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Posts tagged ‘Ayurveda’

Splashes -38/72 – Ancient Medical Infrastructure

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.


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 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)

Splashes – 37/72 – Founders of Medicine and Longevity

There was no trace of Allopathic science or Homeopathy prior to tenth century AD anywhere in the world.  In contrast India possessed comprehensive medical literature and had several luminaries on her panel who contributed to the development of Medical Science in the World. Besides mythological physicians Dhanwantri and Sushain, the great names in Indian medicine were those of Sushruta in the fifth century BC and Charaka in the second century AD. They were World’s first Physicians and Surgeons.

The origin of Medical Science 

Medicine has been the oldest Indian science. Puranic descriptions relate Ayurveda to have been brought to this world by celestial physician Dhanvantri during churning of the ocean. The text was then handed over to the Prajapati (king) for training of physicians and putting the same in to use for public welfare. Thus in India, state had been directly concerned with the health of the subjects, creation and preservation of healthy environment, and maintaining high standard of sanitation at public utilities. Segregation of the contaminated was also a part of this drive.

The records of Indian medicine begin with the Arthava Veda; where a list of diseases with their symptoms can be found. Appended to the Atharva-Veda is the Ayur-Veda, a treatise exclusively dedicated to the Science of Longevity. The ancient Hindus had carried the science of medicine, like other sciences, to a very high degree of perfection.

Sushruta – Father of Surgery

Sushruta wrote in Sanskrit a system of diagnosis and therapy whose elements had descended to him from his teacher Dhanwantari. His book dealt at length with hygiene, surgery, obstetrics, diet, bathing, drugs, infant feeding and medical education. His treatise is in six parts and is still in use as a reference book. For the detection of the 1120 diseases he enumerated, Sushruta recommended diagnosis by inspection, palpitation, and auscultation.

Sushruta is known to be the Father of Surgery.  He performed surgical operations to treat cataract, hernia, and also Cesarean. He brought into use 121 surgical instruments, including lancet, sounds forceps, catheters, rectal and vaginal speculum. The surgical instruments were sufficiently sharp and capable of dividing a hair longitudinally.

Despite Brahmani-cal prohibitions he advocated the dissection of dead bodies as indispensable in the training of surgeons. He was the first to graft upon torn ear portions of skin taken from another part of the body. He can be rightly called the Father of Rhinoplasty also, since the surgical reconstruction of the nose-descended into modern medicine

Regarding Digestive system and development of body Sushruta has written:

रसाद्रक्तं ततो मांसं मांसान्मेदः प्रजायते। मदेसोSस्थि ततो मज्जा मज्जायाः शुक्रसम्भ्वः।। (सुश्रुत)

(It means – Whatever is consumed by humans, it is carried to stomach for digestion and turned into juice, after five days the juice turns into blood, after another five days flesh is made out of blood. The process of conversion is continued after every five days to produce meda, bones, marrow, semen and finally Ojas; that gives shine to the body. Semen is transparent and is a sticky substance. It is known as Rajas in females with red color. The entire process from digestion to conversion takes thirty days and four hours). Thus out of 40 Sear ( sear is unit of measure that equals to 1.6 kilograms) intake of food only one sear of blood is formed – and out of one sear blood only two tolas of semen is formed. It is for this reason that Observation of BrahmacharyaYama is stressed in Hindu way of life.

Sushruta had laid elaborate rules for preparing an operation and his suggestion that the wound be sterilized by fumigation is one of the earliest known efforts at antiseptic surgery. Sushruta’s work refers to surgery and operations which are considered difficult even in modern times.

Charka – precursor of Hippocratic Oath

Charaka authored Charaka Samhita. It is an encyclopedia of medicine, which is also being used in India. His work is divided into eight books, describing various diseases and their treatment. As a precursor of Hippocratic conception, he prescribed Diksha to his followers. His advice to his students contained the gist of professional ethics:

“If you want success in your practice, wealth and fame, and heaven after your death, you must pray every day on rising and going to bed for the welfare of all beings and you must strive with all your soul for the health of the sick. You must not betray your patients, even at the cost of your own life. You must not get drunk, or commit evil, or have evil companions. You must be pleasant, of speech and thoughtful, always striving to improve your knowledge”.

Rishi Atreya

Atreya (500 BC) held that the parental seed is independent of the parent’s body, and contained in itself, in miniature, the whole parental organism. He recommended examination for virility as a prerequisite for marriage in men. He supported the Code of Manu that warned against marrying mates affected with tuberculosis, epilepsy, leprosy, chronic dyspepsia, piles, or loquacity.

Above all he prohibited marriages within the same ‘Gotra’. The ancient prohibitions adopted by Hindu society were not based on blind faith or conservative attitude of the society but on scientific reasoning. Even the modern medical science cannot contradict the parental effect on off springs that had been explained in Manusamruti as under:-

क्षेत्रभूता स्मृता नारी बीजभूतः स्मृतः पुमान्। क्षेत्रबीजसमायोगात्संभवः सर्वदेहिनाम्।।

विशिष्टं कुत्रचिद्बीजं स्त्रयोनिस्त्वेव कुत्रचित्। उभयं तु सनं यत्र सा प्रसूति प्रशस्.ते।। (मनु स्मृति 9- 33-34)

(Female is like a soil and Male is identical to the seed. Life comes into existence due to the combination of seed and soil. Either could be important, but when both are equally balanced, the off springs born are the best.)

बीजस्य चैव योन्याश्च बीजमुत्कृष्ट मुच्यते। स्रवभूप्रसूतिर्हि  बीजलक्षणलक्षिता।

यादृशं तृप्यते बीजं क्षेत्रे कालोपपादिते। तादृग्रोहति तत्तस्मिन्बीजं स्वैर्व्याञ्जतं गुणैः।। (मनु स्मृति 9- 35-36)

(Between the two, seed is more important than the soil. All living beings have dominant qualities of the seed. Whatever kind of seed is sown in the soil at appropriate time, the plant shall possess characteristics of the seed.)

इयं भूमिर्हि भूतानां शाशवती योनिरुच्यते। न च योनिगणान्कांशि्चद्बीजं पुष्यति पुष्टिषु।।

भूमावप्येककेदारे कालोप्तानि कृषीवलैः। नानारुपाणि जायन्ते बीजानीह स्वभावतः।। (मनु स्मृति 9- 37-38)

(Soil is the source of all kinds of produce, but if different seeds are planted in the same field, the individual plants that will come up shall have the characteristic of seed.)

Medical Literature

Besides Atharva Veda and Ayurveda the following texts are also included in ancient Medical Literature:-

  • Panini’s Grammar Ashtadhyaihas listed several ailments that indicate that 350 BC Indian diagnostic system was fully developed. Another treatise Amarkosha in Sanskrit has listed all the body parts.
  • Vaghata authored a Medical Text in poetic as well as prose format in 625 AD.
  • Bhava Mishra authored a comprehensive text in 1550 AD in which he explained blood circulatory system in detail. This text was written a century prior to Western expert Harvey. Bhava Mishra has also suggested use of Mercury for curing syphilis. This disease was imported to India through the Portuguese from Europe during fifteenth century.
  • Narayana Sukta explains the anatomy of human body as well as functioning of Heart.
  • Malini Shastra by Shiranga Rishi explains about Jada (un-Aware) and Chetanya (Aware) bodies.
  • Garuda explains the properties of several anti-poisonous medicines that can be used.

System of Treatment

According to Chinese Historian Yuan Chwang, the treatment in Indian system followed a period of fasting for seven days. Normally the patients were cured merely due to the fasting. Smaller quantity of medicine was prescribed if necessary. The dose of medicine was gradually increased if required as a last resort. Some of the treatments were:-

  • Diet, special baths, inhalation, urethral and vaginal injections were also given where necessary. Indian practitioners possessed vast knowledge about antidotes of poison.
  • Both Sushruta and Charaka mention the use of medicinal liquors to produce insensibility to pain. In 927 A.D. two surgeons trepanned the skull of a king, and made him insensitive to the operation by administering a drug called Sammohini. Taking of the pulse was described in a treatise dating 1300 A.D. Urinalysis was a favorite method of diagnosis.
  • Vaccination was unknown to Europe till eighteenth century, but it was practiced in India as early as 550 AD as apparent from a text attributed to Dhanwantari that reads

“…Take the fluid of the pock on the udder of the cow…upon the point of a lancer, and lance with it the arms between the shoulders and elbows until the blood appears; then, mixing the fluid with blood; the fever of the small-pox will be produced…

  • Smallpox inoculation is an ancient Indian tradition. Preventive inoculation against the smallpox went from India to China during 11th century AD. This inoculation process was practiced by Brahmins in India, but during 1803-04 the British government banned it since most of the Europeans objected to inoculation on theological grounds.

Practice of untouchables developed out of hygienic reasons. Hindus were aware about the existence of invisible agents that transmitted disease. Many of the laws of sanitation were based on germ theory of disease. Personal attention was therefore given to hygiene, cleanliness of the body, and purity of diet in India.

Code of Ethics

Last but not the least, the practice of medicine, like all other sciences, was regulated by a code of social ethics. A physician (Vaidya) was to be devoted to the service of the sick. Sage Manu has suggested several measures for eradication quackery in Manumamruti. Even before Charaka’s Diksha, there is reference in epic Ramayana, where Sushain, the personal physician of Ravana, treated Lakshamana on the battlefield. No action was taken against Sushain for helping the rival camp. That depicts the height of professional ethic and commitment to the purpose of medicine.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 38/72 – Ancient Medical Infrastructure)

Splashes – 30/72 – Exploration for Knowledge

Hindu religion has always encouraged individuals to pursue knowledge. Inquisitiveness has always been appreciated as opposed to blind faith. It is for this mindset that India has enriched every art and science known to man from the earliest times.

System of Learning

The initial stage of learning started at home with Yama and Niyamas to inculcate values and inquisitiveness for absorbing knowledge. The methodology at Gurukul was aimed not to convert the student to a data bank, but to develop an intelligent and action oriented personality. The three-fold process of teaching included attentively listening (Shravan) the discourse, followed by assimilation (Manana), and lastly practical application (Nidyasana). Practicing for perfection (Sadhna) thereafter was to be a continuous and life-long process till the salient aspects of learning reflected through reflex actions.

Classification of Grades

Besides the literature of Vedas, Upanishdas, Darshan Shastras, Puranas and the epics; India had established a formal system of education from the earliest times. The syllabus for the next stage included study of Mathematics, Algebra, Physics, Astronomy, and Fine Arts. Graduate Students (Sanatkas) were expected to excel in Vedic knowledge. Those who could not cope for want of aptitude or hard-work were advised to switch over to professional training in the field of commerce or skills.

Entry to further higher training was open only to those who qualified prescribed levels of second stage and earned the status of Ribhu.  The tradesmen (Ribhus) were skilled persons who could be assisting scientists and engineers (Ashvins) in the designing and manufacturing of chariots, vehicles, ships and similar projects.

The next higher category was of specialists (Daksha) in specific fields such as Astronomy, Philosophy and so on. The faculties were known as Acharyas.

Recognition of Intellectuals

Those days Educational Institutes did not award degrees and diplomas, but classification was there. First class Graduates were required to pursue studies up to the age of 24 years and stay unmarried till completion. They were given the title of Brahmcharya. Those who studied further up to the age of 36 years were entitled Rudrai, and those who attained further distinctions up to the age between 44 to 48 years were recognized as Adityas.

Roughly we can co-relate the same to Graduation, post-Graduation and Doctorate classifications of today. Subsequently, those who specialized in the knowledge of Vedas came to be identified and progressively graded as Vedi, Duvedi, Triedi and Chaturvedi.  Later with passage of time such qualifications got stuck as hereditary sur-names irrespective of the real potential of the bearer.

Authenticity of Knowledge

While nomadic civilizations in other part of the world were emerging out of forest dwellings, ancient Indians had measured the land, divided the year, mapped out the heavens, traced the course of Sun and other planets through the zodiacal belt, analyzed the constitution of matter, and studied the nature of birds, beasts, plants and seeds. India’s contribution to the sciences of Mathematics and Medicine has been unique. In linguistics, Metallurgy, and Chemistry, Indians have made trail-blazing discoveries. Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Pluto and others who are claimed to be the ‘founding-fathers’ of Western education were not born by then.

Just three centuries ago, there was no science like Allopathic, but Ayurveda had system of curing chronic diseases. Europeans did not know the existence of Pacific Ocean on globe till 1510 AD, but ancient Indians had already established the following astronomical facts:

  • The Sun never rises, nor sets; it is due to rotation of Earth that days and nights are formed – Sam Veda 121
  • The Earth remains stabilized due to mutual gravitation of planets of our solar system. – Rig-Veda 1-103-2,1-115-4, 5-81-2)
  • The axle of Earth never gets rusted around which Earth continues to revolve. – Rig-Veda 1-164 – 29)

Institutes of Higher Learning

Educational institutions, known as Gurukuls, Ashramas, Viharas, and Parishads existed all over the country. Students were given free tuition and boarding. For higher learning universities were located at Takshashila, Kashi, Vidarbha, Ajanta, Nalanda,Ujjain and Magdha. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction. Many learned personalities were associated with universities who contributed in their respective fields earlier than European classical exponents arrived on the scene. Brief account of the prominent universities in ancient India is as follows:-

  • Takshashila: World’s first international university was established at Takshashila seven hundred years ago before Christ was born. Takshashila was known to the world as the leading seat of Hindu scholarship. It was renowned above all for its medical school, even before the time of Alexander’s invasion. The campus at Takshashila accommodated 10,500 students and offered over sixty different courses in various fields, such as Religion, Philosophy, Science Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Warfare, Politics and Music. Students, as far as Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia and China came to study.
  • Vikramasila: The University of Vikramasila accommodated 8,000 students. It was situated on a hill in Magdha on the banks of the River Ganga, and flourished for four centuries. Kalidasa has mentioned multiple disciplines of knowledge taught and learnt under the guidance of Rishi Kanva, who was once Kulapati (Vice-Chancellor) there.
  • Ajanta: The Ajanta institute was known for studies in the field of Fine Arts and Architecture (Vastu Kala). The existing remains of Ajanta are still there to testify the glory of the institute.
  • Nalanda: The University of Nalanda built-in the 4th century BC was another landmark of ancient India in the field of education. It was the first University on globe. Buddha visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime. The Chinese scholar and traveler Hiuen Tsang stayed there in the 7th century, and has left an elaborate description of the excellence, and purity of monastic life practiced there. About 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied in that international university. The University counted on its staff great thinkers like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Vasubhandu, Asanga, Sthiramati, Dharmapala, Silaphadra, Santideva and
  • Odantapuri: The University at Odantapuri was established by King Gopal near Nalanda. About 12000 students resided there.  The complex was surrounded by a high wall that Muslim invaders mistook as fort. They ransacked the institution and killed all the teachers and students.
  • Jagddala: The University at Jagddala was founded by King Devapala during the period 810-850 AD. This institute was dedicated to Tantrik studies and Buddhism. In 1027 AD Muslim invaders destroyed this institution of learning.
  • Vallabhi: This Buddhist institute at Vallabhi was known for the study of Hiyansung school of thought in Buddhism. It was founded and funded by rulers of Maitrika Besides that the subjects offered for study included Rajaniti, Krishi, Arthashastra, and Niyaya Shastra, meaning Political Science, Agriculture, Economics, and Jurisprudence respectively.

Contribution to Global Knowledge

Today we are over awed by the repute of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and cannot reconcile to the fact that India also had greater Universities to impart higher education. Emperor Ashoka and emperors of Gupta dynasty and Emperor Harshavardhana patronized many monasteries and institutes to promote knowledge.

Ancient intellectuals from India have enriched every branch of learning with original creative works that contain authentic and scientific knowledge that is still being used abroad. More stimuli contained therein is lying untapped. In the field of fine arts and literature, the contribution of writers and artists in the form of treatises is of pioneering nature. 

Unfortunately, many institutions of knowledge along with the intellectual treasures stored there in were burnt down by barbarous Islamic invaders. Nalanda Univerty was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during 1193 and all the intellectuals were massacred. Other Universities also met similar fate.

The Mughals ignored learning and devoted time and resources in building harems and mausoleums throughout in the length and breadth of India. With their biased mindset they opposed knowledge on the excuse of ‘Kufer’. Their major interests were in developing gardens, dishes, dance and music. Schools (Maktab and Madrassas) imparting elementary education of Islam was considered enough.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 31/72 – Blend of Science and Faith)

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