Ayurveda is an ancient system of life (ayur) and knowledge (veda) that has been the foundation of various medical branches arising out of India. Its roots can be traced way back in the Vedic period around thousands of years ago. In fact, a deep understanding of creation led to the evolvement of the theory of Ayurveda. The understanding of this creation came through deep meditation and other spiritual practices by the great rishis and seers of ancient India. In fact, the rishis were the first to reveal the deepest truths of human physiology and health. They got in harmony with the fundamentals of life, organized them into an elaborate system and assembled the philosophical and spiritual texts, known as Veda of knowledge.
Veda, the world’s oldest existing literature is the one where Ayurveda was first recorded. The three most vital Veda texts believed to be over 1200-year-old comprising of the original and complete knowledge of Ayurveda is still in use today. These teachings were then routinely passed on orally from teacher to student for over thousands of years. The wisdom of Ayurveda is recorded in Sanskrit, which is the ancient Indian language and reflects the philosophy behind Ayurveda and the depth it carries.
Ayurveda has been cautiously integrated within the six vital Indian philosophical systems, several physical/behavioral sciences and the medical arts. One stanza from an ancient authority says that Ayurveda deals with the good and the bad life, happiness and misery, that which supports or destroys, and the measurement of life. It works to heal the sick, maintain health in the healthy, and to prevent disease for promoting quality of life and ensure a long life. Health is defined as an experience of happiness in the soul, mind and senses and balance of the body’s three governing principles, seven tissues, three wastes, digestion, and other processes such as immune functioning.
It’s the very root of Indian Culture. All the 4 Vedas – Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda contain several references of medicine and description of diseases. Different bacteria are considered to be responsible for various diseases. Atharva Veda is referred to be a branch of Ayurveda. If the history of Ayurveda is traced from our available ancient texts, it’s mentioned that Ayurveda was conceptualized with the inception of the universe.
From Brahma who is believed to be the creator of the Universe, the knowledge was passed to Daksha Prajapati (ancient creative sage), who further passed it to Ashwins (the divine physicians). From Ashwins, it was then passed to Indra. As imbalance in the mode of living began, the sages elected a delegate which meditated at the foothills of Himalayas to call upon Indra, to relieve the worldly beings from the threat of diseases.
The medical knowledge acquired in early age was documented systematically and organized scientifically in compendia (Samhitas) of Ayurveda. There were several Atreyas (disciples of Atri were called Atreya) who were teachers and authors on medicine. One of them was Professor of Medicine at the University of Taxila. He had 7 famous disciples namely, Bhela, Agnivesha, Jatikarna, Harita, Parashar, Ksharpani and Jivaka. All of them wrote treatise on Ayurveda, most of which are lost.
Ancient Ayurveda texts of Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita were written in this period, i.e. 700 – 600 BC. These Samhitas are extremely sophisticated and ideally written. Charaka Samhita includes carefully formulated classification of diseases and their treatments, along with the sections on embryology, nutrition and medicinal herbs. Sushruta Samhita elaborately describes several surgeries including plastic surgery and caesarian section.
During the medieval period, Ayurvedic medicine began to be wildly replaced by alternative systems imposed by the ruling classes. Later, from the beginning of 18th century, Ayurveda was nearly totally overthrown by British rule in India, as one ruler after another were intimidated by the knowledge of Ayurveda and took it as a menace to their political control.
During 19th and 20th century, a great revival period of Ayurveda began. During the 19th century, Germans translated the details of an operation for repair of damaged noses and ears from Sushruta Samhita. This operation, which appears as pedicle graft in modern text books, led to the development of plastic surgery as an independent speciality. Today, Sushruta is regarded as master of their craft by plastic surgeons around the world.
Today, Western medicine is beginning to endorse the significance of prevention of diseases with the help of good diet, appropriate exercise, and spiritual meditation along with the required treatment. They have begun to understand the significance of holistic approach to health and it’s encouraging to see the situation changing for better.