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Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam
Aaturasyavyadhee Parimokshah

This means that Ayurveda aims to keep the healthy person healthy and cure the sick. Discoveries made by our ancient sages have stood the time of time and continue to be relevant in the industrialised world. It is for us to take full benefit from it our physical and spiritual progress.


‘Sanjeevani’ is undoubtedly the most famous herb known for its magical properties. According to the epic Ramayana, Lord Hanuman, Lord Rama’s disciple, moved a mountain on which the Sanjeevani grew so doctors could use it to revive Rama’s brother Laxmana as he lay critically wounded in what is Sri Lanka today in their battle against Ravana. The herb restored Laxmana to a fighting fit state and the rest as they say… is history.

Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old Indian science that can rightly be called the ‘Science of Life’, which focuses on good health and longevity. Though many today may find it synonymous with herbs or massage, yet this holistic medical system deals with body and mind. It is the science of staying in harmony with our environment.

Shatavari, Adulsa, Amla, Tulsi
Shatavari, Adulsa, Amla, Tulsi (clockwise from top left)

According to Hindu Mythology, Brahma is the creator of the world. Brahma was thought to have passed on divine knowledge to sages, who perceived health as an integral part of spiritual life. It continued to be passed on verbally to disciples and was first recorded by Vyasa muni. He authored four treatises – the Vedas- the Rig Ved, The Sama Ved, The Yajur Ved and the Atharva Ved. They reflect very ancient Indo-Aryan ritual practices and represent Hindu thought of that era.

Sagargota
Sagargota

Dhanwantari, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is considered to be the God of Classical Indian medicine. Ashwini Kumar learnt and wrote Ayurveda from Dhanvantari. Ayurveda came to be accepted as the fifth Veda. The knowledge was passed down over generations from guru to pupil and was later put down in text form by Acharya Charak. In the 1st century AD, he compiled this material into the Charak Samhita. It contains detailed classification of medicinal herbs. It has sections devoted to diet, pharmacology and treatment of several diseases.

extracts from the Charak Samhita
Extracts from the Charak Samhita

The Rig-Veda contains text on the nature of health and disease and principles to treat diseases. It refers to Vishchala- the wife of King Khel who was fitted an artificial foot made of iron as she lost her foot in a war (verse 1-116). The Aryanyakas, Upanishads and Brahmanas (which are sections in each Veda) also have details of subjects covered by Ayurveda obviously indicating the highly advanced understanding of the human body in health and sickness.

Acharya Sushrut wrote the Sushrut Samhita in about the fourth century AD, which deals with shalya (surgery). The Acharya lists around 125 surgical instruments that he used for his surgeries, details operative techniques among other subjects. At that time he is believed to have performed Caesarean sections, carried out plastic surgeries and set compound fractures. Plastic surgeons of the modern world are inspired by his work in repair of damaged ears or nose.

The eight divisions of Ayurveda are Internal medicine (kaya chikitsa), Surgery (shalya), Toxicology (agad tantra), Opththalmology and Otorhinolaryngology (shalakya), Paediatrics (kaumar bhritya), Psychiatry (bhoot vidya), Science of fertility (vajikarana) and Geriatrics/ Preventive health care (rasayana).

Jadi-buti (Dried Ayurvedic Plants)

Charak and Sushrut mention use of anaesthetics. Ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts outlined details of various diseases like dysentery, jaundice, diabetes, tuberculosis, heart diseases and their remedies. Charak dealt with diet, antidotes for poisons, emetics, purgatives and drugs for the cure of diseases.

One of the earliest references to a civic hospital is in the travelogues of the Fa Hsien, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim in the first decade of the fifth century AD in the city of Pataliputra. This suggests that India may have been the first in the world to have an organized system of dispensing medical aid. Ayurveda has benefited from the Buddhist movement as monks’ travelled far and wide to preach their religion taking along health care and herbal medicine. Jivika was a famous Ayurvedic physician in the sixth century BC.

Over the years, Vagabhat, Madhavakar, Dridhbala, Bhava Misra were some of the masters who have written compendia. However the advent of foreign rulers into India cast a long shadow over this ancient science and Ayurveda gradually went into a decline. It was only after Independence that it slowly retraced its steps on the path of glory.

Philosophy of Ayurveda

The central principle of Ayurvedic science is that each human being is unique and has a distinct individual constitution, genetic inheritance and predisposition to certain diseases.

According to Vedic beliefs, the human body is a reflection of cosmic life. Every living or non-living thing is made from five fundamental elements which are called ‘panchamahabhoot’ (five eternal elements). They are pruthvi (earth), aap (water), tej (light), vayu (air) and akash (sky).

These are present in the human body as the three doshas namely vata, pitta, and kapha. In most persons either one or combination of doshas would dominate and will define a person’s constitution. Vata dosha is believed to be comprised of vayu and akash and controls intellectual prowess, energy levels and body movements. Hence it is called ‘pran’. If vata is disfigured or disturbed then it creates disease or even causes death. Hence   Sushrut Acharya refers to vata as ‘Bhagwan’. Vata itself is responsible for pitta and kapha functioning properly.

Pitta dosha governs all types of transformations in the body and is most predominant during youth and adulthood. Kapha is the cohesive energy in the body- it smoothes out problems, lubricates and provides support when needed. It is anti thesis of ‘pitta’ and is protective in nature. Its main property is stability.

The main function of the body is digestion. Digestion occurs with the help of enzymes called Agni and the digestive force is called jatharagni. It converts ingested food step by step into seven dhatu. They are rasa (plasma), raktha (blood), mamsa (muscle), medas (adipose tissue), asthi (bone), majja (bone marrow), and shukra (male & female reproductive agents). Upadhatu and mal are formed at each stage during this process. Of these, updhatu remain in the body but mal (urine, sweat, faeces) is thrown out.

Ojas represents a concentrate of the seven dhatu and is considered to be the life force. Good health, resistance to infections etc all depends on ojas. It also protects and nourishes the growing embryo in a mother’s womb.

Like the body, the human mind has three characteristics (guna)- satvik (peaceful, not easily distracted), rajasik (excitable, passionate) and tamasik (inertia, lazy). There is a constant interplay of the three in an individual and usually one dominates.

Ayurveda holds that a healthy body and mind begin before conception. The new life to be born is influenced by the parents’ compatibility, health of the father and the mother-to-be of, her activities and happiness during pregnancy. From the third month, a foetus can understand happiness and joy. By the fourth to fifth month the chetna dhatu gets expressed and mind and body get bound together. At this time the physical, mental and atmaj characteristics of the foetus can be influenced via the shravaya (sound) medium. Hence following a strict regimen from before the child is conceived will go a long way helping the newborn grow into a healthy contributing member of society. These constitute ‘Garbhasanskar’ (ante natal conditioning rituals).

The ancient science of healing balancing ones wellbeing is rooted in the timeless relationship between diverse elements. The more we are aware of and respect this relationship, the healthier and happier we are likely to become.

Author: Archana Pande
Photographs: Radhika Nargolkar, Bhalchandra Mohite
Source: Heritage India Volume 1 Issue 4 (2008-09)
Copy editor (web): Kshitija Pande

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