|Posted by arizvi on February 3, 2021 at 8:40 PM|
Ayurveda (ancient Sanskrit) translates as “knowledge of life”. It is knowledge and wisdom that gives us guidelines for health and wellbeing. It is one of the oldest forms of medicine known in existence. The origins of Ayurveda stretch deep into antiquity. One of the earliest traces of Ayurveda have been found from 7000 BCE in the Neolithic period of advanced dentistry in Mehgarh, Pakistan (ancient India). By 3300–1800 BCE, in the Bronze Age the Indus Valley Civilization flourished in Pakistan. By around 1500 – 500 BCE, in the Iron Age, the Vedic Civilization arose and flourished in the regions around the Indus river in Pakistan and the Ganges river in India – in the area known as the central Indo-Gangetic Plain. It is during this period that the large body of texts called “the Vedas” which is ancient Sanskrit for ‘knowledge’ were composed. This was a period, also known as ‘first urbanization’, when diverse cultures were interacting in small kingdoms and urban areas, and a spirit of reason, awakening, health and well-being dawned across the region. Sages from the Vedic period, like Atreya, a renowned scholar of Ayurveda, created six schools of early Ayurveda and wrote one of the earliest Ayurveda texts - the Bhela Samhita, which was derived from the parts of the Vedas that concerned medicine and wellbeing. He is also believed to have worked as the personal physician of the Gandhara Kingdom, located in modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ‘second urbanization’ period arose from 800 to 200 BCE, a formative period of Hinduism as well from the Vedic Religion, and when Jainism and Buddhism emerged also in the central and upper Ganges plain in India and around the Ghaggar-Hakra intermittent river in India-Pakistan. These Jain and Buddhist movements challenged Vedic orthodoxy and rituals while the free spirit of enquiry and experimentation in all fields of knowledge, especially in medicine prevailed and were shared and flourished. Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, who lived from the 5th to 4th century BCE was seen as a “healing guru” and healing practices became part of the Buddhist monastic tradition. Humanistic values and medical knowledge further disseminated westward to Persia, Central Asia, China, south-east Asia and to the southern part of the Subcontinent to Sri Lanka. It is in the cultural milieu of the Indo-Gangetic regions and lower Himalayan regions of ancient India, which is modern day Pakistan and India, where tribal and wandering healers, learned physicians, ascetics and yogis from Buddhism and Jainism, all contributed to the emergence of a formal scientific culture of healing that became Ayurveda. “Ayur” translates as ‘Life’ and “Veda” as ‘Knowledge’ from ancient Sanskrit. In the centuries that followed, Ayurveda continued to be elaborated and refined. By 100 BCE – 200 CE ,Charaka, who is generally considered to be the first main physician of Ayurveda, and native to Kashmir which is now also divided between India, Pakistan and China, studied as an intern and then taught Ayurveda in the ancient University of Taxila – a renowned ancient institute of higher-learning located in Punjab, Pakistan. Surgical tools from the period are still well preserved in the Taxila museum in Pakistan. Charaka edited and compiled earlier works of Ayurveda by sages like Atreya and his pupil Agnivesa into a medical treatise of Ayurveda, entitled Charaka Samhita. In later years, more compilations of medical treatise of Ayurveda were created, such as the Shushruta and Ashtangahrdayam, by subsequent physicians. Trade and knowledge of medicinal plants propagated the Ayurveda classical texts to be translated into Persian, Arabic, Tibetan and Chinese and gave rise to modern day Unani, Tibetan and Chinese Medicines. Siddha Medicine was also established in South India and in Sri Lanka. These Medical Systems continued to flourish along with tribal and folk medicine also centuries old and further contributed to Ayurvedic books such as the materia medica of Ayurveda were composed in the 8th century.
By the pre-colonial period starting from 1510 AC, early Portuguese and Dutch settlers relied on Ayurveda and other medical systems of the Subcontinent for health care. Early European settlers did not have enough physicians, medicines or the knowledge needed to combat tropical diseases. It was also an official policy of the Portuguese and Dutch governments to actively seek out and document Indian traditional medical knowledge, which then entered European Medical Schools. Works like ‘Indian botanical medical knowledge’, by Garcia da Orta and Christoval Acosta and ‘the 12 volume Hortus Malabarius’ (1678-1693) compiled by Aadrian Van Rheede, became reference books for tropical botany and medicine for over 100 years. By mid-1800 AC, after incorporating and merging Traditional Medicine of the Subcontinent in to European medicine, the British official colonial policy marginalized traditional medicine to secondary status and European medicine became the official health care system. When India got its independence from the British Empire in 1947, the regions where Ayurveda originated also got separated as Pakistan and India. The Indian government made efforts to recognize Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani as being on par with European or Allopathic Biomedicine and by 1964, it set norms for the manufacture and quality control of traditional medicines. In 1965, the Pakistani government established the Unani, Ayurvedic and Homoeopathic Practitioners Act also to support of Traditional Medicine. In 1970 the Indian government passed the Indian Medical Central Council Act to standardize Ayurvedic teaching institutions. The Indian government later created the Department of AYUSH (Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) to support research and development of Traditional Medicine, and to set standards and regulate the activities related to practice. The Pakistani government also established NCT (the National Council of Tibb) in accordance with the Unani, Ayurvedic and Homoeopathic Practitioners Act of 1965.
Ashtānga sangraha of Vagbhata
'The 12 volume Hortus Malabarius’ by Aadrian Van Rheede
Within a couple of decades, Western interest and travels to India, particularly from the United States, further spread and launched Ayurveda from India. Additionally, New Age culture emerged as well ascribing new layers to Ayurveda. In time, Ayurveda Tourism or commercialized variants have also come to represent Ayurveda in India and abroad. Research and Science based evidence is on the rise. Meanwhile, though comparatively unharmed from commercialization and comparatively authentic, Unani Medicine became increasingly popular in Pakistan and Ayurveda became almost obsolete possibly owing to its misrepresentation as being either simply religious based, as the Vedas themselves vs the Ayurveda gave birth to Hinduism, or the misinformation that it is from India instead of 'Ancient' India, and that the origins of Ayurveda lay very much in Pakistan. Because of this, while Unani Medicine remains popular in India as well as mainly in Pakistan, while yoga is regaining its popularity and heritage in Pakistan, Ayurveda itself remains in danger of becoming a lost heritage. Nonetheless, the spirit and culture of Ancient India, that gave rise to the Vedas and Ayurveda are embedded in a shared history, nature, tradition, heritage and genealogy of both Pakistan and India. Regardless of the rise and fall of advanced Civilizations through climate change and migration, political and religious movements, conflicts, foreign involvement and influence, commercialization, the very nature of Ayurveda, what it is, and the essence of how it came in to existence is 'timeless' and intact. We can thank the ancient seers and the modern ones for it.
Falculty of Eastern Medicine, Pakistan
Examples of new varients of Ayurveda in the world today: