Ayurveda dates back to at least 5000 years. According to Hindu religious scriptures its millions of years old, when the present universe was formed, and Svaayambhuva Manu created life in the universe, including human beings. Ayurveda is one of the four Upavedas, namely Ayurveda (Medicine), Dhanurveda (Archery), Gandharvaveda (Music and Dance), and Shastrashastra (Military Science). Ayurveda is associated with Rig Veda, Dhanurveda is associated with Yajur Veda, Gandharvaveda is associated with Sama Veda and Shastrashatra is associated with Atharva Veda. However, certain scriptures associated Ayurveda with Atharva Veda. They also combine Shastrashastra with Dhanurveda and maintain Sthapatyaveda and Shilpa Shastras (Architecture, Arts and Crafts) as the fourth Upaveda.
Ayurveda is a science of life, longevity, and prevention and even modern scientists and medical experts unanimously agree that it is the most holistic and oldest health care system on our planet. The meaning of the word ‘Ayurveda’ is ‘knowledge for long life’. The oldest medical Ayurveda scripture available today is believed to be Atreya Samhita. The sages during the early years of development of Ayurveda envisaged health as an inseparable part of human life. They received knowledge of Ayurveda treatments through meditative cognitions and hence the different treatment methods of Ayurveda, such as prevention, healing, longevity, surgery, etc. were obtained through Divine revelations. Ayurveda stemmed from such revelations and not through testing of medicines on animals or humans.
Ayurveda uses foods, herbs, aromas, colors, gems, mantras, yoga, lifestyle and surgery to prevent, heal and cure all types of ailments and diseases that afflict human beings. It is believed that there are eight major branches of Ayurveda medicine. However, two main schools are prominently accepted. They are the school of physicians following the teachings of Atreya and the school of surgeons complying with the teachings of Dhanvantari. Scholars and medical practitioners from different countries like China, Afghanistan, Persia, Tibet, Greece, Rome, etc. visited India to learn the eternal wisdom of Ayurveda and carried back that knowledge back to their countries. They translated their knowledge in their languages, and many quotations of Ayurveda are found in ancient medicine of all these countries. Eventually, the practices and principles of Ayurveda spread throughout Europe and formed the foundation of the traditional European medicine.
The modern Ayurveda principles and practices are based on three major treatises. The Charaka Samhita is a compilation of Atreya Samhita. The other two are Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridaya. Ashtanga Hridaya is a concise version of Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. All these Samhitas are considered to be at least a few thousand years old.
Ayurveda is based on the five elements of Akasa (Ether), Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Jala (Water), and Prithvi (Earth) that combine to compose this universe. The body constituents are divided into seven primary elements or Dhatus, namely rasa (plasma), Rakta (blood), Maamsa (flesh), Medha (fat), Asthi (bone), Majja (marrow) and Sukra (semen of man or reproductive tissue of woman). The elemental energies or doshas that affect the health of human body are divided into three constituents known as Vata (wind), Pitta (bile) and Kapha (phlegm). Air and space form vata, fire and water constitute pitta and water and earth form kapha. Ayurveda maintains that these three doshas should remain in complete balance for maintenance of good health. When their balance becomes disturbed, and their amounts are not equal, the body becomes unhealthy in different ways. Even though surgery is also part of Ayurveda, the stress is on the development of a healthy metabolism, achieving effective digestion of food and drinks and proper excretion of unwanted wastes from the body for health and vitality. These aspects are supplemented with yoga, exercises, and meditation.
The eight components of Ayurveda are listed below. They are
- Kaaya Chikitsa (internal medicine)
- Kaumarabhrtyam (pediatrics)
- Shalya chikitsa (surgery)
- Saalaakya tantra (eye and ENT)
- Bhuta Vidya (psychiatry)
- Agadatantra (toxicology)
- Rasayana (prevention of diseases, improvement of immunity and rejuvenation)
- Vajikaranam (aphrodisiacs and improvement of health of progeny)
We will be discussing the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and ailments through Ayurveda in our next article. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about the history of Ayurveda, kindly contact us and we will be happy to provide you necessary clarifications.