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Detailing the Origins of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda�s roots stretch back over 6000 years to the insights of the ancient rishis who first orally transmitted the wisdom of the Rig Veda, the oldest book of the Vedas. The Rig Veda contains the seeds for many of the concepts later formalized in Ayurveda, such as the characteristics of the gods: Indra, Agni and Soma, whose principles become manifest in the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Although the Rig Veda first makes mention of Ayurvedic concepts, the Atharva Veda, (considered to be Ayurveda�s primary text) further expands upon these ideas and makes mention of various disease processes and treatment.

The Vedas are considered to be among the oldest and most sacred writings in the world. The four Vedas are: the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda, written approximately 3,000 BC, is considered to be the oldest written book. It sets forth fundamental mantras which are said to describe the foundation of the world. The Sama Veda develops mantras from the Rig Veda into tools for manipulating the emotions and the mind. The Yajur Veda develops these mantras into ritual motions for transforming mental and psychic energies. The Atharva Veda adds mantras for health and well-being and elaborates upon more medical topics such as the disease process and anatomy.

The Specialisation of Ayurveda.

During this legendary time in Vedic history, circa 6000 BC to about 1500 BC, Ayurveda was not yet very specialized or systematic.

Between 1500 BC and 700 BC, the system of Ayurveda (along with other trends in Indian philosophy) began to differentiate into eight specialties and two schools;
Atreya, the school of physicians and Dhanvantari, the school of surgeons.

Simultaneously, Ayurveda underwent a revolution in scientific thinking, and the ancient teachings came under intense scrutiny, each concept and prescription subject to thorough tests of efficacy. The various, widely scattered teachings were also compiled at that time into Samhitas (writing collections), of which three confirmed authentic works exist today:

The Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridaya. These and other collections were later translated into languages, such as Arabic, and disseminated widely.

Starting in the eleventh century, battered by repeated incursion by Muslims, Ayurveda began to decline, and today, it is only just emerging from its medieval period. Now, it is fully supported by the Indian government and is gaining an ever increasing popularity in America and Europe.

Important Ayurvedic Teachers.

Dhanvantari of Benares (c. 1500 BC) pictured

Nagarjuna (c. 500 AD)

Vagbhatta of Sind (c. 342 BC)

Dhanvantari of Benares is considered to be the reincarnation of Vishnu and considered to be the guiding sage of Ayurveda. He established Ayurveda as a specific healing art and is the spiritual founder of the Dhanvantari school of surgeons.

Nagarjuna, a famous Mahayana Buddhist sage, authored a commentary on the Sushruta Samhita.

Vagbhatta of Sind is the author of the Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita, a commentary on the Charaka Sushruta Samhitas with a synthesis of other works by other prominent Ayurvedic authors. He is responsible for introducing a number of new herbs and surgical techniques into the previously orthodox Ayurvedic schools.

The Eight Branches of Ayurveda.

Classical Ayurveda recognizes eight main branches:

Kayachikitsa: Internal medicine. Treatment of the entire being, mind, body and spirit are the goal of this branch of Ayurveda. It contains a comprehensive list of infectious diseases and herbal medicines, as well as describing the practice of Pancha Karma.

Shalakya Tantra: Head and neck diseases. This branch of Ayurveda is roughly equivalent to today�s specialty of Ophthamology and Otorhinolaryngology, essentially eye, ear, nose and throat medicine. Surgical techniques as well as herbal treatments for conditions such as cataracts are included.

Shalyatantra: Surgery. As mentioned earlier, surgery had a very important place in Ayurvedic medicine. The specialty of Shalya covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, surgical treatment of conditions such as bowel obstructions.

Agadatantra: Poisoning and Toxicology. Classification and treatment of toxins of all sorts, including air and water pollution, are dealt with in this branch of Ayurvedic medicine.

Kaumarabhritya: Pediatrics. All topics relating to children, including prenatal and postnatal health and childhood diseases, are addressed in Kaumara Bhritya..

Rasayana: Rejuvenation. Rasayana is used to prevent diseases and ensure long, healthy life. It is concerned with healthy diet and codes of behavioral conduct.

Vajikarana: Aphrodisiacs. These medicines, which also act as rejuvenates, increase sexual potency and efficiency.

Bhutavidya: Psychology. Literally meaning “knowledge of ghosts”, Bhutavidya is concerned with the treatment of mental problems using herbs, diet and yoga.

Even though Ayurveda has been around for 6,000 years, it is not outmoded. Its very practical, time-tested principles are perfect for today’s seekers of prevention-oriented self-care.