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History of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is verily called the ‘Mother of All Healing Sciences’.  It originated in India more than 5000 years ago and spread out to greatly influence the Tibetan, Chinese and Unani systems of medicine.  The Vedas, the sacred writings of India, written between 6000 and 2000 BC, contain basic Ayurvedic knowledge.  Some consider it a sub-veda of Atharvaveda, one of the four main Vedas, written around 2500 BC.

There were two schools of Ayurveda in India by 1500 BC.  One was the School of Physicians lead by Sage Atreya, and the other was the School of Surgeons lead by Dhanvanthari (believed to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu).  Around 1000 BC, Charaka Samhita in which the teachings of Atreya were revised and supplemented by Charaka and Susruta Samhita in which the teachings of Dhanvantari were rewritten by Susruta became the texts of the two schools.

Charaka Samhita has been the most referred Ayurvedic text on internal medicine till date.  Sushruta Samhita alone contains 184 chapters describing 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations from animal sources.  Prosthetic surgery, cosmetic surgery, caesarian operations and even brain surgery are described.

Around 500 CE, Vaghbhatta compiled the third major treatise on Ayurveda, the Ashtanga Hridaya, in which knowledge from both the schools were included.  From 500 to 1900 CE, at least 16 major nighantus or supplementary texts have been written on Ayurveda incorporating new drugs, applications and findings, including medicinal properties of 1814 varieties of plants.  Madhava (700 CE), Sarngadhara (1300 CE), and Bhavamisra (1500 CE) compiled works on Indian medicine. The medical works of both Sushruta and Charaka were translated into Arabic during the Abbasid Caliphate (750 CE) and reached Europe via intermediaries.

British physicians came to India to study the native methods of Rhinoplasty and reports on these were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1794.  Joseph Constantine Carpue was able to perform the first major surgery in the western world in 1815, after spending 20 years in India to study the local methods of plastic surgery.

Though foreign invasions and domination of India, for centuries at a stretch, have relegated Ayurveda to a secondary position behind Western Medicine, there is a rising trend in India and abroad of accepting it as a complementary health care system.  Indian and foreign physicians often work side by side allowing the use of Ayurvedic remedies and treatments in some diseases which baffle allopathic practitioners, like rheumatic ailments.