By Maharaj Krishen Raina
Ayurveda - The science of life and longevity, is the most ancient healing system
from India. It stresses the mind-body
relationship in the maintenance of good health.
Ayurveda is classed among sacred sciences and
considered as a supplement of the Atharva-veda.
It contains eight departments:
- Salya: Removal of any substance which has entered
the body, like extraction of darts, splinters
- Salakya: Cure of diseases of the eye, ear
etc by Salakas (sharp instruments).
- Kaya-chikitsa: Cure of diseases affecting the
- Bhuta-vidya: Treatment of mental
diseases supposed to be produced by demoniacal
- Kaumara-bhritya: Treatment of children.
- Agada-tantra: Doctrine of antidotes.
- Rasayana-tantra: Doctrine of elixirs.
- Vajikarna-tantra: Doctrine of aphrodisiacs etc.
As in other Asian medical practices, a balance of
vital energy, in this case Prana, is considered the key.
The system is based on balancing three basic life forces,
or Doshas -
- Vata, responsible for all movements in
- Pitta, which controls digestion and energy
- Kapha, responsible for the
body structure and stability.
Illness occurs when any
of the Doshas is out of sync; individuals must know
their dominant Dosha and follow a diet and lifestyle
that keeps it balanced with the others.
Ayurveda, is believed to be about5000 years old, predating all other medical systems.
The two classic Ayurveda textbooks are more
than 2000 years old. Charaka-samhita named after
Charaka who was the ayurvedic counterpart of
Hippocrates, outlines the principles of health maintenance
and treatment of disease. Another book
named Sushruta-samhita describes elaborate surgical
procedures, including reconstructive plastic surgery,
gallbladder removal, and other operations that
most people consider modern.
Sushruta, the author of Sushrutasamhita,
is believed to have lived
around 6th century B.C. and is
said to have imbibed his knowledge
from Dhanwantri. It is believed
that Sushruta's work was
also revised and supplemented by Nagarjuna between
the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.
A traditional story about the origin of Ayurveda,
elucidates that Brahma imparted this knowledge to
Prajapati Daksha, who in turn passed it on to the
two Ashwinikumaras. From Ashwinikumaras, this
knowledge passed on to Indra and then to Sage
Bhardwaja. Bhardwaja shared it with other sages,
one of them was Punarvasu Atreya. Atreya passed
it on to his disciples. Based on the knowledge thus
imparted, Agnivesha, one of Atreya's disciple
authored a treatise, which came to be known as
Agnivesha-tantra. This work of Agnivesha was revised
and enlarged by Charaka around the 5th
century A.D. in the form of Charaka-samhita.
A Couplet from 'Essentials of Ayurveda' by
Dr. C.L.Gupta reads:
(Madhava is unrivalled in Diagnosis, Vagbhatta
in Principles and Practice of Medicine, Susruta in
Surgery and Charaka in Therapeutics.)
Charaka-samhita in its present form is the handiwork
of another Kashmiri Pandit namely Dridhabala,
who revised and updated Charaka's work in the
9th century A.D. Dridhabala, the son of Kapilaba
is said to have born in village Pantsinor, the
confluence of River Vitasta and Sindhu.
Another legend tells us that Shesha, the Serpent-
king, who was the recipient of Ayur-veda,
once visited earth and found it full of sickness. He
was moved with pity and determined to become
incarnate as the son of a Muni for alleviating disease.
He was called Charaka, because he had visited
the earth as a Chara (spy). He then composed
a new book on medicine, called Charakagrantha,
based on older works of Agni-vesha and
other pupils of Atreya.
Laying to rest, the controversy regarding
Charaka's birth place, the Buddhist literature discovered
by Prof. Sylavan Levi in China, shows
that Charaka's birth place was Kashmir and he was,
the court-poet of Kanishka in the Ist century A.D.
Popularity and spread of Ayurveda:
Ayurvedic medicine spread with the Hindu culture
to Indonesia, Tibet, and eventually to the West,
where some of its principles were picked up by the
ancient Greek physicians. As Buddhism developed,
this healing system was carried to China and other
During the 1800s, the British banned all
ayurvedic schools in India, replacing them with
Western medical schools. For the next century,
ayurvedic medicine was relegated to folk practices
in rural areas. When India regained its independence
in 1947, ayurvedic schools were again
legalised. Today there are more than100 ayurvedic
schools in India, equal in number to the Western
ones, and many Indian physicians incorporate both
styles of medicine into their practices.
When is it used:
Unlike Western medicine, which comes into play
when illness strikes, Ayurveda is incorporated into
a person's lifestyle. It governs all aspects of life,
such as diet, exercise and sexual practices. An
ayurvedic practitioner is consulted only to identify
and correct an imbalance among the three life forces.
How it works:
Ayurvedic philosophy holds that each person
is born with a particular ratio of Doshas, with one
dominating. This dominant Dosha determines personality
type and also influences one's susceptibility
to certain illnesses. For example, Pitta people
tend to have fiery dispositions and are prone to
developing high blood pressure and digestive disorders,
so a Pitta-related disease may be treated
with a bland diet and numerous herbal remedies.
Because the mind is seen as an integral force in
maintaining health and overcoming illness, meditation
or yoga may also be employed.
Diagnosis of the disease and treatment:
An ayurvedic doctor begins by assessing the
patient's Dosha pattern. Pulses play a critical role
in this assessment - a practitioner feels pulses throughout
the body, looking for Dosha imbalances as reflected
in the nature of pulse. Seven types of body
tissue - plasma, red blood cells, muscle, fat, bone,
nerve and reproductive tissue - are also examined.
Ayurvedic physicians do not focus on a specific
disease or an organ system, but instead treat
the entire body and mind. Purification to rid the
body of toxins is an important part of treatment.
Methods may include sweat baths, enemas, nasal
washes, bloodletting, and oil massages. The practitioner
will also recommend a specific diet, meditation
or yoga routine, and herbal remedies.