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World Psychology: Psychology by Country · Psychology of Displaced Persons

Sri Lanka, with an archeological history dating back to at least 30,000 B.C., has its own indigenous scheme of medicine. This system has been practised for many centuries in the island nation. The Sri Lankan Ayurvedic tradition is a mixture of the Ayurveda systems of North India, the Siddha system of South India, Unani medicine from the Arabs, and most importantly, the Desheeya Chikitsa, which is the indigenous medicine of Sri Lanka.

The word "Ayurveda" translates into English as the "science of life" (ayur - life, veda - science). Considered to be the oldest healing science in the world, this ancient medicine is practiced extensively in Sri Lanka and India. Passed down through time, this system focuses on the connection between the body and the mind. Using natural cures, Ayurveda aims to maintain the body in a balanced state of health.


Sri Lanka developed its own Ayurvedic system based on a series of prescriptions handed down from generation to generation over a period of 3,000 years. The ancient kings, who were also prominent physicians, sustained its survival and longevity. King Buddhadasa (398 AD), the most influential of these physicians, wrote the Sarartha Sangrahaya, a comprehensive manuscript which Sri Lankan physicians still use today for reference.

Ancient inscriptions on rock surfaces reveal that organized medical services have existed within the country for centuries. In fact, Sri Lanka claims to be the first country in the world to have established dedicated hospitals. The Sri Lankan mountain Mihintale still has the ruins of what many believe to be the first hospital in the world. Old hospital sites now attract tourists, who marvel at the beautiful ruins. These places have come to symbolize a traditional sense of healing and care, which was so prevalent at that time.

Historically the Ayurvedic physicians enjoyed a noble position in the country's social hierarchy due to their royal patronage. From this legacy stems a well-known Sri Lankan saying: "If you can not be a king, become a healer." Along with Buddhism, the interrelationship between Ayurveda and royalty continues to influence politics in Sri Lanka.

Aims of Ayurveda

To prevent diseases
To treat and cure diseases

Both of these goals aim to promote health on three levels:


The eight branches

The Ayurveda system considers disease to be a state of disharmony in the body as a whole, and is divided into eight branches:

Kaya Chikitsa - Internal Medicine
Bala Chikitsa - Pediatrics
Graha Chikitsa - Psychological Medicine
Shalakya Tantra - Oto-Rhino-Laryngology and Ophthalmology
Shalya Tantra - Surgery
Agada Tantra - Toxicology
Vajikarana - Sexology
Rasayana - Rejuvenation

The five elements (panchamahabhuta)

According to ancient vedic scientific thinking, all matter in the universe is comprised of five elements. These are known as panchamahabhuta:

Apo - water; creates the taste sensation (rasa), its sensory organ being the tongue
Thejo - fire; creates the visual impute of colour (rupa), its sensory organ being the eyes
Vayu - air; creates the physical sensation of touch (sparsha), its sensory organ being skin
Pruthuvi - earth; creates the sensation of smell and odour (gandha), its sensory organ being the nose
Akasha - ether (space); creates the auditory sensation of sound (sharsda), its sensory organ being the ear

These are the basic foundations and principles upon which Ayurveda lies. All five elements have a key role in our lives, since our bodies are composed of these mahabhutas (elements). All matter is considered fluid, with the balance of component elements constantly shifting.

The three doshas

Ayurveda considers life to be a union of body, mind and soul. There are three body types according to individual dominance, known as the three doshas:

Vata - Air
Pitta - Bile
Kapha - Phlegm

Dhatus are seven types of body tissue. Malas are the three types of body excretions.


This dosha initiates and promotes biological activity responsible for all internal and external movements of the body. These include:

Prana (Head) - supports breathing, the primary life force
Udana (Throat) - supports glandular functions
Samana (Stomach and Duodenum) - supports gastric functions
Vyana (Heart and Blood vessels) - supports circulatory functions
Apana (Semen/Feces/Urine) - supports elimination


This dosha is responsible for generating body heat, metabolism, and certain psychological attributes of the individual.


The main function of this dosha is to promote healthy body tissue and maintain the balance of fat, water, and other fluids.

Each of the doshas must exist in dynamic equilibrium to each other in order to maintain the body's prakruti, the original balance of the individual’s dosha inheritance. A disturbance in any one of the doshas causes imbalance and malfunction, resulting in the manifestation of disease.

Ayurvedic interpretation of disease

The doshas may change their proportional balance as the result of a variety of factors, including inappropriate lifestyle and activities, diet, and mental or physical trauma. Many poor lifestyle choices are due to our lack of understanding about our own bodies. When there is a change to our dosha balance taking place within us, still pre-clinical in its development, it may take a very long period of time for signs and symptoms to appear. Very often as these changes occur, disease will take a path along the inherited weak areas of the individual. In some cases, a disease will manifest in the body beyond the individual's control. This is known as a "karmic disease," based on the theory of cause and effect.

Ayurvedic treatments

Ayurvedic medications are primarily herbal remedies, although some include natural mineral preparations. All herbs and minerals possess the following properties according to Ayurveda:

Rasa – taste
Guna – quality
Virya – potency (heating or cooling effects)
Vipaka – effects of digestion and metabolism
Prabhava – specific power of the substance

In general, all herbs have the power to increase or decrease the three doshas - vata, pitta, or kapha - to different extents and in different combinations. The classical Ayurveda practitioner applies theory into practice by diagnosing how the individual's dosha balance has been altered. The physician will then prescribe suitable herbs, in single or combined form, with the appropriate dosage to bring the doshas back into balance, thus controlling the ailment and restoring health.

Detoxification (panchakarma)

This subsection of Ayurveda treatments applies various detoxification methods to prevent and control disease. The five treatments, called panchakarma, are:

Virechana – purgation therapy
Bastis (classified as niruna and anuvasana) - herbal and/or oil decoction enemas
Vamana – emesis therapy
Nasya – inhalation
Rakta Moksha – blood letting

See also

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