History of medicine in India

Introduction: History of medicine in India. All ancient civilizations of the world developed their own systems of medicine. However, the ancient Indian medicine system, Ayurveda, stands out as the most systematic and comprehensive in its theories and therapeutics.

From the nineteenth century onwards, both Western and Indian historians have delved deep into the philosophical underpinnings of Ayurveda, its practices, and the history of Ayurvedic texts

The origin, science, Materia medica, evolution, and decline of Ayurveda have been meticulously studied, revealing a depth of knowledge that is truly intriguing.

Ayurveda has also been the subject of comparative studies with ancient Greek systems of medicine, and its relationship with ancient Chinese and Tibetan medicine has been thoroughly explored.

The history of medicine in India is not a simple linear progression but a complex and diverse tapestry that spans centuries. It reflects the confluence of traditional practices, the evolution of medical knowledge, and the incorporation of ancient texts, diverse cultural influences, and modern developments. This intricate and diverse narrative is bound to intrigue any reader.

History of medicine in India

History of medicine in India

The earliest reliable information about medicine and medical practitioners in India, a testament to the rich history of medical knowledge, dates back to 1500 BC. The four Vedas, as well as their Brahmanas, Arnicas, and Upanishads, give insight into the medicinal practices of the Vedic period (1500-600 BCE).

Vedic healer

The Vedic people considered the spirits of all objects in the world gods. Diseases of the human body were attributed to divine factors, and magical religious means were used in treatment. Priests established communication between gods and humans.

They were believed to have the power to summon, calm, and appease the gods. The priests gained magical control over the gods almost exclusively through their spells and used this power for healing. The priest, therefore, was also a healer.

The Vedic people also believed that drinking the juice of the Soma plant after offering it in a fire sacrifice could make a person immortal. This veneration of Soma paved the way for recognizing the extraordinary properties of other plants described in the Atharvaveda.

Although the divine and demonic origins of illness and health were widely recognized, some rationalist theories were also prevalent, primarily developed in the later Vedic period (1000–600 BC), bones, and internal organs.

Specific symptoms, such as fever, are classified in considerable detail, and fever is recognized as a “sister” or “cousin” of other diseases. Due to seasonal changes, infection by germs or insects, and contaminated or unsanitary food, Hereditary diseases were also known.

Other materials included:

  • Cow’s milk and its products.
  • Water soil from various sources.
  • Powdered shells.
  • Rock salt.

Vedic priests spiritualized medicine through hymns and sacrifices. Certain foods were used as vehicles for certain drugs. In addition to oral medications, inhalation, fumigation, and topical application of ointments were also used. Certain plants were used as amulets. 

Vedic priests would try to remove or eliminate the evil cause of disease in various ways, some of them quite innovative. Demons can be “trapped” by fire sources surrounded by a moat filled with hot water.

The fever was “transmitted” to a frog tied under the patient’s bed. Magical religious mantras and rituals for curing various diseases are present in Atharva Veda.

 Ayurvedic method

Medical observation and theorizing in the Vedic period laid the foundation for a more rational and systematic system of Indian medicine known as Ayurveda (the science of life), beginning around 600 BCE. An Ayurvedic practitioner was called Vaidya, meaning one with deep knowledge.

Ayurveda has its roots in Atharvaveda’s reliance on the medicinal values ​​of plants and other substances. However, Ayurveda emerged as a fully developed rational theory of health and disease, deliberately moving away from magical religious and empirical thinking.

In recent decades, Ayurveda has experienced a considerable change in its paradigm and, in the view of researchers, a significant shift towards its application.

The therapeutic principles of Ayurveda focus on Prakriti and Tridosha, which explain that each person has a unique constitution known as Prakriti. Nature determines individuals’ unique responses to medications, environmental conditions, and dietary factors.

The recently introduced research field of Ayurgenomics bridges this gap between genomics and Ayurveda and helps understand individual differences in treatment response in various diseases.

Background TSMs are now seen as addressing Western medicine’s limitations, such as the need for individualized treatment, potential side effects, and lack of intended therapeutic efficacy.

India has a rich history of customary systems of medicine established on six systems, of which Ayurveda is the oldest, most widely accepted, practiced, and flourishing indigenous system of medicine. Other allied systems of medicine in India are Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy, Yoga, and Naturopathy.

Ayurveda is the most dominant among other Indian systems of medicine and has spread globally over centuries. After Ayurveda, Siddha, Homeopathy, and Unani systems of medicine are widely used.

Naturopathy is still evolving and may emerge as a thriving system of medicine in the future. Yoga is a system of integrative medicine that deals with an individual’s physical, mental, and spiritual condition.

  • Siddha system

The Siddha system of medicine is based on principles similar to those of Ayurveda. It considers that the human body comprises the five elements of the universe, such as the Pancha mahabhootas.

Along with these elements, the Siddha system holds that an individual’s physical, moral, and physical well-being depends on 96 factors. These 96 factors include cognition, speech, pulse evaluation, etc.

Perception is commonly used to treat the psychological system with the help of minerals, metals, and, to a lesser extent, plant products. The Siddha system uses many herbal and mineral preparations in powder form, prepared by various methods, including calcination.

  • Unani system

The Greek system of medicine originated with and was introduced by Hippocrates, a famous philosopher and physician from 460-366 BC. Hippocrates formulated the “Humoral Theory” for treating diseases and described each humor’s wet and dry characteristics in the human body.

This system of medicine was oriented in India by the Arabs. It was strengthened when some scholars and physicians of the Greek system fled to India after the Mongol invasion of Persia.

Since then, this system of medicine has gained a strong foothold in India and has been identified by the Indian government for clinical training and research funding. Plant-based formulations such as oils, tinctures, powders, and ointments are used in treatment.

  • Homeopathy system

Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician of medicine and disease in the mid-17th and 18th centuries, practiced homeopathy. This system uses drugs that produce disease-like symptoms to treat the pathological condition by initially inducing or aggravating it and then treating it. 

This Homeopathy system has been practiced in India for more than a century and has become an integral part of the Indian traditional system of medicine. The Government of India recognizes it, and various institutes, research centers, and regulatory bodies help promote this system.

  • Yoga system

Yoga originated in ancient India. An analysis of an individual’s pulse and Tridosha condition through treatment and diagnosis suggests meditative practices and lifestyle management to achieve relaxation and improve health.

Yoga Asanas (postures) are applied in various medical and non-medical conditions to treat multiple physical and emotional conditions.

  • Naturopathy system

Naturopathy, also known as naturopathic medicine, originated in Germany in the 19th century and is practiced in many countries today. It is not an ancient system of medicine, but some practitioners who practice traditional medicine sometimes use naturopathy in conjunction with the more extensive system.

The naturopathic system is based on using the healing power of nature in combination with conventional and modern techniques to help restore good health. Homeopathy, herbal formulations, and hydrotherapy are some of the treatment techniques used by this system.

Medical Education in Ancient India

Medicine emerged as a separate discipline in the second century BC. After completing primary education, medical education was pursued. Teachers in their ashrams imparted medical training. The University of Taxila was famous for studying medicine in ancient India, and the students trained here were held in high esteem.

Ayurvedic disciples belonged to different castes and classes. Charka says that the purpose of studying medicine was different for other castes. Brahmins studied medicine out of compassion; Kshatriyas wanted to keep people safe, while Vaishyas did it for financial gain. 

Practical training was an essential part of Ayurvedic studies. Watching his teacher treat the sick and helping him prepare medicines led to much learning. Sushruta taught Ayurvedic students the bodies of vegetables, fruits, and animals as part of his surgical training.

Advises to practice surgical procedures on limbs. After completing medical studies, the student had to improve his pronunciation, conversational skills, and comprehension.

Conclusion: History of medicine in India

Medicine in ancient India evolved from the magico-religious Vedic medicine to the highly systematic Ayurvedic treatment. Physicians had different social backgrounds. Highly respected and respected, they were expected to uphold strict moral standards.

Medical education was intensive, producing physicians who were as experienced in medicine and surgery as they were in public speaking and communication. The history of medicine in India is a testament to its rich cultural heritage and ability to adapt and integrate diverse medical traditions.

India’s medical history reflects a continuous evolution of knowledge and practice from the ancient practices of Ayurveda and Siddha to the medieval contributions of Unani medicine and the modern advancements in allopathic medicine.

Today, India stands at the forefront of global health with a unique blend of traditional wisdom and contemporary innovation, offering valuable lessons for the world in holistic health and integrative medicine.

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