Ayurveda, the “science of life”, or longevity, is the holistic alternative science from India, and is more than 5,000 years old. It is the oldest healing science in existence, forming the foundation of all others. Buddhism, Taoism, Tibetan, and other cultural medicine have many similar parallels to Ayurveda. The secret of Ayurveda’s individualized healing method was preserved in India, whereas it has been lost or superseded in other cultures.
Word ‘veda’ means knowledge. The evolution of the Indian art of healing and living a healthy life comes from the four Vedas namely :Rig veda, Sama veda, Yajur veda and Atharva veda. Ayurveda attained a state of reverence and is classified as one of the Upa- Vedas – a subsection – attached to the Atharva Veda. The Atharva Veda contains not only the magic spells and the occult sciences but also theAyurveda that deals with the diseases, injuries, fertility, massage, sanity and health.
Ayurveda incorporates all forms of lifestyle in therapy. Thus yoga, aroma, meditation, gems, amulets, herbs, diet, astrology, color and surgery etc. are used in a comprehensive manner in treating patients. Treating important and sensitive spots on the body called Marmasis described in Ayurveda.
The knowledge we have now is by three surviving texts of Charaka, Sushruta and Vaghbata.
Charaka (1st century A.D.) wrote Charaka Samhita (samhita- meaning collection of verses written in Sanskrit). Sushruta (4th century A.D.) wrote his Samhita i.e Sushruta Samhita.
Vaghbata (5th century A.D.) compiled the third set of major texts called Ashtanga Hridaya and Ashtanga Sangraha. Charaka’s School ofPhysicians and Sushruta’s School of Surgeons became the basis of Ayurveda and helped organize and systematically classify into branches of medicine and surgery.
Sixteen major supplements (Nighantus) were written in the ensuing years – Dhanvantari, Bahavaprakasha, Raja and Shaligrama to name a few – that helped refine the practice of Ayurveda. New drugs were added and ineffective ones were discarded. Expansion of application, identification of new illnesses and finding substitute treatment seemed to have been an evolving process. Close to 2000 plants that were used in healing diseases and abating symptoms were identified in these supplements.
Dridhabala in the 4th century revised the Charaka Samhita. The texts of Sushruta Samhita were revised and supplemented by Nagarjunain the 6th century.
Eight branches/divisions of Ayurveda:
Svastavrtta and Aturavrtta
Ayurveda has two equally important domains known as Svastavrtta and Aturavrtta which instruct mankind on ways to remain healthy and ways to get out of ill health. The Ayurvedic definition of health implied equanimity and cheerfulness (prasannata), which spring from a composite state of equilibrium (samya).
The equilibrium was called for among the constituents of the body (dhatu, dohas and agni); between the constituents and the causative agents (hetu/nidana) which always lurk within; and between the body and the surroundings (ritu). The key to attaining this state was to adopt a life style free from the overuse, underuse and mis-use of the five sense organs, which draw an individual to imprudent conduct and misfortunes.
A code of virtuous conduct was therefore prescribed which spared no aspect of an individual’s life – his attitude to nature, relatives and friends; diet; work; physical and sexual activity; sleep; personal hygiene; clothes and adornments, and even such chores as haircuts and paring of nails! If a person observed the code, he could expect to live his full span of life like a cart that, well maintained and used, would break down from natural wear and tear only at the end of its predicted life time: flouting the code would invite disorders and premature death in the same manner as a cart, poorly maintained, overloaded and run on bad roads, would break down prematurely. Well being is the natural state of the body, and diseases are aberrations which generally tend to correct themselves.
Ayurveda is the first in the world to practice different types of operations and sixty types of treatment of wounds, classification and treatment of fractures and plastic surgery. The earliest Sanskrit treatises on Ayurveda were the ‘Samhitas’ of the great ancient physicians Bhela, Charaka and Susrutha which date from around the Christian era. The Indian surgeons of that era excelled in operations and their achievements in plastic surgery had no parallels anywhere in the world. Susrutha is called the father of plastic surgery.
Sources of the pre-Christian era, such as the Epic ‘Ramayana’, mention remarkable feats of surgery having taken place in the past. Thus we have reference to the transplantation of an eyeball. The legendary ‘Jivaka’ a famous physician during the time of Buddha is also reported to have performed remarkable cures involving deep surgery. The Circulation of Blood was first explained in Ayurvedic system of medicine nearly 4000 years ago, although William Harvey got the credit later on. Even in the 18th century, the Indian art of Rhinoplasty(plastic surgery performed on the nose) was studied by European surgeons.