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This page is on History of Medicine in Ancient India.
"India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages. She was the
mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs, of much
of our mathematics, mother through Buddha, of the ideals
embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities
of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many
ways the mother of us all."
- Will Durant
- Will Durant
"If there is one place on the face of this Earth "where all the dreams of living men have found a home "from the very earliest days when Man began the dream of"existence, it is India."
- Romain Rolland - French Philosopher 1886-11944
Thanks for being my guest. You are going to read about the history of medicine with respect to world in general and India in particular.
Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of this healing system was a part of the spiritual tradition of the Sanatana Dharma (Universal Religion), or Vedic Religion.
We find the roots of modern medicine in Veda which are at least 6000 BC old.
There were originally four main books of spirituality, which included among other topics, health, astrology, spiritual business, government, army, poetry and spiritual living and behavior. These books are known as the four Vedas; Rik, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. The Rik Veda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (Sanskrit) (At least 6000 B.C.). The Rik Veda (also known as Rig Veda) refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of both Ayurveda and Yoga, contains verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. Among the Rik Veda are found discussions of the three dosas, Vayu. Pitta and Kapha, and the use of herbs to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity.
The Atharva Veda lists the eight divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of Fertility. The Vedic Sages took the passages from the Vedic Scriptures relating to Ayurveda and compiled separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. One of these books, called the Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world!
The Vedic Brahmanas were not only priests performing religious rites and ceremonies, they also became Vaidyas (physicians of Ayurveda). The sage-physician-surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. In other words, the knowledge of the use of various methods of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery came through Divine revelation; there was no guessing or testing and harming animals. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form, interspersed with the other aspects of life and spirituality. What is fascinating is Ayurveda's use of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle and surgery. Consequently Ayurveda grew into a respected and widely used system of healing in India. Around 1500 B.C., Ayurveda was delineated into eight specific branches of medicine. There were two main schools of Ayurveda at that time. Atreya- the school of physicians, and Dhanvantari - the school of surgeons. These two schools made Ayurveda a more scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system People from numerous countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this world medicine and the religious scriptures it sprang from. Learned men from China, Tibet, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanistanis, Persians, and more traveled to learn the complete wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. Ayurvedic texts were translated in Arabic and under physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Sempion, both of whom quoted Indian Ayurvedic texts, established Islamic medicine. This style became popular in Europe, and helped to form the foundation of the European tradition in medicine.
In 16th Century Europe, Paracelsus, who is known as the father of modem Western medicine, practiced and propagated a system of medicine which borrowed heavily from Ayurveda.
There are two main re-organizers of Ayurveda whose works are still existing in tact today - Charak and Sushrut. The third major treatise is called the Ashtanga Hridaya, which is a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus the three main Ayurvedic texts that are still used today are the Charak Samhita (compilation of the oldest book Atreya Samhita), Sushrut Samhita and the Ashtangha Hridaya Samhita. Ayurveda is known today as the only complete medical system still in existence. Other forms of medicine from various cultures, are missing parts of the original information.
Charaka Samhita is mainly a medical text while Sushruta Samhita concentrates on surgery.
Indian medicine mixed religion with secular medicine. Doctors used incantations in combination with administering drugs and performing operations. It involved observing the patient as well as observing their natural environment. For instance, the flight of birds or sounds from nature may be interpreted as clues to the severity of an illness. Doctors also used an extensive range of medicine; Charaka Samhita listed 500 medicines while Sushruta Samhita mentioned over 700 vegetable-based medicines. Indian medicine relied on the concept of marmas, which identified a series of points where an injury or damage could be fatal.
Surgery was widely used in Indian medicine. In the Ancient World, Indian surgeons performed the most elaborate operations. Over 121 different steel instruments were used to sew up wounds, drain fluid, remove kidney stones and to perform plastic surgery. An official punishment for adultery was to cut off your nose, so surgeons had plenty of opportunities to reconstruct and refine noses.
It is likely that the theory of the Four Humours originated in Indian medicine and was then picked up by Greek travellers.
References: 1) Veda 2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/medicine/nonint/prehist/dt/prdtcs4.shtml