Ayurveda (Sanskrit Āyurveda आयुर्वेद, “life-knowledge”; English pronunciation /ˌaɪ.ərˈveɪdə/) orAyurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and a form of alternative medicine. The oldest known ayurvedic texts are the Suśrutha Saṃhitā and theCharaka Saṃhitā. These Classical Sanskrit texts are among the foundational and formally compiled works of ayurveda.
Concerns have been raised about Ayurvedic products; US studies showed that up to 20% of Ayurvedic U.S. and Indian-manufactured patent medicines sold via internet contained toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Other concerns include the use of medication containing toxic compounds and the lack of quality control in Ayurvedic facilities.
Eight components of Ayurveda
In classical Sanskrit literature, Ayurveda was called “the science of eight components” (Sanskrit aṣṭāṅga अष्टांग), a classification that became canonical for ayurveda:
- (General medicine) – Kāya-chikitsā: “cure of diseases affecting the body”
- (Pediatrics) – Kaumāra-bhṛtya: “treatment of children”
- (Surgery) – Śhalya-chikitsā: “removal of any substance which has entered the body (as extraction of darts, of splinters, etc.)”
- (Ophthalmology / ENT) – Śālākya-tantra: “cure of diseases of the eye or ear etc. by sharp instruments”
- (Demonology / exorcism / psychiatry) – Bhūta(past)-vidyā: “treatment of mental diseases supposed to be produced by past experiences”
- (Toxicology) – Agada-tantra: “doctrine of antidotes”
- (Elixirs) – Rasayana-tantra: “doctrine of Rasayana”
- (Aphrodisiacs) – Vājīkaraṇa tantra
Principles and terminology
Several philosophers in India combined religion and traditional medicine—notable examples being that of Hinduism and ayurveda. Shown in the image is the philosopher Nagarjuna—known chiefly for his doctrine of the Madhyamaka (middle path)—who wrote medical works The Hundred Prescriptions and The Precious Collection, among others.
The three doṣas and the 5 elements from which they are composed.
There are two ways in which to approach Ayurvedic principles and terminology: one may either focus on the historical foundation (as evidenced in the oldest ayurvedic texts, going back to the early centuries of the Common Era) or, alternatively, a description may take an ethnographic approach and focus on the forms of traditional medicine prevalent across India today.
Much like the medicine of classical antiquity, Ayurveda has historically taken the approach of enumerating bodily substances in the framework of the five classical elements (Sanskrit [maha]panchabhuta, viz. earth, water, fire, air and aether. Moreover, Ayurveda names seven basic tissues (dhatu). They are plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscles (maṃsa), fat (meda), bone (asthi), marrow (majja), and semen (shukra).
Ayurveda states that a balance of the three elemental substances, the Doshas, equals health, while imbalance equals disease. There are three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. One Ayurvedic theory states that each human possesses a unique combination of these doshas which define this person’s temperament and characteristics. Each person has a natural state, or natural combination of these three elements, and should seek balance by modulating their behavior or environment. In this way they can increase or decrease the doshas they lack or have an abundance of respectively. Another view present in the ancient literature states that dosha equality is identical to health, and that persons with imbalance of dosha are proportionately unhealthy, because they are not in their natural state of balance. Prakriti is one of the most important concepts in Ayurveda.
In Ayurvedic theory, there are 20 qualities or characteristics (guṇas), which are inherent in all substances. They can be arranged in ten pairs of antonyms: heavy/light, cold/hot, unctuous/dry, dull/sharp, stable/mobile, soft/hard, non-slimy/slimy, smooth/coarse, minute/gross, viscous/liquid.
Ensuring the proper functions of channels (srotas) that transport fluids is one part of Ayurvedic treatment, because a lack of healthy channels is thought to cause diseases. Practitioners treat patients with massages using oils and Swedana(fomentation) to open up these channels.
Hinduism and Buddhism have had an influence on the development of many of ayurveda’s central ideas. Balance is emphasised; suppressing natural urges is considered unhealthy and claimed to lead to illness; to suppress sneezing, for example, may give rise to shoulder pain. However, people are also cautioned to stay within the limits of reasonable balance and measure when following nature’s urges. For example, emphasis is placed on moderation of food intake, sleep, and sexual intercourse.
Ayurvedic doctors regard physical and mental existence as well as personality as a unit, each element having the capacity to influence the others. One of the fundamental aspects of Ayurvedic medicine is to take this holistic approach into account during diagnosis and therapy.
Ayurveda has 8 ways of diagnosis. They are Nadi (Pulse), Mootra (Urine), Mala (Stool), Jinvha (Tongue), Shabda (Speech), Sparsha (Touch), Druk (Vision), Aakruti (Appearance).
Ayurvedic practitioners approach diagnosis by using the five senses.Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.The study of the lethal points or marman marma is of special importance.
Treatment and health protection
While two of the eight branches of classical Ayurveda deal with surgery (Śalya-cikitsā, Śālākya-tantra), contemporary Ayurvedic theory tends to emphasise that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion and proper excretionlead to vitality.Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, and meditation. To maintain health, a Sattvic diet can be prescribed to the patient.
Concepts of Dinacharya are followed in Ayurveda; dinacharya stresses the importance of natural cycles (waking, sleeping, working, meditation etc.) for healthy living. Hygiene, too, is a central practice of ayurvedic medicine. Hygienic living involves regular bathing, cleansing of teeth, skin care, and eye washing.
Natural medical substances used
Ayurveda stresses the use of plant-based medicines and treatments. Hundreds of plant-based medicines are employed, including cardamom and cinnamon. Some animal products may also be used, for example milk, bones, and gallstones. In addition, fats are used both for consumption and for external use. Minerals, including sulphur, arsenic, lead,copper sulfate and gold are also consumed as prescribed. This practice of adding minerals to herbal medicine is known as rasa shastra.
In some cases, alcohol was used as a narcotic for patients undergoing operation. The advent of Islam introduced opium as a narcotic. Both oil and tar were used to stop bleeding.Traumatic bleeding was said to be stopped by four different methods: ligation of the blood vessel; cauterisation by heat; using different herbal or animal preparations locally which could facilitate clotting; and different medical preparations which could constrict the bleeding or oozing vessels. Various oils could be used in a number of ways, including regular consumption as a part of food, anointing, smearing, head massage, prescribed application to affected areas, and Oil pulling. Also, liquids may be poured on the patient’s forehead, a technique which is called Shirodhara.
Cataract in human eye – magnified view seen on examination with a slit lamp. Cataract surgery is mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita in the early centuries of the first millennium AD, as performed with a special tool called the jabamukhi salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the obstructing phlegm and push it out of the field of vision. The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged.
According to some experts, the practice of panchakarma (Devanāgarī: पंचकर्म)) is a therapeutic way of eliminating toxic elements from the body. Panchakarma includes Vamana, Virechana, Basti, Nasya and Raktamokshana. Panchakarma is preceded by Poorva karma (Preparatory Step)and is followed by Paschat karma and Peyadi krama.
Ayurveda is a discipline of the upaveda or “auxiliary knowledge”. It is treated as a supplement or appendix of the Vedas themselves, usually either the Rigveda or the Atharvaveda. The samhita of the Atharvaveda itself contains 114 hymns or incantations for the magical cure of diseases. Scholars have traced the origins of Ayurveda back to 5,000 BCE, originating as an oral tradition. Later, as medical texts, Ayurveda evolved from the Vedas. There are various legendary accounts of the “origin of ayurveda”, e.g., that the science was received by Dhanvantari (or Divodasa) from Brahma. Tradition also holds that a lost text written by the sage Agnivesh, a student of the sage Bharadwaja, influenced the writings of ayurveda.
There are three principal early texts on Ayurveda, all dating to the early centuries of the Common Era. These are the Charaka Samhita, the Sushruta Samhita and the medical portions of the Bower Manuscript (also known as the Bheda Samhita). The relative chronology of these texts is not entirely clear. The Charaka Samhita is often cited as primary; although it survived only as a recension dating to the 4th or 5th century, it may be based on an original written between 100 BCE and 100 CE, in which case it would predate the other two texts. The Sushruta Samhita was written in the 3rd or 4th century. The Bower Manuscript is of particular interest because here the manuscript itself is ancient, dated to the early 6th century. The earliest documented mention of the name Sushruta is found in the Bower Manuscript. The medical portions of the Bower Manuscript constitutes a collection of recipes which are connected to numerous ancient authorities, and may be based on an older medical tradition practised during the Maurya period, antedating both the Charaka and the Sushruta Samhitas.
The Bower Manuscript is also of special interest to historians due to the presence of Indian medicine and its concepts in Central Asian Buddhism. A. F. R. Hoernle in his 1897 edition identified the scribe of the medical portions of the manuscript as a native of India, using a northern variant of the Gupta script, who had migrated and become a Buddhist monk in a monastery inKucha. The Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien (c. 337–422 AD) wrote about the health care system of the Gupta empire (320–550) and described the institutional approach of Indian medicine, also visible in the works of Charaka, who mentions a clinic and how it should be equipped.
Other early texts, sometimes mentioned alongside the Sushruta, Chakaka and Bheda texts, are the Kasyapa and the Haritasamhitas, presumably dating to the later Gupta period (ca. 6th century). Ayurvedic authors of the 7th or 8th century include Vagbhata and Madhava.