The word Ayurveda comprises of two words – Ayush which means ‘life, and Veda, which means (related to) knowledge, science or study. Thus, literally speaking Ayurveda is the study of life and the living. Though considered nowadays as an ‘alternative’ branch of medicine, ayurveda has always been known to focus on healing rather than treatment. Ayurveda is grounded in metaphysics of the "five great elements" – namely earth, water, fire, air and ether – which are considered to make up the universe as a whole as well as everything else in it, including a human body. It also propounds that the human body is made up seven elements – they are plasma (called rasa dhatu), blood (rakta dhatu), flesh (mamsa dhatu), fat (medha dhatu), bone (asthi dhatu), marrow (majja dhatu), and semen or female reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu).
Information On Origin And Background Of Ayurveda
Though its origins can be traced back to India around 1500 BC, it is a fairly common mode of alternative medicine all over South Asia. As a treatise, it has been documented about in the Atharva Veda, which contains hymns about treatment and healing of various diseases and ailments. The Atharva Veda lists the eight divisions of Ayurveda:
- Internal Medicine (Kaaya-chikitsa)
- Surgery diseases above the Clavicle (Salakyam)
- Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa)
- Toxicology (Agadatantram)
- Psychiatry (Bhuta Vidya)
- Pediatrics (Kaumarabhrtyam)
- Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation (Rasayana)
- Science of Fertility (Vajikaranam)
Various Vedic Sages took the original passages from the Vedic Scriptures which dealt with Ayurveda and compiled them into separate books talking specifically about Ayurveda – most notable of which are Dhanvantari, Sushruta and Charaka. As we all know, Sage Dhanvantari is considered the father of this branch of medicine, almost considered the God of medicine and well being. His birthday two days before the festival of Deepavali is celebrated as Dhanvantati-diwas. Two great men – Charaka and Sushruta – gave it the status that it deserved. Charaka wrote about medicinal plants and their usage for treatment of ailments in his treatise called Charakasamhita. Sushruta, who is known as the father of surgery put down his life’s teachings about various surgeries – from cataract operations to plastic surgery – in his treatise called Sushrutasamhita.
The notable Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsian wrote about the health care system that was in practice during the Gupta Empire (320–550), describing in details the institutional approach of Indian medicine, which he noticed in the works of Charaka, who mentions a clinic and how it should be equipped. The treatise written by both Sushruta and Charaka were translated into the Arabic language during the Abbasid Caliphate. These Arabic works got translated into many European languages by other such travelers. For instance, in Italy, the Branca family of Sicily and Gaspare Tagliacozzi (Bologna) familiarized as well as popularized the techniques of Sushruta. Many British physicians traveled to India to see rhinoplasty being performed by Indians with their native tools and knowhow. Reports on Indian rhinoplasty were published in the Gentleman's Magazine in late eighteenth century. Joseph Constantine Carpue spent twenty years in India studying local plastic surgery methods.
Today we see quite a resurgence of the practice of traditional medicine in India. Many enthusiasts now opt for a full fledged BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) course as they see a lot of potential in it. This apart, by reviving this ancient form of medicine, the ‘Vaidyas’ (Practitioners of traditional medicine) help keep ayurveda alive.