerous classical Ayurvedic texts written by several sages.
There were several Ayurvedic scholars and sages. According to their field of specialisation, each scholar has emphasised and explained different branches.
These eight elite branches are
- Kayacikitsa (General Medicine)
- Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
- Shalakya Tantra (Ear/Eyes, Nose, Throat)
- Kaumarbhritya (Pediatrics)
- Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
- Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
- Rasayana Tantra (Rejuvenating Therapy)
- Vajikarana Tantra (Aphrodisiac Therapy)
1. Kaya Cikitsa (General Medicine)
Kaya means body. Cikitsa means treatment. Kaya Cikitsa deals with the treatment of diseases afflicting the entire body. It provides remedies which treat all diseases coming under general medicine like fever, diarrhoea, skin diseases, urinary disorders, bleeding diseases, joint disorders etc.
Kaya (body) is made up of srotas (channels) which transports nutrients to the whole body. When these channels get contaminated or blocked, they tend to cause diseases.
Kaya in Ayurveda also means Agni (digestive fire). Ayurveda believes that a disturbed Agni is the root cause of all physical disorders.
If Agni is proper, all the activities in the body will run smoothly. If it gets disturbed, i.e. increased or decreased ama (undigested food) is formed, which is toxic. Thus, imbalanced Agni leads to several diseases.
Kayacikitsa deals with correcting the Agni & srotas and treats mainly diseases caused by metabolic errors.
Kayacikitsa adopts specific treatment measures like cleansing therapies of Panchakarma, de-nourishing therapy, planning an appropriate diet and lifestyle to protect Agni and keep srotas healthy.
2. Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
‘Shalya’ in Sanskrit means foreign objects. Their source may be of outside or inside of the body. Shalya Tantra is the branch which deals with the extraction of foreign objects from the body.
Foreign objects include wood, stone, dust particles, metal pieces, mud, bones, hairs, nails, pus, discharges, contaminated wounds, obstructed fetus, dead fetus etc.
Shalya Tantra can also be called as ‘Surgical Science’ as it deals with various surgical and orthopaedic procedures.
It also describes the diagnosis and management of wounds and ulcers. Wounds can be immature, suppurated or mature. Depending on the states of injuries, they are treated by different procedures.
Apart from this, it also elaborates on various types of surgical instruments called as Yantra (blunt tools) and Shastra (sharp tools), Kshara (alkali cauterisation) and Agni karma (fire cauterisation).
This branch of Ayurveda has been of great significance since ancient times. During wartimes, the man got affected by foreign objects like sharp weapons, swords, arrows etc.
In today’s age, this system is also used to treat piles, fistula, stones, abdominal damages, injuries due to accidents etc.
3. Shalakya Tantra (ENT)
This branch is also known as Urdhwanga Cikitsa (Urdhwa = upper, Anga = organs) because it is concerned with the prevention and treatments of diseases of parts of the body above shoulders, i.e. head & neck.
It elaborates on health conditions of eyes, ears, nose, teeth, mouth, head and throat. Ayurvedic texts describe the treatment of different types of conjunctivitis, glaucoma, cataract and cosmetic surgery of nose & ear. In addition to these abnormalities minor problems like eye dryness, migraine, ear wax, mouth ulcers etc. are also dealt.
This part also deals with the study of sizes and shapes of Shalaka (instruments used to examine, diagnose & treat diseases of head and neck) and their utility. Shalaka tool is also used for ingesting medication to the affected parts of the head and neck.
Management of diseases is done by procedures like nasal drops, head massage, enema, eye exercises etc. along with surgical procedures.
4. Kaumarbhritya (Pediatrics)
This branch deals with the diseases of infancy, childhood & adolescence and their treatment. It explains in depth about the nourishment of the infants and children. It emphasises on the health of children right from pregnancy to teenage for which it also focuses on healthy childbirth.
For the proper growth of the child, it gives importance to the mother’s pure milk. So, it also describes methods of purifying contaminated breast milk, treatment of diseases caused due to impure breast milk.
It also includes the description of symptoms and treatment of infections of childhood. This branch is also known as Bala Roga Cikitsa. From newborn to children up to sixteen years of age are called as Bala.
Due to the low strength of children, less potent medicines in small doses are prescribed to them.
This section not only deals with the health of children but also takes care of female’s disorders and childbirth.
5. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
This division of Ayurveda is also known as Visha Cikitsa as it deals with the treatment of disorders caused due to visha (poison).
Agada Tantra explains a variety of methods and tests to determine the nature of poisons of various types of insects, snakes, spiders, rats, plants, minerals, metals etc. along with their management.
Also, diagnosis of poisonous animals is made by their bites and stings.
This branch has a detailed explanation of poisons such as natural poisons, artificial poisons, the combination of toxins, their effects, diagnosis and treatments.
In today’s scenario, it is also concerned with the accumulation of poisons and toxins in the body due to junk food, food poisoning, secretions of toxic bacteria, fungi, virus, intake of drugs, alcohol and smoking.
The classic text of Sushruta Samhita mentions twenty-four detoxification methods to get the body rid of poisons.
6. Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
It is an ancient psychiatric specialisation. This part of Ayurveda is primarily related to mental disorders such as psychosis, epilepsy, lunacy and diseases which do not follow Tridosha theory.
This branch is also called as Graha Cikitsa. During ancient times people believed that diseases without any reasonable cause were due to the influence of grahas, i.e. evil spirits, demons, ghost, ancestral forefather & unseen supernatural forces.
Therefore the treatment is based upon the spiritual healing by mantras (chanting sacred syllables from religious texts). There is a belief that the repetition of mantras links us with deities that kills the supernatural powers and cures many diseases.
Along with chanting, fumigation, using specific herbs, application of sacred symbols, fire offerings and other rituals are some of the different methods of spiritual healing.
7. Rasayana Tantra (Rejuvenative therapy)
It is the science of practices promoting healthy and long life-span. It deals with the methodology and medications to prevent early old age, preserve youth, prolong life, promote intelligence and strength & immunity to resist diseases.
This branch of Ayurveda is capable of eradicating disease occurring in old-age and prevents premature ageing, which is why it is also called as Jara Cikitsa. Jara means old age.
Treatment involves many potent recipes for rejuvenation which can be used as per the strength of the individual. These recipes remove all the toxicity from body, repairs and nourish body tissues.
Thus, Rasayana therapy leads to the rejuvenation of the body by improving the texture and shine of the skin, enhanced memory & physical strength as well.
8. Vajikarana Tantra (Aphrodisiacs)
This science provides knowledge about techniques and practices essential to produce healthy children. For this, the purification of male and female genital organs is necessary.
It elaborates the measures used to strengthen and clean Shukra (semen). It includes remedies for increasing the quantity of semen when it is scanty, methods for its purification when impure and replenishes semen’s loss.
Thus, it treats the conditions like infertility, impotence and sterility of both men & women. Vajikarana Tantra also offers remedies for improving virility and contentment during copulation.
Ayurveda believes that healthy reproductive practices are an essential part of healthy life-span. Hence, it also teaches about proper sexual practices.
Ayurveda: A Systematic Science
The eight elite branches of Ayurveda shows that even 5000 years back, such a systematically arranged science existed and were practised successfully. All these branches of Ayurveda have led to the development of the sophisticated sections of modern medical science we know now.
Such an old science of Ayurveda is enough to prove that it indeed touches all the angles of man’s life and has solutions for all the challenges of humankind.