Ayurveda is not a new method of treatment but it is one of the oldest methods of medical science. The history of Ayurveda goes way back to 5000 years.
All throughout the process of genesis, the science of dealing with diseases and other things that deter the growth processes, has flourished in a great way. Be it the early Egyptian techniques of preserving the dead body by mummifying them, or the practice in question, AYURVEDIC techniques have always been an immensely popular knowledge. Although today we know a lot about this ancient medical practice, there are some schools of thoughts that believe it to be an obsolete and mystical practice. To increase the knowledge base and public assertion for the subject it is important to know in detail about the basic tenants and principles of the subject.
Ayurveda; the term
The term Ayurveda is a very commonly used term and has direct links with the Devanagari script. The word of the Sanskrit origin and just like the language is considered as one of the oldest and univocally, the mother of all archaic and contemporary medical practices. The literal meaning of the word is the knowledge of the way to a long life. This comes from the two word roots, ayur and ved meaning long life and knowledge respectively. There are various evidences in history that show that this ancient practice all started from the land of the Aryan rulers, India.
Ancient history of the practice
As mentioned earlier, the earliest examples of ayurvedic practices can be rightly ascertained to India. There are several ancient scriptures and religious manuscripts full of detailed description of the various ayurvedic practices. Most of these literary records were written over a long period of time starting as early as the Vedic period in about second millennium BCE. Out of all the Vedas, the Atharva Veda gets a special mention as the fore-bearer of all the ancient ayurvedic theories and principles. Like all other writings in the Vedas, the entire concept of Ayurveda comes from 114 hymns that are written in the Atharva Veda. Later, over the years when more and more study and research in the field started, ancient saints and philosophers like Sushruta and Charaka became intensely involved and compiled huge volumes in the forms of Samhitas defining and redefining all the ayurvedic techniques. The volume that Maharishi Sushruta compiled came to be known as the Sushruta Samhita and is now considered as the ultimate encyclopedia for all ayurvedic practioners. Because of its intimate connections with the Indian mythology and particularly the Hindu religion, some say that the technique in itself is divine and is a gift of god to the human kind. The person thought responsible for bringing this on the Earth was Dhanvantari, who was also regarded as the first doctor. Although the practice started from the ashrams of the Indian peninsula, soon this practice travelled far and wide and became an active part of all western medicines. It was the Chinese travelers and scholars like Fa Hsein who visited the courts of eminent Indian rulers and took written notes of the ways of living in these empires. Although still in its novice stages, the techniques of Rhinoplasty, cataract operation, angina pectoris, curing anal fistulas etc. were well known to the saints and doctors. These practices were so accurate for that period that the British doctors and medical practitioners even wrote a detailed description of Rhinoplasty and published in the Gentlemans magazine.
What are the basic principles used in the practice?
Now that we have an idea about what and when did it all start, it is ideal to talk about the basic functional part of the science. While most the new world holds ayurveda to be a mythical and literally magical, it has a very scientific and systematic approach to all goes within it. Ayurveda is basically the science of curing the anomalies of the body by striking a cordial balance and harmony between the body elements. The ancient scholars took the body to be composed of elements or tatvas. These were the same as the ones that constituted all other beings and objects on this planet, air, water, wind, fire and Earth. Unlike the modern practices, ayurveda classified seven elements in the body, the sapta dhatu and three humors or energy fields namely, Vata, Pitta and Kaph. These represent the five quintessential elements. For example, Vata is for wind, Pitta demarcates fire, water, and the last one, Kaph for water and earth. According to the principles of Ayurveda, a body remains in the normal working condition as long as these three humors are in a balanced form. There are elaborate descriptions as to what is the right proportion of these in the Vedas and the two Samhitas. Any discrepancy here is called a Dosh and is the root cause of all medical ailments right from common cold to more complex ones like cancer. The science behind Ayurveda tells how maintain a balance between the three and cure a disease accordingly. Unlike modern allopathic medicine, the things used to treat the person in ayurveda are purely natural. The mountains and forests of India and the neighboring countries are full of these medicinal plants. Not only herbs, plant and animal parts like roots, buds, essential oils, cow urine etc. all find extensive use in this practice. It can be safely said that it was after studying the chemical properties in the plant and animal drugs that the synthetic drugs of today were formulated. For example, morphine, which is used as a painkiller in almost all parts of the world, is actually a plant product that finds mention the Vedas as a tool to suffice pain during and after an operation.
Sub-disciplines within the study
Like all other modern practices that have a separate branch of specialization for different genres of work, the concept of ayurveda also entails this kind of classification and there are mainly eight branched within the science. Although the practice evolved from a time when it was a trend to pass on the knowledge orally and not in a well differentiated manner, the Samhitas and the several other religious literature books show a great level of organization. Under these eight broad headings there are numerous other areas of specialization and this level of demarcation and differentiation makes the science one of the most organized and systematic ones. Given below are the sub disciplines with a brief description of each.
Kayachikitsa: - it is now called Internal Medicine and is just like the modern practices, including anatomical studies of the body and organs.
Shalakya tantra: - it is the study of the surgical processes and the treatment of the head and neck region that is known as Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology respectively today. It basically deals with ENT.
Shalya tantra: - it the knowledge of the process of cutting the body to cure internal dysfunctions. Sushruta was a well known surgeon in this field and the Samhita gives detailed descriptions of the surgical processes to cure several diseases.
Agada tantra: - it is now known as toxicology and is the study of the effects of toxins on the body. Snake bites, food poisoning etc. come under this.
Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry) - as the name itself suggests, it deals with the disorders of the brain and how to treat mental disorders.
Kaumarabhritya: - it is the study of child behavior and diseases infecting children. In the modern practices, this is called Pediatrics and is a very important part of the science.
Rasayana: - it is the science of rejuvenation and the ways to encourage and initiate the process of anti-aging. Chemical drugs or plant products are studied to exploit their medicinal properties.
Vajikarana: - modern day Gynecology is what this branch of Vajikarana is all about. It deals with the male and female reproductive systems, disorders and sexual behavior. In short, it is the science of fertility.
Along with all these techniques of treating the ailing body or mind, ayurveda also has close links with studies like astrology (jyotish vidya), yoga, study of the medicinal properties of herbs and other plant parts etc. In around 1500 BC, there were two further more divisions or rather specializations made in the discipline. These were the School of medicine (physician) led by the eminent sage, Atreya and the second was the school of surgery piloted by the famous curator, Sushruta. These two disciplines were the corner stones for the two great medicinal epic, The Charaka and Sushruta Samhita.
Diagnostic and prognostic methods used in ayurveda
As mentioned earlier, the basic principle behind all ayurvedic practices is to maintain a balance between the three humors of the body. This is carried forward in the diagnostic methods and often starts with checking the pulse of the patient, a process called Naadi vishleshan. This step in itself says a lot about the kind of disease and the misbalance of the humors. Next is the study of certain crucial points in the body called the Marma. These are located all over the body and pressing the particular point excites the corresponding visceral organ in the body. There are in fact, 15 to 20 techniques of examining the patient with detailed description in the Charaka Samhita. Just like modern anatomical studies, a detailed knowledge about the body construction and performance of the organs is vital for a good ayurvedic doctor.
The range of treatments include the use of plant related products like turmeric, cinnamon, neem etc. and animal products like cows urine, milk and many more. Certain elements and minerals like gold, silver, copper etc. are known to have medicinal properties and find their way into a branch of Ayurveda called Rasa shashtra. Not only oral administration of medicines, ayurvedic scriptures mention procedures like massages, yoga, meditation, controlled dietary habits etc. as an important part of the whole prognostic process. Due to its close relation to these allied branches like yoga and healthy living techniques, Ayurveda is also called the Wholeness medicine