Ancient Indian medicine

Ancient Indian medicine

The Atharvaveda, a sacred text of Hinduism  dating from the Early Iron age, is one of the first Indian text dealing with medicine. The Atharvaveda also contain prescriptions of herbs for various ailments. The knowledge to use of herbs to treat ailments later formed bases for the large part of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda, means  the complete knowledge for long life is another medical system of India. Its two most famous texts belong to the schools of Charaka and Sushruta. The earliest foundations of Ayurveda were built on a synthesis of traditional herbal practices and  theoretical conceptualizations.  There after new  therapies dating from about 600 BCE onwards, and coming out of the communities of thinkers who included the Buddha and others.

According to the compendium of Charaka and  the Charakasamhita , health and disease are not predetermined and life may be prolonged by human effort. The compendium of Susruta, the Susrutasamhita, defines the purpose of medicine to cure the diseases of the sick, protect the healthy, and to prolong life. Both these ancient compendia include details of the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments. The Susrutasamhita is notable for describing procedures on various forms of  surgery, including  rhinoplasty, the repair of torn ear lobes, perineal lithotomy, cataract surgery, and several other excisions and other surgical procedures. Most remarkable is Sushruta’s penchant for scientific classification: His medical treatise consists of 184 chapters, 1,120 conditions are listed, including injuries and illnesses relating to aging and mental illness. The Sushruta Samhita describe 125 surgical instrument, 300 surgical procedures and classifies human surgery in 8 categories.

The Ayurvedic classics mention eight branches of medicine: kayacikitsa (Internal medicine), salyacikitsa  (surgery including anatomy), salakyacikitsa  (eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases), kaumarabhrtya  (pediatrics), bhutavidya  (spirit medicine), and agada tantra (toxicology), rasayana (science of rejuvenation), and vajikarana (Aphrodisiac). Apart from learning these, the student of Āyurveda was expected to know ten arts that were indispensable in the preparation and application of his medicines: distillation, operative skills, cooking, horticulture, metallurgy, sugar manufacture, pharmacy, analysis and separation of minerals, compounding of metals, and preparation of alkalies. The teaching of various subjects was done during the instruction of relevant clinical subjects. The normal length of the student’s training appears to have been seven years. But the physician was to continue to learn.

As an alternative form of medicine in India, Unani medicine got deep roots and royal patronage during medieval times. It progressed during Indian sultanate and Mughal periods. Unani medicine is  similar to  Ayurveda. Both are based on theory of the presence of the elements (in Unani, they are considered to be fire, water, earth and air) in the human body. According to followers of Unani medicine, these elements are present in different fluids and their balance leads to health and their imbalance leads to illness.

By the 18th century A.D., Sanskrit medical wisdom still dominated. Muslim rulers built large hospitals in 1595 in Hyderabad, and in Delhi in 1719.



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