History of any medical system is quite interesting as it is a story of man’s struggle against the disease for survival. Ayurveda, one of the oldest medicinal system on the earth, is not an exception and has a fascinating history and origin.
Ayurveda is an eternal science which has survived through several civilizations & still stands as a distinct entity.
It is being said that the development of Ayurveda has taken place from the beginning of the creation of the universe as it is the primary necessity of the living being to stay healthy.
Vedic literature of ancient India comprises of a lot of the worldly knowledge. This Vedic knowledge is primarily covered by four Vedas, namely “Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda.” Ayurveda is classified as Upaveda (subsection) of the Atharva Veda.
Atharva Veda has explained many treatment methods, diseases, their diagnostic methods, and has mentioned the use of thousands of herbs used at that time.
In brief, Atharvaveda is attributed to be the origin of the science of life. Ayurveda is sometimes also called the fifth Veda.
Where did Ayurveda come from?
The disease has existed ever since humans existed. Thus, there has to be some basic system of medicine to tackle such diseases. That’s why the existence of Ayurveda is considered to be from time immemorial.
But the question is how Ayurveda came into existence to solve the man’s problems?
Descent Of Ayurveda
It is believed that Ayurveda is closely related to the Hindu mythology & thus is of divine origin. Since Ayurveda is eternal, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, recollected this science of life and later taught this science to his son Daksha Prajapati.
Prajapati disseminated this knowledge to Ashwini twin brothers, the efficient physicians as well as surgeons.
Indra, the king of Heaven, learned it from Ashwini twins.
Who brought Ayurveda on Earth?
As per different stories, it is said that Indra imparted his knowledge to various sages. According to the classical Ayurvedic text of Charaka Samhita, Bharadvaja went to Indra to learn Ayurveda. He brought this science on earth as well as taught it to his disciples to save humanity on earth.
Some say Indra taught Dhanvantari and he, in turn, taught to his disciples who wrote treatises by their names independently while others say that Kashyapa received knowledge Ayurveda from Indra.
However, Lord Dhanwantari is known as ‘God of Ayurveda.’ There’s also a story in classical Indian texts which states that Dhanwantari emerged from the ocean during the event of the churning of ocean between deities and demons for immortality.
He appeared with the pot of elixir of immortality, which is symbolized as Ayurveda to help humanity cure diseases.
History of Ayurveda
The further history of systematic development of Ayurveda can be traced back from the various Samhitas (collection of Sanskrit verses). The masters of each Samhita used to teach their disciples the principles of medicine, which they compiled into the classical Ayurveda books for reference.
These texts became the basis of Ayurveda and helped organize this science systematically into various branches. It has two primary schools, Caraka school of medicine and Susruta’s school of surgery.
The vast knowledge of Ayurveda is documented within two standard sets, “Major three Ayurveda texts”, and “Minor three Ayurveda texts”. Major three books include Carak Samhita, Susruta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridya.
Major Three Ayurveda Texts
1. Caraka Samhita
Carak Samhita, most ancient and authoritative text for Ayurvedic physicians, was written by Agnivesha. He was a student of Atreya, who learned the science of life from Bharadvaja. This text was redacted by Caraka and hence is named after him.
This text was written somewhere near the 1st century A.D. It extensively deals with Kaya Cikitsa (General Medicine) and is considered as a standard book of medicine.
The principles of treatment given by Caraka takes a holistic approach. He not only focused on diagnosis and treatment but also has put light on the medical infrastructure and various techniques to employ medicine.
2. Susruta Samhita
Susruta Samhita is yet another book which ranks the same as the Caraka Samhita. The author of this text, Sushruta is regarded as ‘Father of Surgery.’
This book highly focuses on Shalya Tantra (Surgery). Susruta learned Ayurveda from Dhanwantari and wrote this text during 2nd century A.D. Susruta developed methodology of plastic surgery, cosmetic and prosthetic surgery.
He goes deep into details of various aspects of surgery by mentioning the qualities of a surgeon and several surgical instruments. He describes 101 blunt and 20 sharp instruments to perform various operations.
Along with surgery, Susruta has told about various diagnostic methods, the origin of universe and body, etc.
3. Ashtanga Hridya
Vagbhata, one of the famous authors of Ayurveda, has brought together the essence of teachings of Carak and Susruta. He has compiled them into two sets of texts known as Ashtanga Hridya and Ashtanga Sangraha.
These books present the knowledge of Ayurveda concisely and straightforwardly. Vagbhata belonged to the period of 6th century A.D. He has a vital role in carrying forward the legacy of Ayurveda.
Laghutrayi (Minor Three Ayurveda Texts)
Coming closer to the modern era we get ancient texts presented in a simplified and different way in the lesser trio of Ayurveda texts. Laghutrayi comprises of,
- Madhava Nidan – Madhavkar wrote it around 7th to 8th century A.D. It is a compilation of etiopathogenesis and signs & symptoms of all diseases mentioned in classical texts.
- Sharangdhar Samhita – Sharangdhar wrote this text around 1400 A.D. and had described various prescriptions, formulation of herbs and minerals with many newer additions & alterations.
- Bhavaprakash – Bhavamishra in this text has given a detailed description of Ayurvedic medicine and also deals with Ayurvedic Pharmacopeia (Formulary).
Recent History of Ayurveda
After Alexanders invasion of India, Indian medicines were adapted by Greeks to a great extent. Garrison, the author of the book ‘History of Medicine’ mentions about the borrowing of the principles of Ayurveda by Chinese people.
Ayurveda found its roots in Iran which shaped up their Unani system of medicine.
Many foreigners came to India to learn the ‘Science of Life’ which was later adopted by them either distinctly or integratively. Ayurveda spread to countries like Tibet, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.
The era of Caraka and Susruta was the most celebrated days for Ayurveda. Upto the ages of Buddha and king Ashoka, Ayurveda developed, especially in terms of surgery. But the principle of non-violence of Buddhists stood in the way of advancement in surgery.
When India was under British rule, the influence of Ayurveda declined drastically. Western form of medicine was introduced in India. Various significant Ayurvedic texts and Vedic works of literature were burned in high numbers.
Due to the beginning of Western schools, the study of Vedic literature and traditional knowledge went down. Many Ayurvedic schools were demolished, and thus, Ayurveda suffered a great loss, and we lost a significant part of our golden legacy.
However, after Independence, various developmental committees and associations were formed to revive Ayurveda. Several substantial steps were taken in this direction.
Ayurveda texts were restored and many institutions, clinics were set up so that Ayurveda can be instilled as a chief medical science in India. Gradually, Ayurveda got considered as alternative medicine.
Ayurveda is now becoming popular with more and more people accepting its holistic approach of healing with minimal (read “no”) side effects. Although Ayurveda is still considered as a complementary system of medicine, the trend of using alternative medicine with modern medicine side by side is emerging.
The interest of the West in Ayurveda has led to rapid progress in the spread of Ayurveda worldwide. Ayurveda in West is in vogue nowadays as they like the concept of the science of life which unites body, spirit, and mind.
WHO has also recognized the need for traditional medicines in today’s scenario. It is assisting various nations to include such old medical systems into the National Health System.
Thus, there has been significant progress towards making Ayurveda as the chief health system of India, but a lot has to be done. This objective could be achieved only if we rewrite the golden history of Ayurveda, once again and use its principles in our day to day life.
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