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File:Ayurveda oil.jpg

Shirodhara, one of the healing techniques of Ayurveda being practised

Ayurveda (Devanagari: आयुर्वेद ) or ayurvedic medicine is a form of alternative medicine in use primarily in the Indian subcontinent. The word "Ayurveda" is a tatpurusha compound of āyus "life" and veda "knowledge", and would roughly translate as the "Science of Life". [1] Ayurveda deals with the measures of healthy living, along with therapeutic measures that relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony. Ayurveda is also one among the few traditional systems of medicine involving surgery. It is very important to note that the mainstream scientific community has produced almost no support for the claims of Ayurvedic practitioners.[2]

Ayurveda was first described by Agnivesha, in his book Agnivesh tantra. The book was later revised by Charaka, and renamed to Charaka Samhitā.[citation needed] Other early texts of Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhitā and the Sushruta Samhitā, which served as textual material in the ancient Universities of Takshashila and Nalanda. [1] The texts are believed to have been written around the beginning of the Common Era, and is based on a holistic approach rooted in earlier Vedic culture. Its conspicuous use of the word veda, or knowledge, reveals its role in early Hinduism and explains its popularity in India. [2]


A statue of the Hindu God, Brahma. Hinduism believes in a divine origin of Ayurveda

In 2001, archaeologists studying the remains of two men from Mehrgarh, Pakistan, discovered that the people of Indus Valley Civilization, even from the early Harappan periods (circa 3300 BC), had knowledge of medicine and even dentistry. The physical anthropologist that carried out the examinations made the discovery when he was cleaning the teeth of one of the men.

Documented references to the origin of Ayurveda are not available. The age of Ayurveda is established via correlation and circumstantial evidences. Ayurveda was first described by Agnivesha, in his book Agnivesh tantra, which were written during Vedic times. The book was later revised by Charaka, and renamed to Charaka Samhitā.[citation needed] Other early texts of Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhitā and the Sushruta Samhitā[1] The system was orally transferred via the Gurukul system until a script came into existence.

Earlier scripts were written on materials such as Taalpatra, Bhojapatra, which decayed in course of time. Then script was later written on stone and copper sheets. In Atharvaveda, Ayurveda verses are written, by which it is assumed that Ayurveda is as old as the Vedas. [citation needed] But the actual age of the Ayurvedic practice is difficult to establish because it was practiced by the tribes living in the small groups, then the concept came to the general populace, and gradually took shape as a mode of health care system.

Hinduism attributes the genesis of Ayurveda to several theories in which the knowledge is theorised to have been passed on from person to person


Nagarjuna, a follower of Buddha, is a well known herbologist, known for inventing various new drugs for the treatment of ailments

Ayurveda was practiced during the time of the time of the Buddha (around 520 BC) , and in this period the Ayurvedic practitioners were commonly using mercury-sulphur combination based medicines.[3] In this period Mercury and sulphur and other metals were used in conjunction with herbs to prepare the different medications. An important Ayurvedic practicionner of this period was Nagarjuna, a Buddhist herbologist, famous for inventing various new drugs for the treatment of ailments. Nagarjuna was accompanied by Surananda, Nagbodhi, Yashodhana, Nityanatha, Govinda, Anantdev, Vagbhatta etc. The knowledge of Ayurveda progressed a lot during this period; and is therefore termed as the Golden Period of Ayurveda.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

After emerging victorious at the Kalinga war, Emperor Ashoka (304 BC-232 BC) influenced by the Buddhist teachings, banned any bloodshed in his kingdom in 250 BC. Therefore many Ayurveda practitioners, who were practicing surgery along with medicine, left the surgical intervention and adopted totally new medicinal treatments. In this period, Ayurveda flourished with the invention of new drugs, new methodology and new innovations. The practice of the accompanying surgery slowly died out.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

During the regime of Chandragupta Maurya (375-415 AD), Ayurveda was part of mainstream Indian medical techniques, and continued to be so until the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Mughals and the English.

Chakrapani Dutta (DuttaSharma) was one of the great Vaid Brahmin of Bengal who wrote valueable books like "Chakradutta" and others . Chakrapani Dutta was the Rajabaidya of King Nayapala(1038 - 1055). Some says Chakradutta is the essence of Ayurveda .

Ayurveda was preserved and saved by the people of India as a traditional "science of life", despite increasing adoption of European and other medical techniques.

Traditions of Ayurveda

Three traditions of Ayurveda exist today — two of them based on the compendiums of Charka and Sushruta Samhitās, and a third tradition known as Kāshyapas. However, Ayurvedaic remedies prior to these traditions also exist, as mentioned in the earlier Vedic literature (2nd millennium BC). Both the Sushruta and Charaka Samhitās are the product of several editorial hands, having been revised and supplemented over a period of several hundred years. The scholar Vāgbhata, who lived in Sindh at the beginning of the 7th century AD wrote a synthesis of earlier Ayurvedaic materials in a verse work called the Ashtānga Hridayam. Another work associated with the same author, the Ashtānga Samgraha, contains much the same material in a more diffuse form, written in a mixture of prose and verse. The relationship between these two works, and a third intermediate compilation, is still a topic of active research. The works of Charaka, Sushruta, and Vāgbhata are considered canonical and reverentially called the Vriddha Trayi, "The Triad of Ancients"; or Brhat Trayi, "The Greater Triad." In the early 8th century,Mādhav wrote his Nidāna, a work on etiology, which soon assumed a position of authority. In the 79 chapters of this book, he lists diseases along with their causes, symptoms, and complications.

After the Brhat Trayi

At one time, it was believed that those who read and fully understood the contents of Vriddha Trayi and the Brhat Trayi, were good practitioners of Ayurveda. The story of the legendary Ayurvedaic practitioner Vāgbhata lived during the time of the epic Mahabharata and was the chief physician of king Yudhisthir. Most believe that the author of the Ashtānga Samgraha was born before 200 AD and is properly known as Vāgbhata the 1st. Another man named Vāgbhata (who was born about 100 BC) recomposed the , including the writings of Charaka, Sushruta under a new title Astang Hridaya.

Living some time after Vāgbhata was another legendary Ayurvedic physician known as Vangsen. Myths place him in ancient Bengal where he wrote a classic Ayurvedic book, simply called Vangsen. The book is written in easy and understandable language and adds many new chapters to the previous texts.

After Vangsen, a scholar by the name of Madhavacharya composed the book, Madhav Nidan. He is thought to have been the prime minister for the king of Vijay Nagar (a state which existed in southern India before Independence). Madhav Nidan is widely considered the best Ayurvedic book for disease diagnosis. (Although it understandably does not contain the description of some modern diseases.)

After Madhav Nidan, the next in line of famous Ayurvedic books Bhav Prakash was written during the time that the Portuguese first came to India in 1498 by a man named Bhav Mishra of Madras (now known as Chennai). The period in which he wrote can be pinpointed so accurately because in the Bhav Prakash, he described the symptoms of a disease called "Phirang" [ Gonorrhoea and Syphilis], which was introduced to the subcontinent through contact with Europeans. ("Phirangi" was the word used to describe Europeans in India.) Bhav Mishra's other contribution to Ayurvedic medicine was the introduction of pulse examination / pulse diagnosis.

Many writers after Bhav Mishra contributed to Ayurvedic literature. Among them Sharangdhar, Chakra Dutta, Vaidya Vinod, Vaidya Vamanotsava, Bhaisajya Ratnawali, and the great Lolimb Raj, who wrote the Vaidya Jeevan in verse form. The first lines of the verses of the Vaidya Jeevan are addressed to the author's "beloved," while the rest of the verse has contains information about curing a disease.

About 200 years ago, Pranacharya Shri Sadanand Sharma wrote the Ras Tarangini, which was the "base book" for modernizing Ayurveda practices. In this book, advances in chemistry are included. The book describes the use of many chemical substances as medicine and their successful uses. Upon considering the advice of this book, Ayurvedic practitioners began to process the traditional herbs in sulphate, nitrate, muriate, phosphate and nitromuriate forms. Sarpagandha [Latin: Rauwolfia Serpentina Muriate, Sarpagandha Sulphate, Sarpagandha Phosphate,Sarpagandha Nitrate, Sarpagandha nitromuriate and many others have been prepared and tested on patients. Ras Tarangini mentiones "Shankhadrav", which is a medicine used internally and externally in many disease conditions. Shankhadrav-based herbal medicine, invented by an Indian physician is well appreciated by the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad, India.

Deepak Chopra has been a significant influence on the modern practice of Ayurvedec medicine (especially in the West). His influence, along with doubts as to how much 'ancient' Ayurvedic knowledge has survived, have lead some to emphasise the relative novely of modern Ayurveda. For example, Robert Todd Carroll argues that "most of the ancient treatments are not recorded and what is called traditional Indian medicine is, for the most part, something developed in the 1980s by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought Transcendental Meditation to the western world. The St. Paul of this movement is Deepak Chopra, who has done more than anyone else to spread the good word about the wonders of Ayurveda." [1]

Teachings of Ayurveda

Main article: Teachings of Ayurveda

Ayurveda teaches two main principles:

  • Preservation of health - how to maintain health and what to do to keep the human body healthy and fit to avoid sickeness
  • Methods, medicine, and tactics for management of diseases and ailments to cure and procure a return to normal health.


The tulsi (holy basil) plant has medicinal qualities

Ayurveda believes that various materials of vegetable, animal, and mineral origin have some medicinal value. The medicinal properties of these materials are time tested and have been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicines to cure illness and/or help maintain health. Ayurvedic medicaments are made from herbs or mixtures of herbs, either alone or in combination with minerals, metals and other ingredients of animal origin. The metals, animals and minerals are purified by individual processes before being used for medicinal purposes. Impurified materials are not allowed to be used as medicine.

Though every writer or compiller of Ayurveda classicals Charaka, Sushruta, Vagabhatta, Bhav Mishra, Shaligram and others have written about the qualities, charecteristics and medicinal uses of the herbs, mineral, metals, chemicals, animal parts, cooked food articles,natural foods , fruits etc. Among them, the best details of the medicinal properties of all the above mentoned categories is considered to be in Bhav Prakash Nighantu, written by Bhav Mishra.

The composition of the Nighantu part (Ayurvedic Materia Medica) of Bhav Prakash is a part of the classical book.The details of the medicinal herbs are given according to the nature, effects, curing properties observed by the Ayurvedaic practitioners since centuries based on the practical experiences.

Many Ayurvedic Materia Medica is separately written by several authors in Hindi, Sansakrit and English Languages. Shaligram Nighantu is written in Sanskrit language.Banaushadhi Chandrodaya is written in Hindi Language. Indian Materia Medica is written in the English language. Besides these, many books are available on Ayurvedic Materia Medica subject.

See also: List of herbs and minerals in Ayurveda


Ayurvedic physicians were traditionally supported by their patients and the communities they worked in, with a minority gaining royal patronage. Under the centralized governmental systems established by the Mughals and subsequent British rule in India, many Ayurvedaic physicians were paid small stipends by the state. But when the British government in India began to establish hospitals and organised state-wide health-care institutions (which lead eventually to the Indian Medical Service), Ayurveda was not included. In the early 20th century,Ayurvedic physicians began to organize into professional associations and to promote their case for national recognition and funding. This began to become a reality after Indian independence in 1947. Today, Kerala is the state in India that promotes research and practices Ayurveda the most.[citation needed] There are many Ayurvedic centers (known as Vaidya shala in the local vernacular) all over Kerala.

Today, Ayurveda is gaining lots of interest in the western world, largely due to its promotion by Deepak Chopra [2] [3]. The most commonly practiced Ayurvedic treatments in the west are massage, and dietary and herbal advice, due to the strong regulations surrounding medical practice in Europe and United States.Ayurveda classifies patients by body types, or prakriti, which are determined by proportions of the three doshas. Contrary to scientific understanding of germs, viruses and genetic faults, Illness and disease are considered to be a matter of imbalance in the doshas. Treatment is aimed at restoring harmony or balance to the mind-body system.

In some states of India, Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are included in the curriculum of modern medical courses. Ayurveda is gaining prominence as an alternative to western allopathic medicine. However, the traditional methods of teaching Ayurveda, such as undergoing a rigorous study of Sanskrit in Gurukul, are discarded and the education and training of Ayurveda is now taught as an integrated course both with the subjects of modern medical sciences and Ayurvedic sciences. All over India, these integrated courses are taught in five and half years degree course i.e. B.A.M.S. (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) with extra one year internship in hospital for practicals. All the standard medical science subjects are being taught along with Ayurvedic subjects i.e. Maulik Siddhant, Materia Medica, Kayachikitsa etc. in Ayurvedic medical colleges. The Legal status of the Ayurvedic practitioners is the same and equal as of the other medical sciences practitioners.

Research in Ayurveda is under taken by the Federal Government statutory body Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS), which have national network of research institutes. Besides this, a large number of non-government organisations are conducting research work on different aspects of Ayurveda. This research expands diagnostic tools and speeds the innovation of new medicines.

Ayurvedaic practitioners have been appointed to Honorary Ayurvedic Physician to the President of India. Every year on the occasion of Dhanvantari jayanti, a prestigious Dhanvantari Award is conferred on famous personality of Medical Sciences including Ayurveda.

Safety concerns

In an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association [4] it was found that 20% of Ayurvedic medicines contained dangerous traces of heavy metals such as lead, mercury (element)|mercury and arsenic; similar studies have been done in India. Some practitioners of Ayurveda are of the opinion that "[h]eavy metals are integral to some formulations and have been used for centuries. There is no point of doing trials as they have been used safely and have mention in our ancient texts." [5] However, these metals are known to be toxic [4] and there have been reported cases of poisoning from Ayurvedic medicine - including "kidney and liver damage due to mercury deposition, nerves and abdominal problems due to lead." [5]

As with other such remedies, Ayurvedic medicine is often "cut" with conventional pharmaceuticals, without this fact being advertised on the label. In a survey conducted at the All-India Institute of Medical Science, Dr. S.K. Gupta found that of Ayurvedic medicines prescribed for asthma and arthritis, thirty-eight per cent had been adulterated with steroids. [6]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Introduction to Ayurveda. Ayurveda. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt of India. URL accessed on 2006-07-05.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Development and its Status of Ayurveda. Ayurveda. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt of India. URL accessed on 2006-07-05.
  3. Dr. Prabhakar Chatterjee. Ras Chkitsa.
  4. Journal of the American Medical Association
  5. Indian express
  6. Steroids found in Ayurvedic medicine

Partial bibliography

  • The Roots of Ayurveda, Dominik Wujastyk, Penguin, London, New York etc., ISBN 0-140-44824-1
  • Ayurveda: Science of Self Healing, Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-00-4
  • Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, Dr. David Frawley, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-97-7
  • Ayurveda: Nature's Medicine, Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Subhash Ranade, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-95-0
  • Ayurveda Encyclopedia, Swami Sadashiva Tirtha, D.Sc., Ayurveda Holistic Center Press, Bayville, New York ISBN 0-9658042-2-4
  • Ayurveda: Life, Health, and Longevity, Robert Svoboda, Ayurvedic Press ISBN 1883725097
  • Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, Dr. David Frawley, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-81-0
  • The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-06-3
  • Ayurveda and Marma Therapy, Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Subhash Ranade, Dr. Avinash Lele, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-940985-59-4
  • Ayurveda and Panchakarma, Dr. Sunil Joshi, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-37-3
  • Ayurvedic Guide to Diet and Weight Loss, Dr. Scott Gerson, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-910261-29-6
  • The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-24-8
  • Healing systems, alternative and choices,Dr. O.P. Jaggi, Orient Paperbacks, New Delhi [ISBN 81-222-0233-0]
  • Electro-tridosha-gram, an Invention in Ayurved, The Moral Weekly newspaper, KANPUR, India,
  • Useful Technology to detect the effects of Panchakarma in Human body, ETG, Journal of Panchakarma, Quarterly magazine, published from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, India
  • Ayurved ki Nai Shodha, Electro-tridosha-gram/Graph, MYSTIC INDIA, Bi-monthly magazine, December 2005, published from New Delhi, India
  • SUSHRUTA SAMHITA by SUSHRUTA, Ayurvedic classical book, relevant chapters,
  • CHARAK SAMHITA by Charaka, Originally written in Sansakrit language, Hindi and English Language translation is available, relevant chapters
  • Ras Chkitsa Hindi Language, by Dr.Prabhakar Chatterjee, 1956, Chowkhamnba, Banaras, India
  • Kalyan Arogya-Ank, Hindi monthly Magazine, January-february 2001 issue,Gita Press, Gorakhpur, UP, India
  • Bharatiya Ras Shashtra, Hindi Language, by Acharya Vaidya Pt. Vishwa Nath Dwivedi, 1977, Baidyanath Ayurved Bhavan Prakashan, Jhansi, UP, India
  • Ayurvedic Tongue Diagnosis by Walter Kacera, 2006, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI, USA ISBN 0-940985-77-2

External links

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