History of Indian Medicine (and Ayurveda)

by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society | 1949 | 162,724 words | ISBN-13: 9788176370813

The History of Indian medicine and Ayurveda (i.e., the science of life) represents the introductory pages of the Charaka Samhita composed of six large sections dealing with every facet of Medicine in ancient India in a Socio-Historical context. Caraka is regarded as one of the pioneers in the field of scientific healthcare. As an important final a...

Chapter 14 - The Individual and Medicine

The object of the science of medicine in twofold. Firstly, it is for the preservation of good health and prolongation of life, for this task demands all the diligent effort man is capable of, and secondly the combating of disease. (Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.24)

The first of these two aims may be gained by proper living, by right regulation of diet, exercise and habits all of which are possible for each individual, provided he or she possesses the necessary enlightenment and education. The second of the aims, i e the combating of disease, may not be possible for every individual if the complaints happen to require elaborate or deep knowledge of diagnosis and therapeusis. But where the complaints are minor and demand nothing more than a familiar and simple drug or an easy manipulation of diet or conduct, every individual or family ought to be able to manage for himself or itself without having to resort to outside help. This self-sufficiency of the individual and the family in the preservation of health and the checking of disease, is an ideal fraught with individual as well as national good. The right way to achieve this is through education at the primary and the secondary stages, for then the largest part of the nation reaps the benefits With the attainment of this hygienic and medical self-sufficiency and independence of the individual and the family, the state gets relieved of a large part of the burden that it has otherwise to bear, and is left free to pursue with greater intensity and concentration the problems of serious and difficult forms of disease and epidemics.

This was the actual state of affairs in ancient India. There obtained a broad and universal system of education and enlightenment and elementary knowledge of medicine or personal hygiene formed part of that education in the secondary stage of it.

Secondary Education

Then the secondary education was given in high schools or Guru-Kulas where every student was bound to study compulsorily the five subjects, viz, Shabdavidya (Śabdavidyā) or grammar and lexicography, Shilpasthanavidya (Śilpasthānavidyā) or arts, Cikitsavidya (Cikitsāvidyā) or medicine, Hetuvidya (Hetuvidyā) or logic and Adhyatmavidya (Adhyātmavidyā) or science of spiritual philosophy. On completing this course, a student was considered fit to select any special branch of study and join the University.

An elementary knowledge of medicine was considered necessary for all students. They were taught the elementary rules of preservation of health and how to live a full span of life in perfect health by taking care about diet, personal hygiene, actions and character. This shows the importance attached to the medical science, the basic knowledge of which was considered necessary for every individual No wonder then that the medical science thus became the most popular Science of the Aryan civilization

Observation of these rules and regulation of personal hygiene was moreover preached by the religious code, as purity of heart and mind cannot be generally achieved in an unclean or unsound body. A sound mind presupposes a sound body Hence cleanliness and preservation of sound health became rhe subject of religious codes and were enforced in every religious ceremony.

Dharmashastras are full of injunctions regarding purity, ablutions, diet, regulations, behaviour and mental and physical discipline. The daily routine and seasonal conduct known as Dinacarya-Ritucarya (dinacaryā-ṛtucaryā) as well as the general lines of hygienic life known as Svasthavritta (svasthavṛtta) are given in elaborate detail in the medical treatises, and these no doubt formed part of the universal curriculum of education and ethics. The benefits of cleansing the teeth and the tongue, ear, the eye and the skin, the bath, the inunction, massage, non-suppression of the natural urges, the selection of food and drink, the occasions for avoidance and indulgence in the sexual act, the usefulness and manner of taking certain things like curds, butter-milk, honey and ghee and such other simple but very important facts that make for a healthy life were the common knowledge of all people.

Daily. And Seasonal Regimen

Ayurveda is primarily the science of positive health and it is only secondarily that it is the science for the cure of disease. As such, it prescribes precepts and rules that would ensure the smooth-running of the intricate mechanism of the human body without hitch or hindrance.

Thus, hygiene plays a most important role in Indian medicine. This code of health lays down in full details the regimen of daily life (dinacaryā) in general, and its modifications and variations in different seasons (ṛtucaryā) and the most important point emphasized is that the application of these rules is to be made according to the individual constitution (prakṛti) of men. It comprises of instructions about diet and activity, work, rest and sleep, sense-purity, sex-hygiene and behaviour in general. Its domain covers not only strengthening the physical powers of the body, but also the strengthening and increasing the vitality of all the senses and the psyche. It contains specific injunctions and clear-cut dos and don’ts with regard to the natural urges of the body and mind. It is not the puritanic precept of abstention that it preaches; it is the full-blooded life that is aimed at, giving full scope, within healthy limits, to pleasures that the flesh can enjoy. It aims at the overcoming by man of the handicaps of nature and age. Its definition of man is complete. He is the aggregate of body, mind and spirit Ayurveda’s field of observation and application extends to all these aspects of man Its hygiene and philosophy known as Svastha-vritta is supplemented by Sadvritta or the “right life” which inculcates the discipline of the senses and the regulation of the moral life so as to accord with the happiness and good, not of the individual merely but of society as a whole. It is therefore social and universal in its conception and application and comprehends a physical, mental and ethical framework of life. It is an entire way of life that Ayurveda expounds embodying philosophy, eugenics, ethics and healing

The human body is no doubt a machine but the metaphor should be applied in a limited sense only. Even as a machine it is self-stoking, self-adjusting, self repairing, self-preserving, self-asserting and self-multiplying machine. It has intelligence and feeling. It has individuality and purposiveness. It is an organism much beyond the concept of mechanism.

The aim of Ayurveda is to study man as a whole and as such with all the paraphernalia of social, seasonal, climatic and regional environs. It would indeed be a tedium and an ordeal for a man to go through the same daily routine for all the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. Not only this, it would indeed adversely affect him if he followed a rigid routine in all the varying seasons Nature has been bountiful in bestowing on India a variety of seasons. The shivering cold of the winter, the scorching heat of the summer, the welcome downpour of the monsoon, are the three chief seasonal varieties linked by the intermediate seasons of Sharad or the season of transition from the monsoon to the winter characterised by harvest festivals, placid atmosphere and clear nights; the Vasanta, or the spring, the season of flowers and colour feasts, the season of joyous youth and temperate air and thirdly the pre-monsoon season of hard toil and high expectations ‘Pravrit’.

The Ritu-carya prescribed in Ayurveda is a code of injunctions to change or 'to modify the daily routine of diet and behaviour to suit the different seasons. It lays down rules of behaviour and diet to get adapted to the requirements of the varying seasons. Special emphasis is laid on the time of conjunction of two seasons when the vagaries of both the seasons co-exist, a condition to be well-guarded against A special procedure of habituation and withdrawal of personal regimen is prescribed; for what may be conducive to health in one season may act quite contrarily in another season. Cold which is agreeable and wholesome in hot days is disagreeable and unwholesome in cold days.

The code of personal hygiene does not end here Its most important part and purpose begins hereafter. Mau is to be preserved in perfect health for the longest span of life possible for him.

Man is an intellectual, progressive creature. He is not going to be a passive, static, obedient, vegetative organism. He will transgress the limitations of diet and behaviour; As a consequence, his body-mechanism, will be too much strained, disordered or worn out. Or he may have to encounter the unusual environmental changes of time and place

The instructions regarding the avoidance of such strain and disorder are the peculiar methods expounded by the Ayurvedic science.

(1) To give a thorough overhaul to the body-machinery as a whole by inunction (snehana), sudation (svedana) and quinary purificatory procedures (pañcakarma).

(2) To strengthen the vital force of life to counteract the effect of wear and tear by vitalization (rasāyana) and virilification (vājīkaraṇa)

(3) To prepare it for any emergency of unexpected circumstances of season or place which may adversely affect the body, special prophylactic measurs [measures?] have been advised Here seasonal regimen plays its part in immunising the body, virilification and vitalization having already increased the body-power to fight against diseases.

The quinary purification procedures cleanse the body and reduce the chances of susceptibility of the body to the onslaughts of disease. Vitalization and virilification procedures replenish the worn out tissues, preventing the approach of old age and promoting longevity. They help in the re-creation of the body, a recreation in its literal sense. The desire to live long and that too with the perfect functioning of sense-organs is inborn in human beings and Ayurveda has amply catered to this need. It has enabled people to achieve the best possible results from life.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 6.50, 7.45-50, 8.31]

“The knowers of the principles of homologation consider it desirable to acquire homologation regarding food and behaviour to things which are antagonistic to the characteristics of the country and the causative factors of the diseases prevalent there”.

“These and other diseases occur m those who do not observe the rules of healthful living Hence the healthy man should be diligent in the observance of the rules of healthful living. One should eliminate the accumulated morbid matter in the months of Caitra, Shravana and Margashirsa.

The wise physician should, after preliminary preparation of the body with the oleation and sudation procedures, carry out the purificatory procedures of vomition, purgation, enemata and; errhines according to the season.

Thereafter the physician skilled in the science of climatology should administer alterative and virilific remedies of tested efficacy systematically and as indicated.

Thus the body-elements being restored to the normal state, susceptibility to disease disappears, the body-elements get aggrandised and the pace of age is slackened.

Such is the procedure laid down for the prevention of the endogenous diseases. As regards the prevention of other types of diseases, we shall instruct separately”.

“He who rightly observes the rules of health laid down here will not be deprived of the full measure of the hundred years of diseaseless life.”

This knowledge of seasonal regimen was even more important for the women to learn for they thus knew how to protect the husband and the children from the evils of unwholesome dietary.

[Vātsāyana Kāmasūtra Adhi. 4. A. 1.10]


“(The woman) should know that such and such a thing is delectable to the man or detestable or is wholesome or unwholesome to him in diet”.

“She must know and give to her husband articles which are liked by him and are wholesome to him. She must know articles to be such or otherwise”.

Besides this general knowledge, every house-wife took care to keep a storage of the, common but useful drugs.

[Vātsāyana Kāmasūtra Adhi. 4. A. 1.28]

“Thus rare drugs and salt, oil, fragrant drugs and pungent drugs, and pot-herbs, should be preserved in the house”.


“Drugs difficult to obtain, must be collected and stored.”

[Vātsāyana Kāmasūtra Adhi. 4. A. 1.29]

“Radish, peach, spinach, Damanaka, Indian hog-plum, phut cucumber, common cucumber, brinjal, ash-gourd, bottle-gourd, telinga potato, lin, cowage, sambo, wind-killer, garlic and onion etc., the seeds of these and such other medicinal plants should be collected and sown in their proper season”

In the back yards of houses, the family grew a small garden of medicinal plants along with pot-herbs

[Vātsāyana Kāmasūtra Adhi. 4. A. 1.6]

“The following herbs were to be grown in the backyards of houses, viz., plots of greens and vegetables, clusters of sugarcane, cumin, mustard and bishop’s weed and dill seed plants and Tamala shrubs.”

And each family was able to prepare for its own exigencies, tinctures, medicated wines, decoctions and linctuses.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra 2.25]

“On special occasions (marriage etc) people (families) shall be allowed to manufacture white liquor or medicated wine for use in diseases and other kinds of liquor”.

Round about a village and along the road-sides were planted trees and plants and shrubs that were of great medicinal value. This is borne out by an inscription of Ashoka, the great Buddhist Emperor of India. The State allowed the people to pluck the leaves and fruits and bark of these trees for medicinal purposes. It is a familiar thing even today in the villages for an old dame of a household to go out into the outskirts of the village in the morning, for culling some herbs, leaves and bark for the ailment of the children, men and women of the family Ordinary cold, cough, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, jaundice and a host of such minor maladies are within the compass of a family-possibilities of cure, without resorting to regular professional aid

It was the aim to disseminate this elementary and general knowledge of personal and social hygiene as well as general principles of diet, and medicine which were within the scope of intelligence and attainment of every individual and family

Just as certain degree of acquaintance with geography, science, history and arithmetic is deemed an essential part of a civilized man’s mental equipment, even so or even more so was it deemed necessary for him to learn the general principles of hygiene, and the functioning of his own stomach, heart and lungs, and intestines which is physiology, and easy and simple methods of curing cuts, wounds and boils, ordinary fever, cold, headache and such other everyday ailments. This was not only of great individual advantage like a stitch in time which saves nine in the form of doctor’s bills or irrepairable damage to his health, but it reduced the medical burden of the state. This was a national blessing and created a society approaching near to the ideal

This relationship between the individual and medicine is therefore a vital one both from the individual’s own point of view as well as the state’s. The state has the power to impart and the individual the capacity and inclination to learn this essential enlightenment. This requires a recasting of the educational programme of the State. It is easy to do and the results are certain to follow. The individuals are the state m our days of democracy, and a democratic programme of education cannot afford to ignore this beneficient and in the long run beneficial course of medical enlightenment of every individual member of the State.

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