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A History of Ayurveda
submitted by Dr. Vikram and edited by Dr. Tasneem Bhatia
Origin and History
Ayurveda originated in India long back in the pre-Vedic period. Rig-Veda and Atharva-veda (5000 years B.C.), the earliest documentation of ancient Indian knowledge, have references to health and diseases. Ayurvedic texts like Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita were documented about 1000 years B.C.
The term Ayurveda means 'Science of Life'. It deals elaborately with measures for healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness.
These principles of positive health and therapeutic measures relate to the physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare of human beings. Thus Ayurveda became one of the oldest systems of health care dealing with both the preventive and curative aspects of life in a most comprehensive way, and presents a close similarity to the World Health Organization's concept of health propounded in the modern era.
A perusal of its several classical treatises indicates the presence of two schools of Physicians and Surgeons and eight specialties. These eight disciplines are generally called "Ashtanga Ayurveda" and are:
*Internal Medicine(Kaya Chikitsa)
*Psychiatry( Bhoot Vidya)
*Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology(Shalakya)
*Toxicology( Agad Tantra)
*Eugenics and aphrodisiacs(Vajikarana)
Compendia on these subjects like Charak Samihta, Sushruta Samhita etc. were written by the ancient scholars during the B.C. period. These were used for teaching Ayurveda in the ancient universities of Takshashila and Nalanda.
The Early Beginning
During its early period, ayurveda was perhaps the only system of overall healthcare and medicine which served the people in such crucial areas as health, sickness, life and death. It enjoyed the unquestioned patronage and support of the people and their rulers. This situation promoted the growth of this system. Practically all the systematic ground work of laying down its basic concepts, principles and medicaments took place during this period of Indian history.
The Medieval Period
During the medieval period, the growth of Ayurveda was stunted. Teaching and training were stopped and the monopoly of Ayurvedic practice or utilization was eroded greatly by officially supported systems. Ayurveda barely survived because of its native roots and also because the official systems of medicine could not reach difficult rural areas.
The Present Era
The political situation of the country was destined to change in favor of freedom from foreign rule. With the awakening of nationalism and movement for freedom, the Indian cultural values and way of life (including health care and sickness cure systems) surfaced again. The patriotic zeal of the people, their leaders and benevolence of the rulers of princely States initiated the revival of the Ayurvedic system of medicine even before the country got its freedom.
In 1916, the Members of Imperial Legislative Councils pressed the Government to accept this ancient and indigenous system of Ayurveda for developing it on scientific basis and for increasing its usefulness. In 1920, the Indian National Congress demanded Government patronage for Ayurveda and Provincial Governments began to grant assistance. The State and Central Governments appointed several committees to suggest ways and means of rehabilitating this time tested system in the service of the people and to promote its further growth following modern scientific parameters and methods. As a result, several States started schools and colleges for training competent Ayurvedic practitioners with working knowledge of modern medicine.
After the country gained independence in 1947, the movement for revival gained additional momentum. The first Health Ministers' Conference resolved that Ayurveda should be developed and put to use for providing medical care to the people. In due course, this system got official recognition and became a part of the National Health Network of the country.
At present the system is well set to re-orient itself to modern scientific parameters. Simultaneously, it is well poised for much greater and effective utilization so as to enable the country to reach its goals of health for all, and regulate population growth. In the present situation, Medical Scientists are researching Ayurvedic remedies for lifestyle related diseases and degenerative disorders.
This article was submitted by Dr. Vikram, an ayurvedic physician practicing at Ashwini Ayurvedic Clinic in Mysore, India. The article was extensively edited by Dr. Tasneem Bhatia.