Ayurveda system of medicine and Kerala's contribution

Ayurveda system of medicine originated in India. It is as old as the human history. Kerala is famous for Ayurveda treatments and people from several countries visit here to study as well as for undergoing treatments. Medical tourism is getting encouraged because of this. Here an attempt to look into the history of Ayurveda is done.

A brief History

Ayurveda is a system of medicine indigenous to India. It has a long tradition extending back to Vedic era. It is considered as the sub-Veda of Atharva Veda, the last among the four vedas. At the same time there is a view that in all the four vedas Ayurveda principles are mentioned and hence Ayurveda can be treated as the Fifth Veda. As per mythology Brahma formulated Ayurveda prior to the creation of life on earth, because He was worried about the health of His creations. Brahma summarized the whole contents of his theories in one lakh slokas (verses) distributed in one thousand chapters, according to Susrutha. Also for practical conveniences these were classified into eight parts (Ashtamgam) as Salyam, Salakyam, Kaya chikilsa, Bhootha vidya, Koumarabhruthyam, Agada thanthram, Rasayana thanthram and Vajeekarana thanthram. Charaka samhitha and Susrutha samhitha give the practical guidance for this system of medicine. The details are presented more systematically in Ashtanga hridayam and Ashtanga samgraham by Vagbhatacharya.

The traditional belief is that from Brahma the theory of Ayurveda was learned by Prajapathy and from him Aswinidevas. Devendran learned Ayurveda from Aswinidevas, who were the medical consultants of Devas. Surgery methods were also known to these Devas.

Practically Ayurveda might have developed slowly with man kind. In Vedas references are there about various types of diseases and related treatments. In the beginning, possibly, only a few medicines were in use. The approach would have been controlling food and praying the Deities. The non-polluted environment of those days allowed a healthy living and invited very limited diseases. So, the development of the theory and practice of Ayurveda was a slow process, mainly based on the needs during consecutive periods. The references about the diseases and treatments in the four Vedas points towards this. Rigveda, the first and earliest of Vedas, contain minimum contents on this subject. At the same time, more detailed presentations are contained in the Atharvaveda, the fourth of Vedas. The Rigveda belongs to the earlier vedic literature while the Atharva veda is from the end of vedic period.

Generally, the vedic era is considered as the period between five thousand and two thousand B.C. About fifth century B.C., that is the period of Sri. Buddha, Ayurveda system got developed into more or less as a scientific methodology and comprehensive compilations became available. So the gap between these two Vedas give a sound proof to the fact of slow development of Ayurveda.

The primary works of Charaka and Susrutha might have come out during the second century B.C.
The two Ayurveda traditional texts available today are Charakam and Susrutham. In Charakam the routine treatments for common diseases are included while in Susrutham the stress is given to the clinical surgery. Vagbhatacharya, a name very often quoted in Ayurveda, is believed to have lived in the 5th century AD. Charakam and Susrutham have been translated into Persian language in the beginning of AD. Ashtangahridayam was translated into Arabic in 8th century AD. Thus through these languages Ayurveda could influence the growth of western system of medicines.

Kerala and Ayurveda

The history of Ayurveda in Kerala is not different from the other parts of India. At the same time, there are notable contributions to this system of medicine from several experts who lived in Kerala. Ayurveda physicians of Kerala also followed Charakam and Sushrutham. Also Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga samgraham were very much consulted. At the same time there is another text, 'Sahasrayogam', followed by the practitioners in Kerala which contain several traditional medicinal combinations applicable to different diseases. These combinations, which are not mentioned in known Sanskrit texts on this subject, are carried over from generation to generation by certain practicing physicians belonging to this part of the country. The language used is a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam.

Most of the medicines mentioned in this are very popular among Keralites. The pills such as Dhanwantharam, Gorochanadi, Kasthuryadi and Kombanchadi and the Ilaneer kuzhambu (used for eye diseases) are examples which originated from the experienced Kerala physicians. Different medical use of various products of coconut tree is also a typical to Kerala. 'Pachapuzhu' (a glandular secretion of an animal called 'Veruku') is used in several medicines here, may be because this animals were found more in Kerala. Dhara, Pizhichil, Navarakkizhi, Thalapothichil, etc. are typical methods of treatments developed in Kerala. Perhaps, these ayurvedic methods of treatments have become more famous throughout the world.

Ayurveda practitioners of Kerala belonged mainly to two castes, Brahmins and Ezhavas. Additionally, certain other castes, such as Velan and Vannan also used to practice this system mainly related to children. Sanskrit literature started over-ruling other local literatures by 5th century AD. This was followed by the popularity of Sanskrit texts in Ayurveda and its practitioners. In Ayurveda, Ashta vaidya families could establish their major role by practicing the system following the Vagbhata's Ashtamgahridayam and Samgraham. There were about eighteen such families originally. These families, mostly, have Dhanwanthara Moorthy, the Lord of Ayurveda, as their family Deity. These physicians practiced surgery also. Now, only seven of these Ashta vaidya families are there and only five of them practice Ayurveda.

Contributions to literature

Ayurveda practitioners of Kerala made major contributions to the related literature. These include the interpretations of original texts and independent studies of these texts, works based on the local and traditional Ayurvedic methods of treatments and the modern interpretations of earlier works. Among the interpretations of Ashtamgahridayam, 'Sasikala', 'Paatyam', 'Brihath Paatyam', 'Kairali', 'Hridya' 'Sarartha darpanam' and 'Lalitha' are known. 'Sasikala', 'Paatyam' and 'Kairali' are most consulted among them. Authors of these are not known, except that of 'Kairali', which was written by one Pulamanthole Mooss (one of the Ashtavaidyas). 'Lalitha' was also his work.

Among the works based on earlier works 'Hridaya priyam' by Paachu moothathu, 'Sukha sadhakam', Ashtamga saram' and 'Chikilsa manjari' are consulted by practicing physicians. 'Rasa vaiseshikam', 'Rasopanishat', 'Vaidya manorama', Dhara kalpam', 'Sindoora Manjari' and 'Alathoor Manipravalam' are some of the independent works by Kerala based Ayurveda experts. In addition to these there are more known works such as 'Chikilsakramam', Sahasrayogam', 'Yogaratna prakasika', 'Vaidya manjari', 'Chikilsa manjari', 'Netraroga chikilsa', 'Yogamritham', etc.

A notable contribution to the Ayurveda literature from Kerala is an encyclopedia on medicinal plants of Kerala. Though it was published in Latin language as Horthus Indicus Malabaricus by Hendrik Van Reed, the details were provided by a local Ayurveda physician Itty Achyuthan. This has been translated into English and published by Kerala University. It has been widely accepted as a reference manual.

Modern education

Earlier in Kerala the education in Ayurveda was following the Gurukula system. The students were to stay with the Gurus (known physicians) for years and assist the practice of the Guru. The theory would be taught during the free time. The modern teaching started with the establishment of a private Ayurveda college in Thiruvananthapuram in the year 1886. In 1889 this institution as taken over by the King of Travancore and developed with starting a separate department for medical (indigenous) education.

Later in 1917 another institution was begun at Kottakkal by the Kottakkal Arya vaidyasala.

Now there are several Ayurveda Colleges in the State run by both Government and Private agencies. Of late the Kerala Government have established a Medical Universiy which will control the academic and other activities of all medical institutions in the State. All the systems of medicines, including Ayurveda, will come under the purview o this University.

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Author: T.M.Sankaran09 Mar 2014 Member Level: Gold   Points : 5

In Ayurveda 'kashaya' is a type of liquid medicine, a tonic, to be consumed sometimes after diluting or after mixing with a thailam or a pill. This kashayam was asked to be prepared at home in a particular manner (in a small round pot made of mud) in hearths with wood burned fire. Everyday this has to be prepared, depending on the prescription. But now a days Kashaya is directly purchased from Ayurveda medical shops. That means ready made kashaya is available.It is prepared and kept in bottles tightly closed after adding certain harmless preservatives.
But everybody doubts whether this kashaya has the same effect as that prepared at home daily and used. Perhaps the modern life conditions call for this change.

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