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Origin and Development of Ayurveda

"Tao and Dharma - Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda"  Robert Svoboda and Arnie Lade


"The word 'Ayurveda', which comes from the Vedas, the ancient sacred book of the

Aryans, means 'The Lore of Life'.  Ayurveda, whose origins go back at least five thousand years, began as an apendix to the youngest of the Vedas, the Atharva Veda.  Most of the Vedic healing lore occurs in the Atharva Veda, which is basically a manual of magic.  After its incantational medicine evolved into empirical medicine, the most important of all Ayurvedic texts, the 'Charaka Samhita', appeared, possibly between the 8th and 10th centuries B.C.  Ayurveda's most famous surgical text, the 'Sushruta Samhita', was also compiled around this time.  While these texts may have had single authors, they are more likely to be compilations of material from many sources.


Ayurvedic medicine was already extensively developed by the time of Gautama Buddha, and the Buddha supported both the study and the practice of medicine.  Since the days of Charaka and Sushruta, Ayurvedic students started dissecting human corpses, practicing the art of surgery on dummies, and learning other practical arts such as cookery (since diet was an essential aspect of treatment), the collection and preparation of herbs, horticulture, and the purification and preparation of mineral medicines.  Each student usually specialized in one of Ayurveda's eight 'limbs': Internal Medicine, surgery, eye-ear-nose, gynecology-obstetrics-pediatrics, psychology, toxicology, rejuvenation, and virilization.  At the end of the period of study, the disciple was thoroughly tested, and after graduation, was given a license to practice by the king.


After Ahoka, the emperor of most of North India about three centuries before the birth of Christ, embraced Buddhism, he furnished extensive support to medicine, and built

charitable hospitals including specialized surgical, obstetric and mental facilities through-

out his realm for both humans and animals, and his emissaries spread Buddhism and Indian

sciences in far-off lands, including Central Asia and Sri Lanka.  During the later Indian em-pires of the Guptas and Mauryas, the government expanded this active support by plant-

ing gardens of medicinal herbs, establishing hospitals and maternity homes, posting phy-

sicians in villages, and punishing quacks who tried to practice medicine without proper

learning and imperial license.


During this era, Ayurveda was taught in large Buddhist universities like the one at Nalan-

da, established during the 4th c. A.D., and which flourished for about 800 years.  Stu-

dents came from all over the world to study at these universities.  More texts appeared,

including Vagbhata's 'Ashtanga Sangraha' (Collected Teachings of the Eight Limbs), and

'Ashtanga Hidaya' (Heart of the Eight Limbs).  These are condensations of Charaka and Sushruta's teachings, and Madhava's 'Madhava Nidhana' (Text on Diagnosis).  Ayurveda was

not limited to humans; texts on the treatment of trees, horses, and elaphants still exist, and may have existed for such varied animals as cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, camels and hawks.


The Golden Age of Indian culture ended when Muslim invaders inundated Northern India

after the 10th century.  They slaughtered the Buddhist monks as infidels, destroyed the universities, andburned the libraries.  Those who could escape fled to Nepal and Tibet, and hence some Ayurvedic texts whose originals were lost at that time survive solely in the Tibetan translation.  Though the Muslim conquerors imported their own system of medicine into India, Ayurveda did survive, as did the Hindu culture.  In the thirteenth or fourteenth century, a treatise on Ayurvedic pharmacology, the 'Sharngadhara Samhita', appeared..."

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