About Hinduism and India

Living according to Natural laws of the local environment is the essence of Hinduism. In modern jargon it is called Naturo-pathy. Patanjili’s Yogasutra suggested a holiest approach to disease free life based on constant practice of self-discipline, diet control, body postures and breathing techniques. Hindus by and large continued to live the same way till their life styles came in clash with invaders and got distorted. According to Atharva Veda, water therapy was to be the most effective remedy for all cures as water is at the base of every medicine.

System of Diagnosis

Ancient Indian texts on physiology identified three body humors – wind, gall, and mucus as primary factors. A balance among all the three was necessary to be maintained for enjoying good health. Life styles were broadly classified as Satvik, Rajsik and Tamsik, and they also contributed towards good or bad health.

A wide variety of herbs were listed in ancient pharmacopoeia, many of which have been proved to be sure cures for specific diseases, such as oil from the bark of Chaulmoogra trees remains was the most effective treatment for leprosy. Many of Ayurvedic diagnoses and cures are still used in India, with success to the envy of Western physicians.

Surgery

Conceptual references about transplantation of body part are already available in pictorial representations of Lord GanshaVarah Avatar (human form of Vishnu with Boar’s head), and Narasimha Avtar, (human form of Vishnu with Lion’s head).

In addition, there is Puranic reference where Shiva had transplanted goat head on the corpse of Daksh Prajapati. The narration goes that Daksha had insulted Shiva. It resulted in Shiva’s consort Sati jumping into yagna fire. On orders from Shiva, his Gana Veera Bhadra chopped off the head of Daksha. Subsequently, moved by the pleadings from his widow, Shiva transplanted a goat head on Daksha’s corpse to give him new life. Allegorically Daksha had to be identified as a person with greater ego than his worth.

Apart from matter of faith, mortal ancient Indians also have been bold and skillful in the art of Surgery. They conducted amputations, arrested bleeding by pressure with the help of a cup-shaped bandage, and boiling oil. They devoted great care to the making of surgical instruments, and to the training of students by means of operations performed on wax spread out on a board, or on the tissues, cells of the vegetable kingdom, and upon dead animals.  Sushruta has been the foremost surgeon and is credited to have performed complex surgeries.

Anatomy and Physiology

India’s oldest medical texts were far superior to most subsequent works in the field. Anatomy and physiology are the by-products of medicine. As far back as the sixth century BC, Indian physicians described ligaments, sutures, lymphatic, nerve plexus, fascia, adipose, vascular tissues, mucous, and many more muscles than any cadaver are able to show. They understood remarkably well the process of digestion, different functions of gastric juices, and dissolution of food in to blood.

Garbha Upanishad attributed to Rishi Pipalada has listed 180 joints, 107 delicate parts (Marmasthalas), 109 Nerve centers (Sanayutantra), 360 bones, 500 marrow centers (Majjas) and 4.5 million cells in human body.  It is further mentioned that human-heart weighed 8 Tolas, tongue 12 Tolas and liver one Seer. It has also been clarified that due to variations in food intake and expulsion of waste matters, the weights of body part are not uniform in all humans.

The Indian medical schools of 500 BC suggested birth control in the latest theological fashion that during the twelve days of the menstrual cycle impregnation was impossible. Fetus development has been described with considerable accuracy in Garbha Upanishad; and it has also specified the period till the sex of the fetus remained undetermined. It was also stated that food or drugs could influence the sex of the embryo.

Process of Death

Another text Trishikha Brahmnopnishad has described the process of death in human body on a time line. According to the description, sensations follow a set pattern prior to natural death of persons. One year prior to the natural death sensation recede from foot soles, thumbs, and toes. Six month before the death sensations from wrists and ankles are lost. One month prior to death, sensations are lost from elbows and fortnight prior from eyes. The appetite is lost ten days before death. Eye sight gets reduced to glow-worm spark five days prior to death. A person cannot see the tip of his own nose three days prior to his death and candle light just two days before. Any physician can start data collection on the subject and verify the percentiles himself.

Herbal Cures

The Hindus knew various chemical processes. Oxides, sulphates, and metallic substances made out of gold and silver, were administered internally in India long before the Arabs borrowed the same and introduced to Europe. A tree resin had been used in India as a cure for variety of ailments, and also to lower cholesterol in lab animals. Gugal, had been used since 600 BC to battle obesity, arthritis, and many other ailments.  Tamarind was used as a cooling agent. Even today many of the herbal cures suggested by Swami Ram Dev and Acharya Balakrishan are causing envy and surprise for the medicos at home and abroad.

Hypnotism

Hypnotism as therapy also originated from India.  Hindus often took their sick to temples and holy places for cure by hypnotic suggestions. Buddhist Monks carried this tradition to China and Far East. Muslims followed the practice and started taking their sick to shrines and mazaars.  Subsequently Christians also resorted to faith healing techniques.

Ancient Hospitals

While the earliest hospital in Europe were opened after tenth century, the Hindus were the first nation to have established public hospitals, and for centuries they were the only people in the world who maintained them. The kings and merchants financed hospitals. Nursing and attending of the sick was considered highest service towards Dharma.

The Chinese traveler, Fahien, narrated about the hospital he visited in Pataliputra: “Hither come all poor and helpless patients suffering from all kinds of infirmities. They are well taken care of, and a doctor attends them; food and medicine being supplied according to their wants. Thus they are made quite comfortable, and when they are well, they may go away.

Regulations for Public Health  

Sage Manu has suggested that persons polluting public places should be reprimanded only, but he has been sterner on the aspect of exercising control over quacks. It is mentioned in Manusumriti:-

आपद्गतो़तवा वृद्धा गर्भिणी बाल एव वा। परिभाषणमर्हन्ति तच्च शोध्यमिति स्थितिः।।

चिकित्सकानां सर्वेषां मिथ्या प्रचरतां दमः। अमानुषेषु प्रथमो मानषेषु तु मध्यमः।। (मनु स्मृति 9- 283-284)

(Implied meaning- If an old or pregnant women, patient, or a child are seen polluting any public place, they be over looked and let off after getting the place cleaned. Unqualified medical practitioners treating animals be punished with one Sahasa, and those treating humans be punished with two Sahasa).

Veterinary Science

Emperor Asoka had established hospitals for animals and birds, besides his subjects. Veterinary medicine was a distinct branch of science with its own hospitals and scholars. Considerable advances were made and monographs exist on the diseases of horses and elephants.

  • Veterinary medicines prevalent during ancient time have been mentioned inVisnu Dharmottara Mahapurana.
  • Megasthenes refers to the treatment practiced for prolonging life of elephants. Palakapyamuni’s Hastyayur Vedais a Veternary text exclusively attributed to the care of Elephants.
  • Salihotra was the most eminent authority on horse breeding.
  • Juadudatta has given a detailed account of the medical treatment of cows in his Asva-Vaidyaka.

It is interesting to note that till 350 BC Aristotle, father of almost ‘everything in knowledge’ for the Western world had classified birds in two categories. In the first category were the “birds with blood” and in the second category were those “without blood”. In contrast, one needs to scan through Manusamriti, where classification of all living species has been made on the basis of their process of birth, body parts, and traits. Further Valmiki Ramayana also contains a detailed classification of all living species in the style of family trees. Both are identical though works of different sages.

The classification of Indian sages cannot and should not be discarded simply for the reason that their terminology does not match with that of Western zoologists.  The classification of Indian sages is original, scientific, holistic, and appealing even to the common sense of all concerned.

Ancient physicians and surgeons were fore-runners in the field of Medical Science. Although Swami Ram Dev is successfully demonstrating and carrying forward the same legacy in twenty first century, but many biased persons across the globe find it hard to digest the efficacy of herbal cures and Yoga practices, mainly for their vested economic interests. The revival of Ayurveda and Yoga is a welcome sign for India.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 39/72 – Sanskrit the perfect Language)

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