The Magic of Ayurveda

Ayurveda  is a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.Globalized and modernized practices derived from Ayurveda traditions are a type of complementary or alternative medicine. In countries beyond India, Ayurveda therapies and practices have been integrated in general wellness applications and in some cases in medical use.

The main classical Ayurveda texts begin with accounts of the transmission of medical knowledge from the Gods to sages, and then to human physicians. In Sushruta Samhita (Sushruta's Compendium), Sushruta wrote that Dhanvantari, Hindu god of Ayurveda, incarnated himself as a king of Varanasi and taught medicine to a group of physicians, including Sushruta. Ayurveda therapies have varied and evolved over more than two millennia.  Therapies are typically based on complex herbal compounds, minerals and metal substances (perhaps under the influence of early Indian alchemy or rasa shastra). Ancient Ayurveda texts also taught surgical techniques, including rhinoplasty, kidney stone extractions, sutures, and the extraction of foreign objects.

Although laboratory experiments suggest it is possible that some substances used in Ayurveda might be developed into effective treatments, there is no evidence that any are effective as currently practiced.  Ayurveda medicine is considered pseudoscientific. Other researchers consider it a protoscience, or trans-science system instead.  In a 2008 study, close to 21% of Ayurveda U.S. and Indian-manufactured patent medicines sold through the Internet were found to contain toxic levels of heavy metals, specifically lead, mercury, and arsenic.  The public health implications of such metallic contaminants in India are unknown.

Some scholars assert that Ayurveda originated in prehistoric times,  and that some of the concepts of Ayurveda have existed from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization or even earlier.  Ayurveda developed significantly during the Vedic period and later some of the non-Vedic systems such as Buddhism and Jainism also developed medical concepts and practices that appear in the classical Ayurveda texts.  Humoral balance is emphasized, and suppressing natural urges is considered unhealthy and claimed to lead to illness.  Ayurveda treatises describe three elemental substances, the humours (Sanskrit doṣas), wind (Sanskrit vāta), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha)), and state that equality (Skt. sāmyatva) of the doṣas results in health, while inequality (viṣamatva) results in disease. Ayurveda treatises divide medicine into eight canonical components. Ayurveda practitioners had developed various medicinal preparations and surgical procedures from at least the beginning of the Common Era.

Eight components

The earliest classical Sanskrit works on Ayurveda describe medicine as being divided into eight components (Skt. aṅga).  This characterization of the physicians' art, "the medicine that has eight components", is first found in the Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata, ca 4th century BCE.  The components are:

  • Kāyacikitsā: general medicine, medicine of the body
  • Kaumāra-bhṛtya: the treatment of children, paediatrics
  • Śalyatantra: surgical techniques and the extraction of foreign objects
  • Śālākyatantra: treatment of ailments affecting ears, eyes, nose, mouth, etc. ("ENT")
  • Bhūtavidyā: pacification of possessing spirits, and the people whose minds are affected by such possession
  • Agadatantra: toxicology
  • Rasāyanatantra: rejuvenation and tonics for increasing lifespan, intellect and strength
  • Vājīkaraṇatantra: aphrodisiacs and treatments for increasing the volume and viability of semen and sexual pleasure.

Diagnosis

Ayurveda has eight ways to diagnose illness, called Nadi (pulse), Mootra (urine), Mala (stool), Jihva (tongue), Shabda (speech), Sparsha (touch), Druk (vision), and Aakruti (appearance).  Ayurvedic practitioners approach diagnosis by using the five senses.  For example, hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.  The study of the lethal points or marman marma is of special importance.

According to some sources, up to 80 percent of people in India use some form of traditional medicine, a category which includes Ayurveda. n 1970, the Indian Medical Central Council Act which aimed to standardise qualifications for Ayurveda practitioners and provide accredited institutions for its study and research was passed by the Parliament of India. In 1971, the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) was established under the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to monitor higher education in Ayurveda in India.  The Indian government supports research and teaching in Ayurveda through many channels at both the national and state levels, and helps institutionalise traditional medicine so that it can be studied in major towns and cities.

The state-sponsored Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) is designed to do research on Ayurveda.  Many clinics in urban and rural areas are run by professionals who qualify from these institutes.  As of 2013, India has over 180 training centers offer degrees in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

To fight biopiracy and unethical patents, in 2001 the government of India set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library as a repository for formulations of various systems of Indian medicine, such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha.  The formulations come from over 100 traditional Ayurveda books.  An Indian Academy of Sciences document quoting a 2003-04 report states that India had 432,625 registered medical practitioners, 13,925 dispensaries, 2,253 hospitals and a bed strength of 43,803. 209 under-graduate teaching institutions and 16 post-graduate institutions. Insurance companies cover expenses for Ayurvedic treatments in case of conditions such as spinal cord disorders, bone disorder, arthritis and cancer. Such claims comprise 5-10 percent of the country's health insurance claims.

Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, an organisation dedicated to fighting superstition in India, considers Ayurveda to be pseudoscience.

Other countries on the Indian subcontinent

About 75%-80% of the population of Nepal use Ayurveda,  and it is the most practiced form of medicine in the country.

The Sri Lankan tradition of Ayurveda is similar to the Indian tradition. Practitioners of Ayurveda in Sri Lanka refer to Sanskrit texts which are common to both countries. However, they do differ in some aspects, particularly in the herbs used.

In 1980, the Sri Lankan government established a Ministry of Indigenous Medicine to revive and regulate Ayurveda. ] The Institute of Indigenous Medicine (affiliated to the University of Colombo) offers undergraduate, postgraduate, and MD degrees in Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery, and similar degrees in unani medicine.  In the public system, there are currently 62 Ayurvedic hospitals and 208 central dispensaries, which served about 3 million people (about 11% of Sri Lanka's population) in 2010. In total, there are about 20,000 registered practitioners of Ayurveda in the country.

According to the Mahavamsa, an ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty from the sixth century C.E., King Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka(reigned 437 BCE to 367 BCE) had lying-in-homes and Ayurvedic. hospitals (Sivikasotthi-Sala) built in various parts of the country. This is the earliest documented evidence available of institutions dedicated specifically to the care of the sick anywhere in the world.  MihintaleHospital is the oldest in the world.