Ayurveda The Ancient Indian System of Medicine

Satish Jain, MD, DM

The chief source of ancient Indian Aryan culture and medicine is the four Vedas. The exact source and date of origin of the Vedas has always been a debatable issue, but according to Indian traditions, the Vedas were revealed to the sages by Brahma (the creator) approximately six thousand years before the Christian era. Most Western scholars believe that the oldest of the four Vedas was compiled during the second millennium b.c. The word Ayurveda (in Sanskrit Ayu means "life," and Veda, "to know") has traditionally been equated with the ancient Indian system of medicine. Although Ayurveda means the knowledge of life, by which the nature of life is understood and thus life is prolonged, this word does not appear in the Vedic texts. Most likely, traditional Vedic medicine flourished for several centuries before it was handed down orally from the master to the pupil. Much later, traditional Hindu medicine became synonymous with Ayurveda. Unfortunately, the text of Ayurveda is not available in its original form, but instead, most of its contents are revealed in the Samhitas, the encyclopedic works of Caraka and Susruta. These texts, originally written about 1000 b.c., are probably the most authentic and renowned representatives of the original Ayurveda (1).

In their writings, Caraka combined the role of a moralist, philosopher, and physician, and Sushruta created an atmosphere of independent thinking and investigation that later characterized Greek medicine. Caraka is credited as the oldest author in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. Caraka Samhita (written approximately 1000-800 b.c.) is a treatise on the ancient Indian system of medicine that was composed by Agnivesa, redacted by Caraka, and reconstructed by Drdhabla. Treatises written by later authorities borrowed heavily from this fundamental work (2-4). The Sushruta Samhita is acknowledged as one of the great works of its kind in Sanskrit literature, and it is especially important for its passages about surgery (1,5).

The Ayurvedic theory of tridosha or tridhatu is defined by the three elements (humors), namely vayu or vata (air), pitta (bile), and kapha (phlegm). This basis for physiology and pathology, as they were understood by the ancient Hindus, has been misunderstood by many scholars to mean literally the elements of air, bile, and phlegm. The ancients used these terms in a very broad sense, with variable meanings depending on the context in which they were used. The term vayu or vata, for example, incorporates all phenomena of motion involved in the function of life, including cell development and the functions of the central nervous system. Pitta does not refer to bile alone, but signifies the functions of metabolism and thermogenesis, including digestion and blood formation, and various secretions and excretions (mala), which are either the by-products or end products of tissue metabolism. The term kapha does not merely mean phlegm, but is used primarily to imply functions of cooling, preservation, and thermotaxis or heat regulation; and secondarily to denote protective fluid production of mucus, synovial fluid, and the like. The imbalance of these elements (dhatus) beyond normal variations causes bodily dysfunction and disturbance.

Health And Fitness 101

Health And Fitness 101

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