HISTORY OF AYURVEDA

September 13, 2012 by  
Filed under An Introduction to Ayurveda



Ayurveda is a holistic system of medical science that integrates the mind, body and spirit .and is the oldest healing science which is almost 5000 years old. Ayurveda contains two Sanskrit words: Ayu which means life or lifespan and Veda meaning knowledge (The Science of Life). This system of medicine was shaped in the ancient lands of India

The true history of Ayurveda starts from the time of the Holy books, the Vedas. Ancient mythology contends that the concept and essence of Ayurveda was revealed by the creator of the world himself – Lord Brahma.

Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of this healing system was a part of the spiritual tradition of the Sanatana Dharma (Universal Religion), or Vedic Religion. Veda Vyasa, the famous sage, shaktavesha avatar of Vishnu, put into writing the complete knowledge of Ayurveda, along with the more directly spiritual insights of self realization into a body of scriptural literature called the Vedas and the Vedic literatures.

There are four Vedas – books of spirituality which date back to about 5000 years. They preach the philosophy of life . They are:

  • Rigveda
  • Yajurveda
  • Samaveda
  • Atharvaveda

    The Rig Veda, is a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (3000 B.C.). The Rig Veda refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of both Ayurveda and Yoga, contains verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. There are discussions in the Rig Veda of the three dhosas: Vayu. Pitta and Kapha, and the use of herbs to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity.

The Atharva Veda lists the eight divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of Fertility.

Ayurveda is the most ancient science of healing which enhances longevity. It has influenced many of the older traditional methods of healing including Tibetan, Chinese and Greek medicine. Hence, Ayurveda is considered by many as the ‘mother of healing.’

The hymns, the mantras and the medical information contained in the Vedas were contributions of Rishis and munis or sages, over a period of time. Many of these sages were learned saints who devoted their life to understanding the world.

The Vedic Sages took the passages from the Vedic Scriptures relating to Ayurveda and compiled separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. One of these books, called the Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world! The Vedic Brahmanas were not only priests performing religious rites and ceremonies, they also became Vaidyas (physicians of Ayurveda). The sage-physician-surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. In other words, the knowledge of the use of various methods of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery came through Divine revelation; there was no guessing or testing and harming animals. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form, interspersed with the other aspects of life and spirituality.

What is fascinating is Ayurveda’s use of herbs, foods, aromas, gems, colors, yoga, mantras, lifestyle and surgery. Consequently Ayurveda grew into a respected and widely used system of healing in India. Around 1500 B.C., Ayurveda was delineated into eight specific branches of medicine.

There were two main schools of Ayurveda at that time. Atreya ( the school of physicians) and Dhanvantari ( the school of surgeons) . These two schools made Ayurveda a more scientifically verifiable and classifiable medical system.

The practical tenets of Ayurveda are divided into eight sections or branches. These sections include:

  • Internal medicine,
  • Surgery,
  • Organic medicine,
  • Pediatrics,
  • Toxicology,
  • Rejuvenating remedy,
  • Aphrodisiac remedies and
  • Spiritual healing.

These eight sections are called “Astanga Ayurveda“.

People from numerous countries came to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about this world medicine and the religious scriptures it sprang from. Learned men from China, Tibet, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Afghanistanis, Persians, and more traveled to learn the complete wisdom and bring it back to their own countries. Ayurvedic texts were translated in Arabic and under physicians such as Avicenna and Razi Sempion, both of whom quoted Indian Ayurvedic texts, established Islamic medicine. This style became popular in Europe, and helped to form the foundation of the European tradition in medicine.

In 16th Century Europe, Paracelsus, who is known as the father of modem Western medicine, practiced and propagated a system of medicine which borrowed heavily from Ayurveda.

There are two main re-organizers of Ayurveda whose works are still existing in tact today – Charak and Sushrut. The third major treatise is called the Ashtanga Hridaya, which is a concise version of the works of Charak and Sushrut. Thus the three main Ayurvedic texts that are still used today are the Charak Samhita (compilation of the oldest book Atreya Samhita),  Sushrut Samhita and the Ashtangha Hridaya Samhita. These books are believed to be over 1,200 years old. It is because these texts still contain the original and complete knowledge of this Ayurvedic world medicine, that Ayurveda is known today as the only complete medical system still in existence. Other forms of medicine from various cultures, although parallel are missing parts of the original information.

 Decline and revival of Ayurveda

For a few centuries, the tradition of Ayurveda was dimmed due to the natural and human calamities and also by the invasion of foreign cultures into India. The sacred texts were either destroyed or stolen. However there were many ‘Vaidyas’ or doctors in India who managed to preserve some of the knowledge available in these Holy Scriptures. Divine plants that sustain long life and good health are now being rediscovered. Many renowned families of Vaidyas, who are specialized in certain branches of Ayurveda, have started functioning again in India. The Indian government began systematic research on Ayurvedic practices in 1969, and that work continues.

Before Ayurveda began its recent renewal in the West, it went through a period of decline in India when Western medical education became dominant during the era of British rule.

Ayurveda became a second-class option used primarily by traditional spiritual practitioners and the poor. After India gained its independence in 1947, Ayurveda gained ground and new schools began to be established. Today more than five hundred Ayurvedic companies and hospitals have opened in the last ten years, and several hundred schools have been established. Although Ayurveda remains a secondary system of health care in India, the trend toward complementary care is emerging, and Western and Ayurvedic physicians often work side by side.

Interest in Ayurveda in the West began in the mid 1970’s as Ayurvedic teachers from India began visiting the United States and Europe. By sharing their knowledge they have inspired a vast movement toward body-mind-spirit medicine. Today Ayurvedic colleges are opening throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States.

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