Friday, March 21, 2008

Ayurveda: Basics




We continue our introduction of Ayurveda. As mentioned in the previous article it’s a part of Atharva–veda, youngest of the four Vedas. Nowadays it is observed across India that corporates who are in the FMCG sector (Fast moving consumer goods) are continuously trying to shift their focus to bring in some or the other 'herbal' element in their products. They are using this technique to increase the sales of their products. This is because people nowadays are becoming conscious and aware that herbal products are good for health. The examples include herbal tea, herbal soaps, herbal tooth pastes, products like chavanaprash etc.

This thinking is absolutely correct; there is no doubt about this. India is a treasure house of herbs. Earlier people had good knowledge pf herbs. The doctors of the ancient times better know as 'Vaidyaji' (this term can be heard in old Hindi movies) had profound knowledge of herbs and they had the ability to cure all types if illnesses using proper blend of different herbs. Mother Nature or 'prakriti' has given us enough medicines in the form of herbs to cure any and every disease. This is very true; whether anyone believes it or not. However, the knowledge of these has got lost in generations. Hence we have to depend on western medicinal branches like allopathy for curing diseases which treat prevention and cure differently.

However, Ayurveda is holistic; it does not try to draw a line between food and medicine, prevention and cure. The world is waking up today to the wisdom of 3,000 years. Pharmaceutical companies all over the world are working overtime developing and bringing to the market herb–based products which blur the line between food and medicine. The health care and herbal segments of the traditional pharma manufacturers are merging to bring out health and nutrition oriented products for common aliments like cough, cold, dermatological and digestive problems.

In the absence of adverse side effects, the Food and Drug Administration authorities across the world approve these formulations for use without prescription from a qualified physician, which is called as OTC (over the counter) drugs in industry parlance. According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, there are about 400 families of flowering medicinal plants of which 315 families of plants occur in India. Thus India, with both the knowledge system and the material base has the potential to assume leadership in the pharmaceutical industry in the coming years.

The plant properties in the Indian tradition were discovered through a method in the Indian tradition different from that of western science. This is described in the traditional textbooks as Dravya–guna–shastra (science of the property of the materials). The challenge for the Indian scientists is to develop intercultural bridges between Dravya–guna–shastra and modern Pharmaceology. Such bridges can only be built when there is mutual respect and scientists feel that they own the indigenous knowledge as much as they own modern science.

On this note, let us continue our discussion in the next article. Till then Radhekrishna!

Sarvam Guruvarpanam.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ayurveda: Basics



Radhekrishna to one and all! We concluded with the topic 'Leech therapy' in our previous article. Let us start with a new topic this time.


Atharva–veda, the youngest of the four Vedas (placed as earlier than 5000 BC), contains hymns on diseases and their treatment. It also talks of the eight branches of Ayurveda. Shilajit (black bitumen), a material used as a drug even today in Ayurveda was found in the Mohenjo Daro excavations (3500 BC). These two are indicative of the scientific handling of diseases in India from a very early date.

In this country, learning and preservation of knowledge has been through an oral tradition which is built on a succession of teacher–mentors and disciple–followers. In the field of medical science, these teacher–disciple lineages are traced to three original teachers:

  • Atreya (Internal medicine)
  • Dhanvantari (Surgery) and
  • Kashyapa (Gynecology and Paediatrics).

Some of these teacher–students had, defying the prevailing practice, chosen to document what they had heard, seen & learnt. The teachers to whom the survival of the ancient knowledge can be owed are:

  • Charaka (1st century BC) of the Atreya school, who codified the precepts and practices in internal medicine.
  • Sushruta (6th century BC) of the Dhanvantari school, who codified surgical practices.
  • Vagbhata (6th century AD) of the Kashyapa school, dealing with Gynecology and Paediatrics.

The names of the authors vouch for their being compilers:

Charaka – the one who had traveled (and learnt);
Sushruta– the one who had heard well (and learnt);
and Vagbhata – the one who is eloquent (in communicating what he has learnt).

The three epochal works (Charaka–samhita, Sushruta–samhita and Ashtanga–hridaya), of these illustrious authors, are referred to as the Brihat–trayi – the Big Three of Ayurvedic literature. Then there is the Laghu Trayi, the Small Three made of Saragadhara–samhita, Madhava–nidana and the Bhava– prakasha.

The periods of the authors only indicate the time of the knowledge being codified and reduced to writing, while the knowledge itself would have endured for several centuries preceeding the compilation.

…to be continued



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