Can you imagine a world where medicine didn’t exist? The very thought is unimaginable. The history of medicine is fascinating as it is a saga of man’s struggle against disease.
As civilizations advanced and disease patterns changed, medical science kept inventing and adapting several systems of medicine from Ayurveda, Homeopathy, to Western Medicine.
Ayurveda is considered as one of the oldest of the traditional systems of medicine (TSMs) accepted worldwide. So, it is only fitting that Ayurveda was developed in the mystical land of ancient India. Ayurveda has a rational and logical foundation.
Around 6,000 years ago, one of the greatest sages in India, Srila Vyasadeva wrote down the Vedas for the first time. The Vedas, regarded as Sruti (“that which is heard”), formed part of an oral tradition where teachers would orally share knowledge with their disciples. Historical texts say that the Vedas were ‘revealed’ to Rishis (saints) by God, and the Vedas were not ‘composed’ by the Rishis.
The Vedas are the main scriptural texts of the Sanatana Dharma and are a large corpus of texts originating in Ancient India. The Vedas are arguably the oldest surviving texts in the world. Ayurveda was a sub section in one of the Vedas, the Atharva Veda. 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.
‘Ayur’ means ‘life’ in Sanskrit. Ayurveda has influenced many of the older traditional methods of healing including Tibetan, Chinese, and Greek medicine. Hence, Ayurveda is considered by many as the ‘mother of healing.’ As part of the information migration during the Middle Ages, from approximately 1000 CE to 1200 CE, the physicians Razes and Avicenna translated much of the Ayurvedic medical wisdom into Arabic. Unfortunately, the spread of Ayurvedic medicine began to decline when the Muslims invaded India. Several medical universities and libraries were burned.
When the Mughal Emperor Akbar ruled India during the mid-1500s, Ayurveda began to flourish again. Akbar was open-minded and encouraged Western and Indian physicians to exchange information. For example, Garcia D’Orta, a Portuguese doctor and naturalist, printed an Indian medical book called “Conversations on the Medical Simples and Drugs of India” in 1563. He collected information about disease case studies and plant properties from many local physicians as part of his extensive research for this work.
Unfortunately, in the 1600s the Portuguese and Indians began feuding again. One of the consequences of the feud was that the Portuguese outlawed Hindu physicians. By 1833 the British East India Company had banned all Ayurvedic medical institutions and established the first Western medical university in Calcutta. During this time, as was the case with Chinese medicine in China, Ayurvedic medicine was kept alive only in the rural areas where people either could not afford Western medicine or were geographically dispersed from the larger urban areas where it was available.
By 1920 Indian nationalism started increasing under the leadership of Gandhi and with it, the more traditional aspects of Indian culture, including Ayurveda, were slowly rediscovered. Ayurveda has been on the rise ever since India achieved independence in 1947.
Ayurvedic medicines are mostly formulated using a mix of herbs and other plants, including oils and common spices. Ayurveda treats diseases by combining several types of plants and herbs to get therapeutic value. Today, Ayurveda is widely used in modern medicine systems.
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