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Evolution of Ayurveda: From Faith to Commercialization

Imagine going to an Ayurvedic doctor and now you’re expecting a wise, old man – probably look alike of Dumbledore or Gandalf (just the Indian version) sitting on a platform under a tree, a few disciples below the platform and a couple of apprentices paying apt attention to the Vaidya’s (A person who practices Ayurveda) every movement.

 

Then you’d be laid down on the bare ground, with a rough, hard rock as your pillow – the Vaidya will chant several mantras and what not, and pour some foul smelling concoctions down your forehead, make you drink some and apply a few on your arms and legs…

After intense treatments – you’ll be healed…

If that’s your perspective on going to an Ayurvedic doctor, then I will have to tell you that my dear friend, you’re sorely mistaken about the Ayurvedic branch of medicine.

 
The increasing awareness about chemicals, drugs, their side-effects and maybe the new fad of not having ‘unnatural’ substances in the body has led to the popularization of Ayurveda. Many people have started to opt for it again. Including some members of the family who had unending medical problems for a long while, so I decided to do a bit of research with this old phenomenon that has been gaining more and more attention and well, it seems like that Ayurveda has not escaped the clutches of modernization… Here’s how…

 

 

To begin with a brief history of Ayurveda… Ayurveda is the sandhi or combination of two words Ayu, meaning life, and Veda, which could be roughly translated to knowledge. As the words have Sanskrit origin, it is not surprising to find that Ayurveda was concentrated on the Indian Subcontinent. The origins are mythological and it is believed that Dhanvantri, the God of Ayurveda transferred the knowledge of medicine to the sages and priests. In the medieval times, there have been accounts of surgeries like rhinoplasty through Ayurvedic learning.

 

Charaka-Sanhita and Sushruta-Sanhita are the oldest known treatise on Ayurveda. The practice of rhinoplasty was found in the Sushruta-Sanhita, written by Sushruta, in 600 BC.  Indian practiced this art since the ancient times. It was noticed by British during the Mysore Wars, which later led to the refined methods of plastic surgery that spread over Europe. There’s a fascinating story of how British discovered the Ayurvedic side of plastic surgery. 

Sultan of Srirangapattam came across the traitor, Maratha  cart driver who had served the British with other four. As punishment, their noses and right arms were chopped off for serving the enemy and they were sent back to the English command. After a few days, the English commanding officer came across an Indian merchant who had a peculiar nose. Later the officer discovered that the merchant’s nose was cut off and a substitute nose was created by a Maratha Vaidya of the  kumhar (potter case). The officer later commanded the Vaidya to reconstruct the noses of the Maratha cart driver and the other four. The operation was successful and it later was published in the Madras Gazette. 

At roughly the same page as Science of Medicine, there are branches of Ayurveda, and are called the eight components of Ayurveda:

  • Kāyacikitsā: general medicine, medicine of the body
  • Kaumāra-bhṛtya: the treatment of children, pediatrics
  • 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
  • Agadantantra: 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.

This is actually the old version of Ayurveda – of course, the modernized version works on the same basic principles, but the art of practicing had changed from the times of Indian medieval times.

In the very beginning, as mentioned before, it was all a gift from God and the treatments revolved around spiritual cleansing, of course, there were complicated herbal concoctions for the physical aspect of healing, but the main course, used to be the healing of the soul – something that shares the common roots with Yoga. Nowadays, one has to note that Ayurveda has become quite sophisticated – if the ever-increasing in popularity, Patanjali, is any indication.

 

There are hospitals that practice Ayurvedic therapies and even resorts that would give you intense therapies and no, they do not involve men walking around in loin cloth dhotis.

So, what led to this transformation?

Well, I think the main reason must have been the fact that Ayurveda decided to evolve with the changing times and the developing sciences. It changed from being about rural foul-tasting concoctions to urban tablet forms. Of course, there are still some root gels and other pastes that one needs to apply and some form of juices and brews to drink for proper treatment but more or less, it’s the syrups and tablets and gels – something like modern medicines.

Ayurveda gained a level of pseudo-science as not every treatment was scientifically backed up, but more or less, they did work. And to perform surgeries in medieval times, that’s credible in itself. The driving force could be the fact that WHO wanted to preserve traditional healing processes and worked towards further developing and modernizing it by giving the impetus that it was losing.

As it happens, there are two sides of a coin and while, the therapy is getting acclaimed and popularized, many people do not see it as a science or even authentic. Some research shows that many of the Ayurvedic tablets contained metals like mercury leading to heavy metal poisoning.

So, as it seems that Ayurveda might not be all that safe from side-effects. But in conclusion, it is a successful method of treatment – and just like modern medicine – has the success and failure rates. What would be worth exploring is the combination of the modern science and Ayurveda – not all treatments might be baseless and the wrong treatments might just need the touch of science.

So, do you see a union between the two in the near future? Do share your opinions!

 

Image Source: [1], [2], [3], [4] 

About Arshi Dokadia

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