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...

The chapter on the treatment of intoxication (alcoholism) in the Caraka Samhita, starting with an eloquent eulogy of the potency of wine, describes thus the benefits it can bestow if taken in due mode.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 24.7-10]

“That which endows the gods with choicest prosperity in the form of ambrosia, the manes in the shape of ‘Svadha’ and the twice-born in the form of “Soma,” that which is the splendour, might and the wisdom of the Ashvin [Ashvin] twins, that which is the power of Indra, that which is the “Soma” prepared in the “Sautramani” sacrifice, that which is the destroyer of sorrow, unhappiness fear and distress, which is powerful and which itself turns into and causes love, joy, speech, nourishment and beatitude, that which has been praised as the joyful wine by the Gods, Gandharvas, Yaksas, Raksasas and mortals, should be taken in the enjoined manner.”

Subsequently the chapter describes the manner in which a person should address himself to the task of quaffing the precious liquid.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 24.11-21)

“Having attended to the internal and external needs of the body and having bathed and painted himself with fragrant sandal, a person must wear clean clothing along with ornaments and fragrances suitable to the season. Then decking himself with garlands of variegated flowers and with jewels and ornaments, he should worship the Gods and the Brahmanas and touch the most auspicious articles Seating himself comfortably in a sitting or lounging position on a well made bed with pillows, in a spot scattered with flowers that are best suited to each season and fumigated with fragrant smoke he should drink wine always in vessels of gold or silver or vessels set with precious stones or other vessels clean and well shaped. He should drink while being shampood by clean, loving, beautiful, young and well trained women dressed in fine clothes, jewels and flowers suitable to the season. He should eat while drinking, green fruits and salted fragrant flesh and other sauces agreeable to the wine and proper to the season, and the fried flesh of many kinds of creatures of the land, water and the air and many kinds of puddings made by expert cooks. He should drink, having before prayed to the gods and having first received their grace and having poured the libations of wine on the earth mixed with water for the desiring spirits”.

Such eulogistic reference to the potency of wine and so elaborately painted method of courtship of wine could not be regarded as the outcome of mere scholarly powers of portrayal without its foundation in real daily life of the times depicted. On the contrary that indicates the common prevalence of the pleasure resorted to by the small and the great each in the measure and the mode that were possible within their means. The great amount of detail in regard to the method of indulging in wine and the close observation of its effects in the various stages of intoxication and the social and therapeutic uses to which wine can be put all bear unmistakable testimony to the common prevalence and opportunity of the use of wine.

The pharmacological sources of wine are described in the very beginning of the treatise and no less than eighty varieties of wines and brews are described therein. Edible grains such as wheat, barley and rice and the roots, leaves and flowers fruits and bark of plants as also sugar, gur etc, are the sources mentioned of these wines and brews (Carakasaṃhitā, Sūtrasthāna XXV, 49).

Wine is classified into the varieties that are provocative or alleviative of the three pathogenic factors of Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each individual, be he in health or in disease, is to take wine in the proper mode suitably to his constitutional and pathological conditions respectively.

The habitual usage of wine by both men and women is easily descernible in view of the circumstances in which wine is contraindicated Women when they are pregnant are prohibited from taking wine and intoxicants.

Yet in spite of the common prevalence of the use of wine, as it has been in all times, the ideal was to abstain from its use altogether. Caraka declares (Cikitsā XXIV.206) that he who abstains from drink lives free from distempers both of the body and of the mind.

From the point of view of medicine, the proper and measured use of wine has been greatly valued. The benefits accruing from such a use have been laid down in very emphatic manner after first condemning its use in improper measure and describing the ill effects that flow from such abuse. This is one of the most striking passages in the book and illustrates the liberal and scientific spirit of the treatise

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 24.52-61]

“For all men all that which is contributive of well-being in this life and the other, and bliss in that higher life of liberation, is established in the perfect tranquility of mind Wine causes great agitation to such a tranquil mind, like the strong wind that shakes the trees on a bank Ignorant men who are addicted to and are blinded by intoxication and overcome by passton and ignorance, consider the intoxicated state, which is a greatly morbid and diseased condition, to be a state of happiness. These men, enslaved and blinded by alcoholism, are deprived of wisdom and Sattvic qualities and are lost to all goodness. Wine is also the cause of great delusion, fear, grief, anger and death as well as insanity, toxicosis, fainting, epilepsy and convulsions. When a man is deprived of his very memory, then every thing that follows upon it is necessarily evil. Thus those who know the evils of drink condemn the habit of drink strongly. True and undoubted indeed are these great evil effects, described about wine, if it is unwholesome or taken in excess or taken disregarding the prescribed regulations.

But wine, by nature, is regarded as similar to food in its effect. It is productive of disease if taken in improper manner, and is like ambrosia if taken in proper manner. Food, which is the life of living creatures if taken in improper manner destroys life; and even poison, which by nature is destructive of life, if taken in proper manner, acts as an elixir. Wine taken in proper manner soon gives exhilaration, courage, delight, strength, health, great manliness and joyous intoxication”

The effects of wine and the intoxication resulting therefrom have been divided into three stages. The first stage is one of general exhilaration, when the senses are stimulated and all the mental perceptions are heightened, and lead to a pleasurable termination. The second is the stage of delusion when the hold on mental co-ordination is loosened and man becomes a victim to folly and crime. The last stage is that of utter stupefaction when man becomes unconscious and falls down prostrate like a broken beam of wood when man, though alive, is like one dead.

Caraka argues that in this stage the drunkard lies frustrated of the very object of bis habit of drinking, for the pleasure in whose search the man resorted to wine has ceased to be perceived or enjoyed by him for in that last stage there is no awareness of things either inside or outside. Such unwholesome addiction is a sin aud leads to physical and mental deterioration ana disease (Caraka Saṃhitā, Cikitsāsthāna XXIV, 41-51).

The Brahmacari who lived a life of celibacy and discipline in his preceptor’s home was not allowed the use of wine as also the recluse who renounced the world and strove for liberation. Men who out of an innate purity and strength of mind lived a life of discipline and eschewed wine and meat and resorted to wholesome diet and cleanly habits, were regarded as immune from disease, whether endogenous or exogenous specially from insanity.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.96]

The therapeutic uses of wine were many and varied. Wine was also used as an anesthetic. It was used too in parturition and after-delivery.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 8.31]

Another but very reprehensible use of wine was a vehicle for poison to be administered to one’s foes. In this as already stated elsewhere, women known as “Visha-kanyas” (viṣakanyā) that is those that acquired immunity to poison by long usage, were used as companions in whose company the victim might be beguiled to partake of the wine with a sense of security.

Thus we may safely conclude that though the ideal of abstention from drink whs upheld with great devotion the use of wine along with its occasional abuse was a popular custom in the times described in the Caraka Samhita. There was luscious love of life aud the pleasures it held, and each individual strove to the utmost to live a long and rich life heedful of the evils that excess in anything brought upon his health and spiritual well-being Consequently moderation and not total abstension was the motto of life.

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