Shalya Tantra – An Ancient Ayurvedic Surgery Technique

Surgery plays a vital role in medical treatment. It is a very advanced & complicated branch of medicine. Surgery is a life savior in numerous diseases when all kinds of therapy fail.

The advent of surgery is known to be just a few decades ago, but its origin lies since time immemorial. There are several pieces of evidence which prove that surgery had its roots in India for 5000 years.


Ayurveda, one of the oldest medical sciences on earth, has eight branches. Surgery or Shalya Tantra as called in Sanskrit is one of them.

Shalya means anything which tortures body & mind. Tantra includes all processes applied to remove the factor, causing pain and misery to body and mind.

All in all, shalya tantra aims at removing the misery of body and mind. Ayurvedic texts have a record of various instruments and operations covering plastic surgery, ophthalmology, gynecology, neurosurgery, orthopedics, oral surgery, etc.

But there are many unfolded secrets about Ayurvedic surgery, which is not known to today’s world.

History of Surgery in Ayurveda

Vedas, the classical Indian texts, mentions that twins Ashwini Kumar were the chief surgeon of the lords. They had performed many legendary surgeries like re-joining the head and neck, eye surgeries, implantation of teeth, head transplant of lord Ganesha, reconstruction of the iron leg, & many more.

One such successful surgeon was Jivaka, who was known for his excellence in the treatment of wounds & surgical operations of the stomach. The surgical skill has been passed through generations from Ashwini kumaras to lord Dhanwantari and his six students, Sushruta being one of them.

Sushruta, the father of surgery, is renowned for his immense contribution to the development of surgery.

Surgery developed by Sushruta is highly scientific and is known as the first organized surgery on the earth. His book Sushruta Samhita encompasses the complete practical knowledge of surgery.

Sushruta Samhita is still highly revered and is a holy book for the surgeons. Sushruta has keenly studied and investigated the human body in great detail.

All these surgical excellencies have laid down the foundation of surgery in Ayurveda.

Features of Shalya tantra

Human body dissection was probably performed for the first time in Ayurveda. Sushruta was able to explore the body’s anatomy through dissection of a human cadaver. He mastered this skill and illustrated the whole process in great detail in his work Sushruta Samhita.

All the knowledge about body parts and body organs, tissues have been measured and described in Sushruta Samhita.

Surgery in Ayurveda is mainly covered under eight categories: Excision, incision, scraping, puncturing, probing, extraction, draining, and suturing.

Traumatic wounds that hold forensic importance nowadays have been described broadly into six types: completely severed injury, deep injury, puncture wound, laceration, crushing injury, abrasion.

There are 60 kinds of treatments for healing various types of wounds, 125 surgical instruments, and 300 surgical procedures in Ayurvedic surgery.

In addition to it, chemical cauterization, treatment of vital points, organ transplantation, treatment of hair loss, treatment for skin burns, various scopies for investigation known as Nadi-yantra were originated first from Sushruta Samhita.

Various complicated surgeries were done at that time successfully, and all of them have been dealt with in Sushruta Samhita with fine details.

Sushruta is known as the pioneer of plastic surgery. There are 15 techniques of Lobuloplasty (a technique of repairing the ear), Rhinoplasty (reconstructing nose), and plastic surgery of cleft lip.

Apart from plastic surgeries, Sushruta gives an in-depth account of many techniques of suturing, surgical treatment of intestinal obstruction, intestinal perforation, ascites, piles, extraction of kidney stones, mal-presented fetus, surgical management of 12 types of fractures & 6 types of joint dislocation.

The surgical treatment of eye diseases illustrated in Ayurveda is quite similar to the modern surgical treatment of eye disorders.

Blood-letting through the application of leeches is a peculiar feature of Ayurvedic surgery in case of diseases due to blood impurities.

Is Ayurvedic surgery scientific?

Sushruta was one of the first persons who stressed on the importance of learning anatomy and surgery through dissection of cadavers. Dissection is regarded as the foremost task to master the anatomy of the human body which is a must for the successful practice of any surgeon.

Students studied anatomy and physiology in-depth for many years through dissection. Later on, they were trained for surgical procedures. For perfection and practical training, all these different procedures were demonstrated on the dummies and natural objects present around us.

For instance, incision was practised on pumpkin, cucumber, excision on bladder of an animal, leather bag, scraping on hairy piece of skin, puncturing on lotus stalks, vessels of dead animals, probing on wood eaten by moths, extraction on teeth of dead animals, evacuation on wood coated with bee’s wax, suturing of fine closely knitted leather cloth.

How Is Ayurvedic surgery conducted?

Sushruta denotes the stage of disease to know when surgery is needed and when the medicine would work. The basic principles of surgery also revolve around Tridoshas.

Surgery in Ayurveda is carried out in 3 stages; pre-surgery, surgical operation, and post-surgical care.

The pre-surgery stage includes the assessment of the patient and his ailment for proper planning of surgery. All the patients are assessed for their Prakriti (body type), physical & mental strength, and their disease type. All kinds of wounds, abscesses, diseases are diagnosed and treated according to the state of three doshas.

Before surgical operations chanting of mantras or hymns is a must. Because these spiritual chanting inevitably creates a favorable atmosphere and provokes confidence in the mind of both surgeon & patient.

Surgery is the second phase, followed by post-surgical care, which includes precautionary measures after surgery, diet restriction, medicinal herbs, lifestyle, & diet planning according to the body type and condition of the patient after surgery.

Ayurvedic surgery – A gift to modern medicine

Unlike modern surgery, Indian surgery is not all about cutting and reconstructing. It aims at the removal of all kinds of miseries of the patient throughout the surgery and after it.

Ayurvedic surgery not only treats one physically but also touches the mental and spiritual aspects of the patient. Although modern surgery has advanced through many years, many instruments and techniques practiced today were derived from ancient Indian surgery.


Unfortunately, Ayurvedic surgery is not performed as widely as in olden period. Now surgery in Ayurveda has got limited to few procedures.

The scope of Ayurvedic surgery needs to be researched and developed for the benefits of humanity at large.

Many of the modern techniques of surgery got inspiration from this legendary work of medicine. As Herzberg of Germany says, “our entire knowledge of plastic surgery took a new turn when these surgical techniques of India became known to us.’


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