History of Ayurveda

Origin

Ayurveda is the oldest and the most holistic medical system available on the planet today. Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda was transmitted orally from gurus to disciples. It was finally written down in four ancient sacred texts called the Vedas (Veda meaning wisdom), the oldest writings in the world probably sometime between 2500-1500 B.C. Ayurveda therefore traces its origins to the Vedas, and more specifically Atharvaveda, the fourth in the series. The other three, in the chronicle order of their conception, are Rigveda, Samaveda and Yajurveda.

The Rigveda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book in the world! It was Rigveda that initiated Shankhya, the philosophy of creation and manifestation – a philosophy that also lies at the very heart of Ayurveda.

Atharvaveda contains 114 hymns or remedy for the treatment of diseases. Ayurveda attained a state of reverence and is classified as one of the Upa-Vedas - a subsection - attached to the Atharva Veda. The Atharvaveda categorises Ayurveda into eight divisions, namelyInternal Medicine, Surgery, Paediatrics, ENT, Toxicology, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, Aphrodisiac remedies and Spiritual healing or Psychiatry.

Evolution:

But the actual rise and acceptance of Ayurveda as a holistic system of healing took place only after the arrival of famous troika of medical transcripts called samhitas. These three landmark treatises in Ayurveda that go by the name of Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridava Samhita, appeared between 800 B.C. to A.D. 1000, a period also referred to as the golden age of Ayurveda. Charak Samhita represented Atreya School of Physicians whereas Sushruta came from the Dhanvantari School of Surgeons. These two schools of thought became the basis of Ayurveda and helped organize and classify it into branches of medicine and surgery. Hridaya Samhita, which came out somewhere around the 6th century is more of a concise version of the two above mentioned treatises that preceded it.

For years and decades, people from numerous countries kept coming to Indian Ayurvedic schools to study this art of medicine and its mystifying effects. Researchers and scholars from China, Greece, Egypt, Persia and many other places travelled to India in order to enrich themselves with the ‘divine’ wisdom of healing and to spread the learning to their own countries. Paracelsus, who is also known as the Father of Modern Western Medicine, also studied and practiced a system of medicine which found its roots heavily submerged in Ayurveda.

The Arabic and Persian translations of Charaka, Sushruta and Ashtanga Samhita are living testimony to Ayurveda’s global popularity during this time. Firdous al-Hikmat, world’s first known medical encyclopedia, written by extraordinary physician and Islamic scholar Ali Ibn Rabban Al-Tabari (838 – 870 A.D.) is believed to be heavily influenced by the works of renowned Indian physician Charaka (of Charaka Samhita fame).

Decline:

The start of medieval era (1000 – 1800 A.D.) also marked the start of the unfortunate decline of Ayurveda. For the next few centuries, the tradition of Ayurveda didn’t see too many medical breakthroughs as its past popularity was dimmed partly due to natural and human calamities and partly due to the invasion of cultural heritage of India, first by Muslim invaders from the West and later by the British. During the British Raj, Ayurveda underwent a further image decline as the state patronage to Ayurveda was withdrawn. Western education gradually became the dominant form of study and western medicine, as a result, got promoted under the pretence of superior science.

During this period of subliminal decline spanning close to a millennium, Indian culture itself went through several turbulent and chaotic makeovers. In the face of allopathic domination, Ayurveda as a science was forced into oblivion as it lost its philosophical milieu and deep rooted connection with the masses. With the lack of financial backing from the State, Ayurveda advocates and researchers found it implausible to showcase Ayurveda as a potent medical tool that was as research friendly as any other form of medical science present at that time. To read more about Ayurveda’s scientific roots, visit our pg Ayurveda vs. Science.

In 1947, when India gained independence from the British, Ayurveda was recognized as an official form of medicine along with allopathy, homeopathy, naturopathy, and yoga therapy.

Resurrection:

Post independence, a nationalisation wave swept through the whole country and provided a much needed impetus to the indigenous Ayurveda industry.

Recommendations of Dave Committee for uniform standards of Ayurveda education were made as early as 1955. Although institutions of high learning in Ayurveda like the Banaras Hindu University at Varanasi (1963) and other education centers run by All India Ayurveda Congress were set up over the years, the overall quality of education still remained multifaceted and unorganized. Seeing the limitations of medical services at hand, Government set about recognising as well as organising alternate/traditional medicine industry for the first time. This recognition was manifested in the creation of Central Council of Indian Medicine Act of 1970, one of the main mandates of which were to standardize training of Ayurveda practitioners by prescribing minimum standards of education in traditional medicine.

Such measures have indeed yielded results. Today, Ayurveda is standing shoulder to shoulder with allopathy and helping India meet its humongous healthcare demands by covering a patient base of over 5 million. The relevance of this traditional medical science is corroborated by the presence of over 5 lakhs registered practitioners, close to 3000 hospitals and around 25,000 dispensaries for traditional medicine in India.

Ayurveda has stood the test of times and still continues to offer doses of ancient knowledge and wisdom to the modern world, which in many ways is its rightful inheritor. Today, it is even finding acceptance in the hard core allopathic markets of the west. The reason for such a revival is primarily its constant pro-nature vision and its universal approach towards treating life as a process and not as a state of being.

Swadeshi Ayurved strives to take forward this ideology to the next level with the help of today’s technology, human capital and an ever increasing customer trust that has mutually grown with us over the last 50 years.