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 15 - Village and Medicine

If in spite of the various onslaughts of foreign invasions and religions India has survived, it is only due to her thousands of villages humming with agricultural toil and life. The description of ancient historians furnishes the data from which we can gather that administration was so organised that every village was self-sufficing and became an independent unit in itself, at the same time being a component part of the vast area of the motherland and marching in harmony with the rest. This peaceful living and healthy development of the villages was due to the conventions of war prevalent then.

As for example Kautilya warns and says.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra 13.4]

“By the destruction of trade, agricultural produce and standing crops, by causing the people to run away and by slaying their leaders in secret, the country will be denuded of its peoples.”

In the same way Megasthenes also says “Whereas among other nations it is usual, in the contests of war, to ravage the soil, and thus to reduce it to an uncultivated waste, among the Indians, on the contrary, by whom husbandmen are regarded as a class that is sacred and inviolable, the tillers of the soil, even when battle is raging in their neighbourhood, are undisturbed by any sense of danger, for the combatants on either side in waging the conflict make carnage of each other, but allow those engaged in husbandry to remain quite unmolested Besides, they neither ravage an enemy’s land with fire, nor cut down its trees”.

This being the case the problem of medical aid was so tackled that every village was able to receive the services of the physician, in health as well as in disease. One wonders to find how simple, practical, economical and thorough a system of medical administration was devised then

Kautilya in his Arthashastra defines a village as consisting of 100 families or houses in the least raising the number to 500 in the highest.


As to the requirements for happy living in a village, definite instructions and advice have been laid down by the ancients.

Vagbhata in his Astangasangraha says that—

[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Sūtrasthāna 3]

“A village should not be constructed where the country abounds in disease, where there is no physician, where there is no leader to guide and protect, where the number of irreligious people is great, and where the country is situated near a mountain.”

He says that,

“People should reside in a place which bears plenty of water, medicinal herbs, sacrificial sticks, flowers, grass and firewood, and which yields abundant food, where there is complete safety of property and person, where the out-skirts are beautiful and pleasing and lastly which is adorned by the presence of learned people”.

Similarly it has been ordained by Manu that:

[Manusmṛti A. 4.60]

“One should neither live among impious persons nor in a place abounding in diseases; one should not undertake journey alone nor should reside on mountain for a long time”.

There is also a popular verse which describes requisites for habitation, viz,


“A wealthy person, a Brahamana well versed in the Vedas, a king, a river and the fifth a physician; in a place without any of these, one should not live even for a day.”

From the above facts we can clearly see that in the construction and inhabitation of a village a site free from disease, a clever physician and the presence of medicinal herbs played an important part

As seen above, the physician occupied a predominant place and played an important part in the happy life of a village. For his contentment and continuity of service in the interests of the people, he was endowed with lands in that village, as a part of his remuneration.

Kautilya says:—


“Superintendents, accountants, Gopas, Sthanikas, veterinary surgeons, physicians, horse-trainers and messengers shall also be endowed with lands, which they shall have no right to alienate by sale or mortgage.”

Thus being stabilized in the village, the physician discharged his duties in the best interests of the village

1. He looked after every villager in health as well as in disease.

2 He was responsible for the sanitation of the whole village.

3 He imparted general training in personal hygiene and village sanitation

4. He made use of all the medicinal plants availabe in his village and prepared drugs himself, thus contributing to the medical economy providing medicines at the lowest cost.

5. He helped the State in the plantation of herbs which were not grown in his village and which were often needed in the preparation of the various drugs

6. The superintendent of agriculture sought his advice in the plantation of medicinal herbs.


“The superintendent of agriculture shall-be possessed of the knowledge of the science of agriculture dealing with the plantation of bushes and trees, or assisted by those who are trained in such sciences”.

Thus he brought about the well-being of the people as a physician, a sanitary officer, a pandit and a wise man.

The state not only maintained such village physicians but provided veterinary physicians also for the treatment of animals because animals are everything in the agricultural life of a village.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra Pṛ. 48]

“He shall protect agriculture from the molestation of oppressive fines, free labour and taxes, herds of cattle from thieves, tigers, poisonous creatures and cattle disease.”

There existed a class of travelling physicians who visited small villages and hamlets going from one place to another, dispensing medical aid, and preaching medicine and religion as well. This class is still existant in India. It resembles the Periodeuteis i.e., travelling physicians or ambulant physicians of ancient Greece. Moreover there were hospitals wherein the diseased, the aged and the helpless were treated free of cost. The maternity homes for women and children were also maintained by the state.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra Pṛ. 47]

“The king shall provide the orphans, the aged, the infirm, the afflicted and the helpless with maintenance. He shall also provide subsistence to helpless women when they are carrying and also to the children they give birth to”.

The state also took measures to prevent the spread of epidemics or when necessary arranged the evacuation of the villages if the epidemics were not controlled.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra Pṛ. 48]

“The king shall avoid taking possession of any country which is liable to the inroads of enemies and wild tribes, and which is harassed by frequent visitations of famine and pestilence. He shall also keep away from expensive sports.”

All the measures intended for the welfare of the public contributed greatly to the physical progress and thereby to the mental and moral progress of the society as well and thus helped in the nation-building effort of the times

Just as medical aid was rendered in the right manner, so too there was great vigilance shown against prevalence of quacks and pretenders who robbed the people of their lives and money. Stern measures were taken by the enactment of special laws forbidding these charlatans to practise and cheat the innocent people.

Medicinal plants were planted either in natural soil or in pots.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra 2.24]

“Such medicinal herbs as grow in marshy grounds are to be grown not only in grounds suitable for them, but also in pots.”

The following edict of king Ashoka bears testimony to the above statement:—


(B) “And wherever there were no herbs that are beneficial to man and beneficial to cattle, everywhere they were caused to be imported and to be planted.”

(C) “Wherever there were no roots and fruits, everywhere they were caused to be imported and to be planted”

(D) “On the roads, wells were caused to be dug and trees were caused to be planted for the use of cattle and men”

In the same way those who injured the trees, useful plants and herbs were also made liable to punishment:

[Manusmṛti 11.144]

“One who uselessly cuts medicinal herbs planted in cultivated soil or grown wildly, should, in order to absolve himself of the sin, follow a cow and subsist on milk alone for one day.”

There were strict rules regarding the notification of disease which the village Vaidya was bound to report, to the head of the village, every serious case or notifiable disease.

[Kauṭilya Arthaśāstra A. 2.36]

“Any physician who undertakes to treat in secret a patient suffering from ulcer or excess of unwholesome food or drink, as well as the master of the house (wherein such treatment is attempted) shall be innocent only when they (the physician and the master of the house) make a report of the same to either Gopa or Sthanika, otherwise both of them shall be equally guilty with the sufferer”.

Now taking the benefit of the age-old tested experience, we in modern times, should organise medical aid, on the lines already suggested making changes whenever and in whatever way necessary and as suited to the needs and conditions of modern society.

As for example:

1 The Vaidya should be stabilised by being given a plot of land in the village.

2. Protection and plantation of medicinal herbs around the village should receive all attention from the State.

3. Simple drugs should be prepared by the Vaidya himself in order to ensure the efficacy, freshness and low cost of the preparation.

4. Every village must have its hospital on a small scale where the diseased, the aged and the helpless, might receive careful treatment.

5 Widows and helpless women may be trained as nurses and midwives, who can earn their living and at the same time help the people in their illness.

6. Maternity homes should be provided for the gravida and the children so that they have immediate medical aid without any change of place and without much expense.

7. Prohibition of practice should be enforced on quacks and pretenders, by means of heavy punishments.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: