Well, if you are aware of Ayurveda as a medical science which deals with medicines made out of leaves and other parts of medicinal plants to cure cough and cold, then you’re among the 500 million people who are sharing information and learning about Ayurveda every day on the internet, and if you’re here to read and learn about the rich heritage and mystic history of Ayurveda, Namaste! You are on the right blog to peel off the layers of misconceptions and fill your mind with the mitigating chronicle of Ayurveda.
So get yourself a plate full of salad or a fruit juice to sip ( because coffee is not healthy, and trust me! You can live without it) and take a deep breath before diving into the history of Ayurveda. Inhale and exhale and if you’re all set, then let’s get started!
हिताहितं सुखं दुःखं आयुस्तस्य हिताहितम् । Hitahitam Sukham Duhkhamayustasya Hitahitam |मानं च तच्च यत्रोक्तं आयुर्वेदः स उच्यते ॥ Mananca Tacca YatroktamAyurvedaah Sa Ucyate ||
[Shlok from Charaka sutra sthana dated 100 BCE]
The above shloka translates to: Ayurveda ends the quest for happiness, the reasons for sorrow, and provides a crystal clear difference between right and wrong.
A cup of decoction (kadha ) or a handful of herbal medicine (jadi-booti ) is just an uneven edge of the tip of the iceberg, and this shloka explains how Ayurveda is a humongous iceberg yet to be explored especially when the world is adopting the western lifestyle. It is a full-fledged ecosystem of life and longevity, a systematic way of life, an elixir for the body, soul, conscious and subconscious mind. NO wonder Vedic scholars led a life of utmost tranquility and balance.
Ayurveda is a part and parcel of the sacred set of four Vedas believed to be the verses recited by Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma passed this guide to the sages of that ancient age, and thus the oral tradition began. The beginnings were developed by the Indus-Saraswati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago mentioned in Vedas. The collection of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation was gradually refined by the Brahmans and Rishis who extensively wrote about it in the Upanishads (a collection of 200 scriptures) while highlighting the importance of sacrificing the ego through self-knowledge, action (Karma), and wisdom (Gyan yoga). Then came the schools of Hindu philosophical teachings called Vaisheshika and the school of logic named Nyaya during 200 BCE. The former teaches about inferences and perceptions that should be obtained about the patient’s pathological condition for treatment, whereas the latter propagates its teachings on the basis that one should have extensive knowledge of the patient’s condition and disease condition before proceeding for treatment. Later these schools worked together and passed on their legacy to future generations. Just some 100 years later the knowledge compiled by Agnivesha was edited by Charak and other scholars, compiled in two Samhitas; Charak Samhita, which describes all the aspects of Ayurvedic medicine and Sushrut Samhita, which describes the science of surgery.
During the 2nd century BC, the great sage and vaidya, Patanjali took the legacy ahead. He went ahead and compiled a text on yoga theory and practices called Yoga Sutras, wherein he also wrote a commentary on Charak Samhita, and this text is called Charakvarttika. This is how Ayurveda became “a credible guide to a happy life”.
Surprisingly, the way zoology and botany is a sequence to study medical science, Ayurveda was also studied along with the two other sciences of life
· Krishi Shastra ( how to grow food)
· Pak Shastra ( how to cook food)
· Ayurveda ( how to derive medicinal values from nature)
Omnipresence of Ayurveda
Believe it or not, every inch of you is Ayurveda and you are incomplete without it. From the turmeric in your kitchen to the herbs in your pasta, the basil in your garden to the antiseptic Indian lilac(neem) on your wounds, it is likely that you have used it or come across it several times already! You have the world within you, as Ayurveda says our body is made up of 5 elements (panch tattva) which are the Earth (Prithvi), Water (Jal), Fire (Agni), Wind (Vayu), and Space (Akash). 3 doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) balancing our body, 3 nadis (Ida, Pingala, Sushumana) controlling the threads of our life, and 6 chakras (Gyan chakra, Kanth chakra, Hridaya chakra, Nabhi chakra, Indri chakra, Guda chakra) adding life to each of our organs.
There are several specialties in Ayurveda such as:
Internal medicine (kaayachikitsa)
Bless your ears as I say the Vedas are the only Holy Scriptures that hold the amalgamation of religion, health, science, and technology?! Reminds me of a beautiful poem by the former Prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee:
मेरे वेदों का ज्ञान अमर, मेरे वेदों की ज्योति प्रखर।
मानव के मन का अंधकार, क्या कभी सामने सका ठहर?
(Vedas are the scintillating lights of knowledge and enlightenment, the knowledge of Vedas is immortal,
The darkness of ignorance never have overpowered the brightness of cognizance)
Surgery in Ayurveda and its Evidence
When talking about surgery, the first thing that comes to my mind is Sushrut Samhita, as the name suggests it was written by Vaidya Sushrut, a renowned physician of Ayurveda and one among the many Ayurvedic surgeons. This book has:
- 180 chapters on surgery
- 1100 diseases explained.
- 121 surgical instruments mentioned.
- 650 medicines and
- More than 300 procedures of surgery.
To your surprise, Walton et al, an archaeologist in 1994 traced the origin of the texts to the 1st millennium BCE.
John Marshall who was the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902-1928 held a large scale excavation of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the 1920s and found pieces of evidence of brain surgery, archaeological remains of surgical instruments at Taxila Museum, which includes mandalagra (an instrument with a disc-shaped blade), esani (surgical probe), suci (needle with eyes), samdamsayantra (gripping instruments-forceps) and 56 other types of instruments. The instruments found are still archived in the Punjab Province Museum in Pakistan
The other evidence of Ayurvedic surgery is still engraved in The Gentleman’s Magazine for October 1794, where Thomas Crusoe and James Findley describe the chirurgical operation that has long been practiced in India with success, namely affixing a new nose on a person’s face. It was accompanied by a full-page portrait of the patient after his recovery along with other figures illustrating the procedure and describing it as a “singular operation”.
Whoa! It was such an adventure. Moving ahead let’s meet the inseparable companions of Ayurveda.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to connect or to integrate’, It is an art to harmonize the body with mind and breath, it creates intimacy with one’s internal landscape (emotions, thoughts, physical sensation) through the means of action(kriya), postures(asana), and control of breath(pranayama). Looking at the history, yoga is mentioned in Rigveda and also referenced in the Upanishads. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers claim that yoga maybe 10,000 years old. Fast-forward to 2020 and when life has become uncertain. Depression, anxiety, and chronic stress are prevalent and we find ourselves in a chronic state of hyperarousal in which our 3Fs (fight-flight-freeze) response becomes over-activated. This can lead to gastrointestinal issues and an overall weak immune system also dampens the levels of dopamine and serotonin. During such circumstances, yoga is the best cure for mind and body. It lends you an eye to see that you are power and purity.
There are so many types of yoga these days which help you to choose a suitable set of postures based on your need, be it more physically demanding or an easy, relaxing, and meditative practice. There are 11 major types of yoga:
- Vinyasa yoga: It is considered as the most athletic yoga style, adapted from Ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. The movements in this style are coordinated with breathing exercises in a flow from one posture to the next.
- Hatha yoga: The movements are paced slower in this type than the other types of yoga, the word “Hatha” is generally used for every other yoga style.
- Iyengar yoga: It was founded by BSK Iyengar, this form of yoga offers you a variety of postures while controlling the breath.
- Kundalini yoga: This is designed to awaken the kundalini energy at the bottom of your spine, drawing it upwards through the chakras simultaneously.
- Ashtanga yoga: It is typically fast-paced, vigorous and a challenging style of yoga, coordinating breath with a sequence of poses often in the same order.
- Bikram yoga: It consists of twenty-six postures and two breathing techniques, in the same order for ninety minutes, in a room heated to 105°F (40.6°C), with a humidity of 40%..Bikram Choudhury owns the copyright of this yogic sequence.
- Restorative yoga: It is a relaxing and gentle form of yoga, that helps you to stretch and release your tiredness. It incorporates the usage of props, bolsters, blankets, etc.
- Yin yoga: It is a slow-paced yoga but the long pauses and holds make it a little challenging.
- Prenatal yoga: It is the best form of yoga for expectant mothers because it focuses on pelvic floor work, breathing, and bonding with the child in the womb. It also prepares mothers-to-be for labor and delivery.
- Anusara yoga: It is broadly categorized into three parts, known as the three A’s Attitude, Alignment, and Action.
- Jivamukti yoga: Resembles Ashtanga in the vinyasa-style flow through asanas. Begins with a standardized warm-up sequence unique to Jivamukti and often incorporates chanting, meditation, readings, and affirmations.
Meditation ( Dhyan) was first developed and practiced in India, the evidence being the wall paintings and the Vedas written in around 5,000 BCE. Meditation was an integral part of schools (Gurukuls) where students (Shishyas) gained knowledge of spirituality and various stages of life ( ashrama system: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate) ) from a learned master (Guru). The heritage of meditation is still preserved, not only in India but in the world.
Mindful meditation is a practice to increase the awareness of present-moment experiences rather than resisting or trying to clear the mind of uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Mindful meditation helps you to divert your attention from the past and future thoughts so that you focus completely on the present ongoing activities and cogitation. However, it is difficult to master the art of meditation, but once you ace it, you’ll observe some subtle and tangible positive changes inside you. Mindfulness takes you to tranquillity and ultimately to equanimity.
Ayurveda’s Survival Secret
The systematic suppression of Ayurveda by the many invaders India had to deal with had sadly led to its downfall in the eyes of Indians and the world alike (We’ll talk about the crippled pride of Ayurveda in detail in an upcoming blog.).Every invasion in India resulted in the establishment of a new culture while degrading the original science and culture of India. Over centuries of invasion and oppression by Mahmud Ghazni followed by the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and then the British, Ayurveda became pseudoscience and Indians felt embarrassed of practicing the ancient science of life.
On the contrary, Indian kitchens never let the essence of Indian herbs and the tint of turmeric fade away. The women of India, who probably never went to schools, knew the immunity-boosting power of Turmeric, which was claimed later in the year 1993 by the two researchers of the Mississippi Medical center. Similarly, patents of medicinal properties of Indian Lilac (Neem leaves), Basil plant, and a variety of Indian herbs were registered by the researchers which were already the standard ingredients of grandma’s remedies since eternity. The Indian kitchens stood firm like a savior with a motto “Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam” where the sole focus is on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a disease-free society.