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 20 - Veterinary Science

The comprehensive nature of Ayurveda is evident from the very definition of the science. It is the science of life, life in its widest sense of the term and not in its circumscribed and narrow sense containing only the highest evolved form of life i.e. human beings, who form only an insignificant number among the host of living creatures. The universal sense of Ayurveda has not only not neglected the mute living creatures howsoever low they be, but it has also put the veterinary science on a par with the science that deals with ailments of man. The birds, the animal kingdom and the vegetable kingdom, all these are but different forms of that divine spark called life and Ayurveda has as good and as voluminous treatises on the vegetable kingdom (vṛkṣāyurveda) or horses (aśvāyurveda) or elephants (hastyāyurveda) or the bovine species (gavāyurveda) and even on Hawks (śyenakāyurveda) as it has on the science of human life. Besides these special treatises we find that the general books on medicine almost always included some portion dealing with this special branch of veterinary science. In the Caraka Samhita we find this subject referred to in chapter 11 of Siddhisthana verses 19-26.

In Harita Samhita also we find the following references—


“I shall now describe fever, the unrivalled of diseases and which affects all creatures such as the horses, elephants, men, beasts, deer, buffaloes, asses, camels etc., and the forest trees as also creepers, shrubs, mountains, serpents, birds and mice. This disease which is difficult of cure and destroys life is called fever in this world”.

Specialization of this subject is reflected in the special terms used to signify the condition of fever in various animals as is seen in the table given below.

(First column):
nara [nareṣu] jvara,
haya [hayeṣu] abhitāpa,
khara [khareṣu] khoraka,
go [goṣu] īśvara,
uṣṭra [uṣṭreṣu] alasaka;

(Second column):
vyāḍa [vyāḍeṣu] ākṣika,
ajñadi [ajñadiṣu] pralāpaka,
sarīsṛpa [sarīsṛpeṣu] kaṣṇīṣa[?],
mahiṣa [mahiṣeṣu] hāridraka,
mṛga [mṛgeṣu] mṛgaroga,
pakṣi [pakṣiṣu] avatāpa;

(Third column):
śvan [śunas] alarka,
matsya [matsyeṣu] indramada,
galma [galmeṣu] gucchaka,
oṣadhivanaspati [oṣadhivanaspatiṣu] jyotiṣka,
mālya [mālyeṣu] parvaka,
nalinī [nalinīṣu] ṛṣabhaka;

(Fourth column):
vānya [vānyeṣu] cūrṇaka,
kodrava [kodraveṣu] lala,
śāka [śākeṣu] madhūka,
bhūmi [bhūmyām] ūṣara,
ap [apsu] nīlikā,
gaja [gajeṣu] pākala;

Thus we learn that elementary knowledge of veterinary science formed a part of general medical education. The humane spirit of Ayurveda was not satisfied with providing just a niche for veterinary science in the vast structure of the healing lore. Veterinary science produced specialists and their treatises are, as said before, as elaborate and scientific as those meant chiefly for human treatment. The name of Saalihotra stands supreme in this branch of Ayurveda. He is described as the Father of the veterinary science. He describes the origin of the science in the same way as Caraka and Sushruta do, claiming direct link with Brahma, the fountain-head of all medical and holy lore Irrespective of its historical authenticity, it establishes that same divine origin of and the consequent halo round the veterinary science as do the treatises of Caraka and Susruta. The treatise is known as Hayayurveda (Hayāyurveda) or Turangama-shastra (Turaṅgamaśāstra) or the science of horses.

The original Shalihotra-Samhita (Śālihotrasaṃhitā) consists of 12000 verses.


“Wise Shalihotra made this treatise on horses consisting of 12000 verses having told the horses that went to heaven to go back”.

It is interesting to note that this number of verses viz., 12000 is also the number of verses in Agnivesha-samhita (Agniveśasaṃhitā). (Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.52).

The similarity does not end with the number of verses. Just as Ayurveda is divided into 8 sections, this science also has been Astanga (aṣṭāṅga) i.e. divided into eight sections.

The treatise of Shalihotra gamed currency due to its excellence and we find that Agni Purana quotes Shalihotra. Matsya and Garuda Puranas also refer to Hayayurveda. This Shalihotra-samhita has been translated into Persian, Arabic, Tibetan and English, the Persian translation dating as early as 1387 A.D. The fame of this work spread so much in the near East that in Persian and Urdu the word Shalotri stands for the horse doctor in their lexicons.

The veterinary science was not just a subject for professional practitioners. The horse was a very useful animal in the wars and princes took pains to acquire mastery in the science and we have several instances of scions of royal dynasties who were famous for their learning in this field. King Nala was so well-versed in the science of horses that he earned the name of Ashvavid (Aśvavid). Nakula and Sahadeva, the twin sons of Madri, acquired the science from Drona Guru.

[Mahābhārata Virāṭaparva 10.13]

[Mahābhārata Virāṭaparva 12.7]

The horse was not however the only animal which received the attention of medical authors. Elephants and cows received equal attention. We have the Palakapya Samhita (Pālakāpyasaṃhitā) devoted solely to elephants. It is divided into 4 sections with 152 chapters in all. It comprises more than 10000 verses or 20000 lines and it is almost as big as Caraka Samhita. Naturally such an elaborate treatise gives detailed information about the anatomy, surgery, physiology, pathology, major and minor diseases of and the diet and the drugs for elephants. We read in the descriptions of the wars of the ancient times that besides horses there were thousands of elephants on the battlefield and that was how the whole of of Hasti-Ayurveda came into being.

Govaidyaka, treatment of the bovine species, is another branch of the veterinary science and this too has received full attention in Ayurveda Similarly, goats and sheep, donkeys and camels, and even hawks were not neglected and we find special branches of treatises on these subjects

For the welfare and health of these animals which were useful to the human being in many ways, veterinary physicians were engaged to treat the animals in their illness save the society from infection and keep the animals fit. These physicians took every precaution against epidemics among the cattle and tried preventive as well as curative medicines Physicians were also kept ready on the battlefield for treating the animals wounded in the war.

These physicians [?? inspected?] the animals which were for sale in the market in order to prevent the spread of infection. Meat for sale in the market was also inspected and the sale of putrid or diseased flesh was strictly forbidden by means of severe punishment for such offences. The state not only took such measures for the health of the people and of the animals in this way, but it imposed fines on the physicians in charge of the animals if they committed a mistake in the treatment by carelessness or by any other reason.

Ill treatment to animals or even to the vegetable life was not tolerated and fines and punishment were imposed on the miscreants Any one who sterilized animals without state permission was severely dealt with.

Visnu Samhita and Parashara Samhita lay down expiatory ceremonies and injunctions for crimes against animals.

Punishment was meted out in proportion to the degree of heinousness of the crime e.g.—

[Parāśarasaṃhitā 9.50]

“The blood of the killed cow was to be carefully examined and tested in order to ascertain whethere she was lean or diseased when alive, as the nature of punishment varied according to the state of the cow’s health at the time of her death. Hence the testing was to be done very carefully.”

Every possible measure was taken by the state and the society for protecting their animals from thieves, carnivorous beasts, snakes, pythons, crocodiles and infectious diseases.

It was owing to the utility coupled with the helpless condition of these dumb animals that humanitarian princes like Asoka organised hospitals for animals and passed orders against cruelty to them. Our modern Pinjarapoles are but the poor and dilapidated relics of these hospitals organised on humane principles. These Pinjarapoles are but the reminders of the glory that was once India when India was the torch-bearer of the world in all fields of humanitarian service whether it be war or peace or science or art

A few instances culled from our vast veterinary science and its ethics will suffice to show how meticulous the injunctions were,

(godhyakṣa)—The superintendent of cows—


“Superintendents of cows shall apply remedies to calves or aged cows or cows suffering from diseases”

(aśvādhyakṣa)—The superintendent of horses—


“When owing to defects in medicine or carelesseness in the treatment, the disease becomes intense, a fine or twice the cost of the treatment shall be imposed and when owing to defects in medicine, or owing to not administering it the result becomes quite the reverse, a fine equal to the value of the animal shall be imposed”.;

(hastayadhyakṣa)—The superintendent of Elephants—

(hasticikitsaka)—The elephant doctor—


“Elephant doctors, watchmen, sweepers, cooks and others shall receive (from the store-house) one Prastha of cooked rice, a handful of oil and two pales of sugar and of salt. Excepting the doctors, others shall also receive 10 Palas of flesh.”

Animals were scrupulously cared for while on journey:—


“Elephant doctors shall administer necessary medicines to elephants which while making a journey, happen to suffer from disease, overwork, rut or old age”.



“Once in six months sheep and other animals shall be shorn of their wool. The same rule shall apply to herds of horses, asses camels and hogs”

With the ancients the animals were not mere useful servants, but they were treated in the same spirit as family members and well looked after. The interdependence of human beings and animals as regards mutual welfare demands of us that we should take every possible care of animals in health and disease. It behoves us to spare no pains in establishing and organising our efficient service in order to alleviate the ailment of animals. Our Pinjarapoles should be revived on scientific lines. Only then shall we have done our duty, only then shall we be able to establish our claim to be called civilized and only then shall we have put into practice our ideal of Jiva-daya i.e Compassion to all living creatures for which India has always stood supreme.

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