The Vedic Healers relied much on plants and their products in their practice, which took the form of a materia medica. The Rig Veda extolled the herbs akin to an army of kings rallying around a knowledgeable healer. Individual sages and schools of herbalists painstakingly identified, described, and propagated the use of particular plants that were often named after them. Cow’s milk and its products, water, soil from various sources, powdered shells, and rock salt etc. also prominently figured in their use. In addition to oral medicines, inhalation, fumigation, and topical application of ointments were also done. The medicines were administered at specified places and times.
Though the roots of Ayurveda lay in the Atharva Veda with its reliance on medicinal value of plants and other matter, yet Ayurveda emerged as a fully developed rational theory of health and disease.
The Charaka Samhita expounded the foundational ideas of logic so that diagnosis and treatment could be based on valid observations and reasoning. Its therapeutics consisted of both purificatory and curative methods. Purification, both internal and external, is achieved through a systematic procedure of panchakarma (five processes). Curative methods involve various means and measures to restore the balance of the vitiated dosas. Diseases could also be caused by the derangement of phlegm, wind, or bile, due to seasonal changes, infection with germs or worms, and due to contaminated or unwholesome food. Certain symptoms such as fever are classified in fair detail, and it is recognized that fever is the “sister” or “cousin” of other diseases. Hereditary diseases were also known.
Ayurveda provides an example of intellectual coherence in which its practitioners applied its tenets to the biological world of humans, animals, and plants. Each individual was perceived as unique, and pointed attention was given to the individual’s constitution, while keeping the three humoral theory of vata, pitta and kapha or the and all its physical, physiological processes as well as the pathological causation of disease as the pivot. Though the three humors may be understood as wind, bile, and phlegm only by a lay person, yet they had much wider significance for experienced vaidyas. Equilibrium of the three dosas manifested as health whereas the disequilibrium or disharmony of these three resulted in disease. Each of the seven dhatus or constituents of the body could be affected by this disequilibrium.
Ayurvedic doctors regarded physical existence, mental existence, and personality as a unit, with each element being able to influence the others. Ayurveda expounded a holistic approach for diagnosing and treating diseases based upon the concept of channels (srotas) which transport fluids, and that the channels could be opened up by massage treatment using oils and Swedana (fomentation). Unhealthy channels were perceived as the cause of diseases. Ayurveda has eight ways to diagnose illness, called Nadi (pulse), Mootra (urine), Mala (stool), Jihva (tongue), Shabda (speech), Sparsha (touch), Druk (vision), and Aakruti (appearance) Ayurvedic practitioners approach diagnosis by using the five senses. For example, hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech. The study of the lethal points or marman marma is of special importance.
The main classical Ayurveda treatises begin with legendary accounts of the transmission of medical knowledge from the Gods to sages, and thence to human physicians. Thus, the Sushruta Samhita narrates how Dhanvantari, “greatest of the mighty celestial,” incarnated himself as Divodāsa, a mythical king of Varanasi, who then taught medicine to a group of wise physicians, including Sushruta himself. Ayurveda therapies have varied and evolved over more than two millennia. Therapies are typically based on complex herbal compounds, while treatises introduced mineral and metal substances (perhaps under the influence of early Indian alchemy or rasaśāstra). Ancient Ayurveda treatises also taught surgical techniques, including rhinoplasty, perineal lithotomy, the suturing of wounds, and the extraction of foreign objects.
According to the compendium of Charaka, the Charakasamhitā, health and disease are not predetermined and life may be prolonged by human effort. The compendium of Suśruta, the Suśrutasamhitā defines the purpose of medicine to cure the diseases of the sick, protect the healthy, and to prolong life. Both these ancient compendia include details of the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments. The Suśrutasamhitā is notable for describing procedures on various forms of surgery, including rhinoplasty, the repair of torn ear lobes, perineal lithotomy, cataract surgery, and several other excisions and other surgical procedures. Most remarkable is Sushruta’s penchant for scientific classification: His medical treatise consists of 184 chapters, 1,120 conditions are listed, including injuries and illnesses relating to aging and mental illness. The Sushruta Samhita describe 125 surgical instrument, 300 surgical procedures and classifies human surgery in 8 categories.
The earliest classical Sanskrit works on Ayurveda, first found in the epic Mahabharata, describe medical science as being divided into eight components (in Sanskrit chikitsāyām aāgāyā). This characterization of the said eight components is fully described in; (1)Vājīkaranatantra: aphrodisiacs and treatments for increasing the volume and viability of semen and sexual pleasure;(2) Rasāyanatantra: rejuvenation and tonics for increasing lifespan, intellect and strength;(3) Agadatantra: toxicology;(4) Bhūtavidyā: pacification of possessing spirits, and the people whose minds are affected by such possession; (5) Śhālākyatantra: treatment of ailments affecting ears, eyes, nose, mouth, etc.(“ENT”); (6) Śalyatantra: surgical techniques and the extraction of foreign objects; (7) Kaumāra-bhritya: the treatment of children, paediatrics; and (8) Kāyachikitsā: general medicine, medicine of the body.
Shushruta specialised in ophthalmic surgery (extraction of Cataracts). Shushruta was one of the first to study the human anatomy. In the Shusruta Samahita he has described in detail the study of anatomy with the aid of a dead body. Shusruta’s forte was rhinoplasty (Plastic surgery) and ophthalmialogy (ejection of cataracts). Shushruta has described surgery under eight heads Chedya (excision), Lekhya (scarification), Vedhya (puncturing), Esya (exploration), Ahrya (extraction), Vsraya (evacuation) and Sivya (Suturing). The practice of surgery has been recorded in India around 800 B.C. This need not come as a surprise because surgery (Shastrakarma) is one of the eight branches of Ayurveda the ancient Indian system of medicine.
The Ayurvedic practitioner was called vaidya, meaning a person of profound knowledge, who made use of what is called rational therapy. He examined the individual as a whole and not just his disease, took a careful note of the patient’s innate physiology, mental state, and other factors such as age, food habits, and season of occurrence of disease. The vaidya conducted a thorough examination using both direct perception (pratyaksha) and inference (anumana). In addition, oral or written testimony of the personal experience of Ayurvedic experts was also accepted as a diagnostic tool (aptopadesha). The vaidya was also expected to question the patient in great detail (prashna), conduct a thorough physical examination using all his five senses (panchendriya pariksha), and confirm or negate his diagnosis through experimentation (yukti). Laying much emphasis on the vaidya’s knowledge of drugs, he was supposed to keep in mind both its therapeutic and adverse effects. The Vaidyas laid equal emphasis on the cure of disease as well as prevention and health promotion. They prescribed a daily and seasonal routine as well as attention to nutrition for maintenance of a balanced state of health.
Ayurvedic preceptors conceived the role of a physician as much more than mere treatment of diseases. He was to help an individual reach the ultimate spiritual goal of self-emancipation, which would not be possible without a healthy mind and body. He was to educate the people about health and disease, and be able to communicate with the lay public and the scholars alike. This required wisdom and skilled communication. Charaka says this about the goal of the vaidya, “Not for self, not for the fulfillment of any earthly desire or gain, but solely for the good of suffering, should you treat your patients and so excel all. Those who sell the treatment of diseases as merchandise gather dust and neglect gold.” The ancient texts talk in detail about the doctor-patient relationship. A vaidya was expected to be friendly and sympathetic toward his patients so that they do not fear him. Charaka recommends that the vaidya keep his conclusions to himself to avoid potential harm. Ayurvedic texts prohibit physicians from private conversations or indulging in jest with women.
A vaidya was expected to be proficient in all fields of medicine including surgery. There is evidence to show that vaidyas were well paid. There were many checks on the vaidyas. License from the state was a prerequisite for taking up medical practice. Fines were imposed for the incorrect treatment of patients. Yet, the vaidya had a lot of autonomy as the law codes advise not to argue with physicians. Sushruta Samhita prescribes the dress code of white or brownish yellow clothes for the vaidya. Vaidyas resorted to spiritual therapy for diseases whose cause were unknown. Psychic therapy was applied to diseases of the mind. The vaidya prescribed various methods at his discretion, to keep the mind away from harmful thoughts. Medicine for the vaidyas was a fulltime profession. There were individual practitioners, vaidyas attached to hospitals, and vaidyas employed by the state. Physicians in state service had to attend to the royal family, courtiers, and palace retinue. The highest position among these state physicians was occupied by the king’s personal vaidya known as the Raja-Vaidya.
Sushruta Samhita described in detail the admission process of a medical student as very stringent. A medical student was expected to be honest, humble, temperate, generous, and hard-working and was not supposed to be enamoured with women or engage in gambling or hunting. His memory and academic performance were also given importance, while expecting to follow a strict code of conduct and behaviour. The medical training was acquired over a lengthy duration of 7 years and rote learning was an integral part of medical education. Students were expected to memorize the classical texts and their commentaries. In the Western world, Ayurveda therapies and practices (which are manifold) have been integrated in general wellness applications and as well in some cases in medical use. Globalized and modernized practices derived from Ayurveda traditions are a type of complementary or alternative medicine, which are most methodical