A Brief History Of Ayurveda ~ The Healing Sphere
Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Brief History Of Ayurveda

Over the coming weeks i hope to give you an insight into the foundation teachings of many of the skills i have developed over a number of years whilst building and developing my catalogue of experience.  Two Key areas which i delved into further than any other was that of both the vedic and Dao texts, systems and process's.  I am absolutely passionate about these areas and hope to pass on this foundation so that others can use this knowledge to develop their own experiences.

What follows is a History of Ayurveda and although some techniques may seem barbaric by our standards be sure to remember these texts were written 15 to 20 centuries ago.  What is contained within is nothing short of incredible.

History of Ayurveda
The Origins –
The word Ayurveda translates roughly as Ayur meaning life and veda meaning knowledge, literally life knowledge or in fact life science. The Indian art of Ayurveda is the art of healing and living a healthy life and derives from the teachings of  the four Vedas  (Rig veda , Sama veda , Yajur veda and Atharva veda). Ayurveda is classified as one of the Upa Vedas  attached to the Atharva Veda. The Atharva Veda contains not only the healing science of Ayurveda, but also more occult material such as spells and techniques.

Ayurveda is a holistic form of  therapy which utilises any or all of yoga, aroma's, meditation, gems and stones, amulets, herbs, diet, astrology, colour, massages and surgery.

History of Ayurveda
The three surviving texts of Charaka, Sushruta and Vaghbata provide the most detailed understanding of Ayurveda currently. Charaka Samhita (samhita - collection of verses)  was written circa 1st century A.D. Sushruta Samhita was written circa 4th century A.D and Vaghbata samhita around the 5th century A.D. Charaka, Sushruta and Vaghbata formed the basis of ayurvedic medicine, and were later further classified into surgical, medical and holistic components which then show a lineage into what we now recognise as the life sciences.
Ayurveda History
Sixteen major supplements (Nighantus) to the above named texts were written during the years that followed which helped with the classification of newly recognised illness's and indeed some newly discovered herbs, cures and remedies. Roughly 2000 plants were added to the data already held and were found to hold certain qualities beneficial to health and wellness.
Ayurveda History
During reclassification and supplementation of the original texts 8 distinct areas of interest naturally arose, those were:
Ayurveda History
1. Kaya-chikitsa (Internal Medicine)

2. Shalakya Tantra (surgery and treatment of head and neck, Ophthalmology and ear, nose, throat)

3. Shalya Tantra (Surgery)

4. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)

5. Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)

6. Kaumara bhritya (Pediatrics)

7. Rasayana (science of rejuvenation or anti-ageing)

8. Vajikarana (the science of fertility and aphrodisiac)
Ayurveda History
Many plants and remedies listed in Ayurveda texts are still used in one form or another in modern medicine. In fact a derivative of Rauwolfia serpentine which was used to treat headaches, anxiety and snakebites is still used today to help with blood pressure.
Ayurveda History
Charaka Samhita
Charaka is reported to have been a member of the royal court of Kushana during the 1st century A. D. He invoked an oath of trust similar to that of the modern day Hippocratic Oath believing that patient confidentiality be of the upmost importance. Charaka indicated in his Samhita that although the direct translation of Ayurveda is life science, he intended the life to mean more than just that, with a holistic focus of mind body and soul as one, rather than conventional though of body, body, body.
Ayurveda History
Compiled by Charaka in the form of discussions and symposiums held by many scholars, Charaka Samhita is the most ancient and authoritative text that has survived. Written in Sanskrit in verse form, it has 8400 metrical verses. The Samhita deals mainly with the diagnosis and treatment of disease through application of medicine. Kaya-chikitsa (internal medicine) focus's on striking the perfect balance between the body and soul. A series of methods such as purgation and detoxification as well as blood letting, emsis and enema's were used to enhance treatment.

Treatment and diagnosis in Ayurveda was divided into a further eight stages and were describes by Charaka as:
Ayurveda History
1. Sutra-sthana - generalprinciples

2. Nidana-sthana - pathology

3. Vimana-sthan- diagnostics

4. Sharira-sthana - physiology and anatomy

5. Indriya-sthana - prognosis

6. Chikitsa-sthana - therapeutics

7. Kalpa-sthana - pharmaceutics

8. Siddhi-sthana - successful treatment.
Ayurveda History
The Charaka Samitha also includes a comprehensive list of methods used to diagnose  and study and subsequently manage all conditions. The depth of information held within this text can be further exemplified by samples of accounts of fetal development at various stages within the womb how this impressive feat was conducted two millennia ago is not truly known but there are some good guess's.
Ayurveda History
This text also goes into detail about tools and equipment even down to the situation and state of hospitals which Charaka suggested should be located in line of a fresh breeze far away from smoke and other objectionable smells, noises and activity. Further details are given about staff, hygiene and even entertainment.
Ayurveda History
Sushruta Samhita
Sushruta was a surgeon trained in the school of Charaka and Surgery who is said to have taken things further than Charaka ever did and supposedly conducted successful limb and organ transplants and even a head transplant!! True or not the Sushruta Samhita does contain the earliest text to plastic surgery, cosmetic and prosthetic surgery, Cesarean section and setting of compound fractures in detail.
Ayurveda History
Sushruta used a compendium of 125 surgical instruments impressively by modern standards they were made of stone, metal and wood. What is amazing is that over 1500 years ago he developed primitive forceps, scalpels, trocars, catheters, syringes, saws, needles and scissors. Common to the period was the repair of severed noses (rhinoplasty),  where the injury had been inflicted frequently as a punishment, torn ear's and ear lobes and prosthetics for severed limbs.
Ayurveda History
Sushruta wrote, “Only the union of medicine and surgery constitutes the complete doctor. The doctor who lacks knowledge of one of these branches is like a bird with only one wing.” While Charaka concentrated on the kaya-chikitsa (internal medicine). Sushruta’s work mainly focussed on the Shalya Tantra (surgery).
Ayurveda History
The Sushruta Samhita contains 72 different ophthalmic diseases and details the treatment of glaucoma, conjunctivitis and incredibly the routine treatment of cataracts by a method called couching where the opaque fleshy growth with limits vision is surgically slid aside to improve vision.

He also details many many surgical techniques which we would expect as the norm in this modern era.
Ayurveda History
Ashtanga Hridaya
Vaghbata in the 5th century compiled two sets of texts called Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hridaya. He focuses on Kaya-chikitsa of Charaka Samhita and the various surgical procedures of Sushruta Samhita. The emphasis seems to be more on the physiological rather than the spiritual aspects of disease. Ashtanga Sangraha is written in prose whereas the Ashtanga Hridaya is in poetry for recitation and memorisation of the Verses.

The Ancient Ayurvedic Physician
Originally only Brahmins ( a senior caste ) were practicing physicians. Later people from other castes became well versed in the art of healing and a term Vaidya came to be applied to the practitioners. Physicians gained high social status moving beyond their caste of birth due to the regard held for this knowledge (previously the only method of rising in caste was through becoming religious figure). As with religious figures of all birth castes physicians held such regard that there was a permanent place in royal court for such an individual.

A code of conduct consisting of what circumstances entitled free treatment and indeed levels of charge depending on ability to pay were introduced. This was thought to have been the first socially conscious medical system.

The physician himself was expected to behave in a manner befitting his status. Medical education was arduous, consisting of many years of sacrifice learning the art of healing. Visiting the sick, collecting herbs and preparation of drugs, memorizing the Vedic texts of Ayurveda, performing procedures on dead animals, melons, and leather bottles and bladders were all part of the training helping to reinforce both the theoretical and practical aspects of training. When finally the student is deemed ready to practice on his own, he was certified by the ruler.

Recent History
Before Ayurveda began its recent renewal in the West, it went through a period of decline in India when Western medical education became dominant during the era of British rule.

Ayurveda became a second-class option used primarily by traditional spiritual practitioners and the poor. After India gained its independence in 1947, Ayurveda gained ground and new schools began to be established. Although Ayurveda remains a secondary system of health care in India, the trend toward complementary care is emerging, and Western and Ayurvedic physicians often work side by side.

Interest in Ayurveda in the West began in the mid 1970's as Ayurvedic teachers from India began visiting the United States and Europe. By sharing their knowledge they have inspired a vast movement toward body-mind-spirit medicine. Today Ayurvedic colleges are opening throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States.

Ayurveda Cosmic Beginning
Rob Lightbearer