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 11 - The Sense of Smell

The sense of smell or the olfactory organ plays a more important part in our daily lives than is ordinarily believed. In the early stages of civilization, it was the most important sense, but it gradually lost its full significance with the advancement of modern civilization. In ancient times it was a protective organ and ‘luxury’ organ combined and man made use of this olfactory power for various purposes.

Animals were guided by this sense in their daily lives. It warned the animal of the approach of an enemy, it guided the animal in its quest for food and motivated its sex reflexes. Man with his superior intelligence turned this sense into a ‘luxury’ sense also. In ancient days nose rub was prevalent in lieu of the lip-kiss as a sign of love. To early man, the kiss, as the Europeans know it, was unknown. The ancient languages bear testimony to this fact. The Sanskrit word for ‘kissing’ is (‘ghrā’) also, which means to smell. In old Persian the word for ‘love’ means ‘smell’ In classical Greek there was no word for ‘kiss’ and in the Maori tongue of the New Zealand aborigines, the greeting expression is not found, but its place is taken by the phrase “I smell you”. Even today the Maoris use the nose rub as an expression of greeting. The Japanese abhor the lip kiss in practice so much so that love scenes in cinema films have to be scissored before being exhibited. Thus the nose-rub may be regarded as a relic of a time when man based his feelings of sympathy for other human beings upon the olfactory sensations which they provoked in him.

Many physicians were reputed to be able to smell a disease. There is a story that when the mother of a sick child wanted to conduct a famous nineteenth century physician into the sick-room, he sain ‘don’t wake her’. Then on opening the door slightly, he sniffed the air and announced the diagnosis of “scarlet fever.”

The above is an example of the higher development of the olfactory sense of a person who can sniff and separate the subtle difference of smell. Such persons are classified as belonging to the ‘olfactory type’ Such olfactory specialists are highly valued by perfume manufacturers even in modern times

Scientists consider taste and smell as chemical sense. This chemical sense was highly developed in the early period of the evolution of man. It gradually became blunted with the progress of modern civilization. It has been found on geographical considerations that persons of the olfactory type are less numerous in the Western Atlantic civilization than among the Orientals and in the tropics. It has been humourously remarked by an eminent scholar of botany that Indians had noses but no eyes as Europeans had eyes but no nose. This is but an apt summary of the fact that Indians prefer plants and flowers more for their fragrance than for their appearance, while the reverse is true of the Westerners. Even nature seems to be discerning in the distribution of her bounties. The Himalayan flora is full of fragrance while the Alpine flora is resplendent with variegated hues.

This love of fragrance among the Orientals is either the result of or is enhanced by the coincidence of several facts such as the abundance of fragrant articles in the East, the higher development of the olfactory sense, the superb sense of cleanliness and purity of internal as well as external parts of the body and the subtle aesthetic sense of olfactory luxury. There are plenty of references indicating the use of the olfactory sense for various purposes in health and disease.

The use of thuriferous articles formed part of religious ceremonies. The sacrifical articles and wood were offered as oblation into the sacrificial fire and this resulted in the impregnation of the whole atmosphere with pleasant aroma

The rooms whether they be for assembly meeting or for drinking party or they be amourous chambers, were decorated with seasonal and pleasant smelling flowers. Sometimes even the ground was carpeted with such flowers.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 24.11-13, 18]

“Having attended to the internal 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 eat, while drinking, green fruits and salted fragrant flesh and other sauces agreeable to the wine and proper to the seasons.”

Beds, seats and clothes were kept not only clean but were perfumed with fragrant articles

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 8.7]

“... a pleasant smelling, well spread and comfortable bed....”

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 8.60]

“The bed, seats, spreads and covers meant for the child should be soft, light, clean and fragrant.”

As regards personal hygiene, odoriferous articles were made use of very profusely to impart fragrance and charm to every part of the body.

After the preliminary purificatory process to cleanse every part of the body which is likely to exhale fetor (mouth, tongue, teeth, throat, skin etc), these parts were perfumed with sweet-smelling preparations.

To impart sweet and delicious smell to the breath and counteract the fetor-oris, use was made of nutmeg, musk, mallow, betel-nut, cloves, cubeb-pepper, good betel-leaves, camphor and small cardamom.

The skin of the whole body was given a friction cleansing with fragrant articles to remove the stench of perspiration and after the final cleansing of the body by the general bath, the body was anointed with fragrant applications and scented with exquisite perfumes. And finally in addition to the sartorial covering, a garland of the seasonal and sweet smelling flowers was worn

The oils used for nasal drops or for the hair were also scented Fragrant tooth powder and pastes were also made. Even the tooth stick was selected from the sweet-smelling trees or sometimes the tooth-stick was made fragrant by artificial methods.

Cigars whether used for daily habitual smoking or for therapeutic purposes, always contained a good number of fragrant articles. One of the purposes of its use in daily regimen was to remove the offensive smell of the breath.

Special attention was paid to make the food and drinks savory and the culinary art was highly developed in conformity with this superb sense of fragrance and aroma

Thus the olfactory aesthetic sense was ever given dominant consideration in the regimen of personal hygiene.

The special gift of the keenness of the olfactory organ of the orientals and the luxuriance of aromatic, balmly, musky, and odoriferous products in the East influenced not only the personal, social and public hygiene methods and manners of the people, but also played an important part in the diagnostic clinical methods and therapeutic measures of Ayurveda

Physical eximmation, as described in modern science, entails the use of four methods or procedures—inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation. It means according to Caraka.

[Carakasaṃhitā Vimānasthāna 4.7]

“Seeking to know the nature of a disease by direct observation, the physician should explore by means of all his sense-organs except the tongue, the entire field of sensible data presented by the patient’s body”

In the modern clinical methods of physical examination, the eyes (inspection), hands (palpation) and ears (percussion and auscutation [auscultation?]) are used extensively, but the use of the smell sense is rarely made We can understand the aversion to the use of the taste organ in modern clinical methods, but it becomes difficult to understand why olfaction is not used freely in the investigation Probably the gradual under-development of olfactory power especially among the occidentals is one of the reasons.

Ayurveda developed a special science of smell-diagnosis; osmics or osmology to be made use of in clinical medicine.

This method of physical examination is given an important place in the investigation of normal or abnormal secretions and excretions of the body viz, 1. Vital essence; 2 Semen, 3. Mother’s milk; 4. Menstrual fluid, 5 Sputum; 6. Stools, 7. Urine; 8. Vaginal discharge, 9. Vomit; 10 Discharge from the wound; 11. Sweat.

Objective or subjective symptoms pertaining to smell were found useful in the diagnosis of nearly all disease-conditions. Osmatic domineering signs are rather considered the pathognomic of the disorganization of the Pitta constituency of the body.

Important osmatic references are found in the following disease condition.

  1. uvara,
  2. raktapitta,
  3. gulma,
  4. prameha,
  5. śotha,
  6. arśa,
  7. grahaṇī,
  8. kāsa,
  9. atisāra, etc.

In the section on prognostic indication nearly the whole chapter is devoted to the subject of osmology (gandhavijñāna) bearing on prognosis.

The therapeutist made use of the savoury and fragrant articles in general and specially in all disorders of Pitta types. Meticulous care was taken in pharmaceutics to flavour every medication. Potions or poultices, linctus or lozenges all were made sweet and pleasant in smell. The number of aromatic drugs in Caraka is more than one hundred.

The concept of good and bad smell was so popularly recognized that bad smell was considered very despicable. Caraka while despising the condition of sterility or barrenness compares it to the tree with bad smell.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 2(1).16-17]

“The man without progeny is like a solitary tree that yields no shade, which has no branches, which bears no fruit and is devoid of any pleasant odour”.

Tropical countries are rich in fragrant plant products and hence we find that these countries have the most aromatic dishes and pleasant pharmaceutic factories. They cater to this outstanding trait of the orientals. Nose, thus is very highly respected and valued in the East, though it is but tiny in size. This may be one of the reasons of nose-cutting as a very subtle way of vendatta—may be due to its possession inside of this valuable apparatus of evaluating the environmental atmosphere. And this nose-cutting gave an opportunity to Sushruta of originating the operation of Rhinoplasty.

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