Around five thousand years ago, one of the greatest sages of India , Srila Vyasadeva wrote down the Vedas for the first time. The Vedas also included a branch called Ayurveda that means “ The Science of Life”. It is the oldest and most holistic health system available to human beings today. This ancient wisdom of healing, prevention and longevity was a part of the spiritual tradition of a universal religion before it was written down in texts.
According to many scholars knowledge of Ayurveda originated from India and influenced the ancient Chinese system of medicine and medical system practiced in Greece . Thus, Ayurveda is also known as the “Mother of all Healing”.
Indian art of healing, Ayurveda is believed to be as old as the religion of Hinduism. The complete knowledge of Ayurveda along with spiritual insights of virtue and self-realization was placed in written form over 2000 years ago in Vedas. The four main Vedas included topics like health, astrology, spiritual living and behaviour. These four Vedas are Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda. Ayurveda was a sub section attached to the Atharva Veda. This sub section dealt with the diseases, injuries, fertility, sanity and health. All the secrets of life were revealed in the first Veda i.e. Rig Veda. Rig Veda shows the discussions on the three doshas-vitta, pitta and kapha and the use of various herbs to cure the diseases. It also included the five elements of creation, namely, the earth, water, fire, air, ether that forms the basis of all forms of life. It consists of three aspects of Ayurvedic knowledge known as the Tri-Sutras that includes cause of illness, symptoms and treatments of the disease. These tri-sutras were further elaborated in eight divisions of Ayurveda and were listed down in Atharva Veda.
The knowledge of Ayurveda is believed to be of Divine origin and was communicated to the saints and sages of India who received its wisdom through deep meditation. Originally only Brahmins were considered as physicians. But later people from other castes also learned this art of healing and a specific term Vaidya was used for these practitioners.
Around 1500 B.C. Ayurveda grew into a respected and widely used system of healing. During this time it was divided into eight specific branches of medicine. The two schools of thought also came into existence at that time and they were Atreya- the school of physicians and Dhanvantri- the school of surgeons.
The state of the art of ancient healing was enhanced by the myths and legends of the God of healing, Divodosa Dhanvantari. It is believed that Dhanvanatri, who later wrote down the text of Ayurveda, taught the science of medicine to the sages. According to another legend, the knowledge of healing originated from Brahma who taught it to Daksha, who further taught Indra.
When diseases and death started creating havoc, all great sages gathered in order to find solution to this havoc-creating problem. During this meeting sage Bharadvaja came forward to learn this art of healing from Indra. He then taught this science to Atreya- who further transmitted this knowledge throughout world. Later Agnivesh who was foremost among the disciples of Atreya wrote Agnivesha Samhita- the most comprehensive form of Ayurveda. The oldest compilations of Atreya and Agnivesha are lost. There are three main re-organizers of Ayurveda whose works still exist and in use. These works were compiled in texts of Charaka, Sushruta and Vaghbata Samhita.
Charaka was the first man who based his Samhita on Agnivesha Samhita and enlarged it with his interpretations and annotations. Sushruta based his Samhita on the Dhanwantri school of Ayurveda. Vaghbata compiled the third treatise called Ashtanga Hridaya that is a concise version of both the works of Charaka and Sushruta Samhita. These texts still contain the original and complete knowledge of the Ayurvedic world of medicine.
Charaka Samhita represented the Atreya School of physicians that shows discussions on physiology, anatomy, etiology, pathogenesis and symptoms of diseases. In brief it included the internal and external cause of illness. According to Charaka the first and the main cause of illness is the loss of faith in the divine.
Sushruta Samhita comes from the Dhanvantari School of surgeons. The Samhita contains details and discussions of various surgeries, burns, fractures, wounds and amputation. In includes the complete discussion of the human anatomy. The first science of massage of vital body points originated from Sushruta Samhita. Of all the treaties available Charaka Samhita is considered the best. It consists the details about the elements of Ayurvedic therapeutics and is also the only work that covers Ayurveda comprehensively.
Ayurveda went through a period of decline in India during the period of British rule. It became a second option that was used by traditional spiritual practitioners and the poor. This decline was only for a short period. In 1947, when India got independence, Ayurveda again gained importance and many new schools were established. Till date Ayurvedic medicine has continued to evolve its holistic approach to health in order to cope with modern needs and scientific approaches of the day. Modern Ayurveda includes:
- Principles of preventive healthcare for the entire family (kulam svastyam kutumbakam).
- Treatment of addictions (sangakara chikitsa).
- Purification and rejuvenation treatments (panchakarma chikitsa).
- The Ayurvedic approach to diet and weight loss (sthaulya chikitsa)
- Musculoskeletal system treatments (vatavyadhi chikitsa).
- Promotion of self-healing and resistance to disease (svabhaavoparamavaada).
- Male and female infertility (vajikarana).
- Beauty and cosmetic treatments for men and women (saundarya sadhana).
The western countries started taking interest in ayurveda in the mid 70’s. Many Ayurvedic teachers from India started visiting United States and Europe . Ayurvedic colleges are gaining importance and recognization in Europe , Australia and the United States . People from various countries are coming to Indian Ayurvedic schools to learn about the religious scriptures from which Ayurveda originated. They are learning the complete wisdom of Ayurveda and bringing it back to their own countries. The wisdom of Ayurveda has helped many countries to form the basis of carious medical systems.
The Complete Encyclopedia on Ayurveda