History of Ayurveda

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The mists of the time have rolled over the beginnings of most of the efforts of Man in the realms of thought and humanistic arts and sciences. Medicine is inevitably shrouded in mystery from its beginning.

Bharadwaja is considered to be the father Ayurveda and medicine in general[1]. The history of Ayurveda therefore beings with the inquiry into the nature and times of this great sage.

Discovery of Medicinal Arts[edit]

All the medicinal herbs were not discovered by a single person. No man looked through the vegetable and animal worlds and discriminated between the useful and the worthless. All this has been the work of ages and is the outcome of the experience of thousands of investigators. The medical arts have played an important part in the development of our civilization.

There is a hypothesis that medicine can never be traced to definite human origins. This has led the great compilers of the medical tradition in India, rightly to design medicine to divine origin. Beyond a certain degree of progress and evolution, all thought is essentially revealed, for it emerges from the domain of the sub-conscious of super-conscious. Hence all knowledge is either inherent or coeval with life or must be ascribed to super-human benefaction. The compilers of Ayurveda have therefore rightly held that the healing science is without beginning and the first promulgation of the science was by the Deva-s and the best among mortals besought their guidance through which they were able to obtain the beneficial lore.

Thus with the history of medicine being a terra incognita to everybody, a comprehensive view of the evolution of medicine has yet to be written.

Origin of Life[edit]

Since the repugnance to pain is an innate characteristic of life, it can be deduced that medicine is co-eval with life itself. Thus the medical historian must go back to the origin of life. We can, however, only exclaim with the Rsi Drghatamas of the Rgveda beheld life in its formless design.

We get blood n breath from the sources available on earth but the question is that from where do we get the spirit that informs these elements? Who has gone to the ultimate Knower of all the things to put the question? Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The Deva-s are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

The ancient seer saw the fulfillment of a divine plan in the emergence of life.

As per Atreya[edit]

Ayurveda which is concerned with both these masteries is inclined to view them as having had no beginning in time and thus the question of when and how life and intelligence came into being is discountenanced, says Atreya,

There was no time when either the stream of life or the stream of intelligence did not flow.

He then goes on to argue that as life has thus existed throughout all time and has always been aware of itself, it follows that Ayurveda which is but the tradition embodying this knowledge, has enjoyed an antiquity as immense as life itself.

The knowledge of healing has come down as an eternal tradition but an eternal tradition does not mean an immutable tradition. To Atreya who takes the dynamic view of reality, the whole world is being reconstituted every moment and knowledge is no exception.

Thus, the continuity of tradition which Ayurveda has enjoyed is the continuity of growth not of mere survival, There is nothing in it of the "closed dogma" revealed once for all to the saints and admitting of no further modification. On the contrary, Atreya explicitly declares that Ayurveda has no limits and it is capable of indefinite expansion.

He exhorts the student to be diligent in the acquisition of knowledge from whatever source available, since to the intelligent man the whole world is his teacher. It is impossible to trace this continuity of medical tradition to its source. Reason and revelation is no less than sorcery and superstition which have contributed to its flow, has run parallel to the stream of life. If it carried the silt of age-old superstitions, is it not also luminous with the light of the spirit?

As per Caraka Samhita[edit]

The Caraka Samhita, in accordance with the other ancient works, recalls the tradition of the heavenly descent of medicine. Since it maintains that the science of life has co-existed with life, this only means that for the pursuit of healing, man has received heavenly guidance from time to time. One such occasion was the bestowal of Ayurveda by Indra, the chief of the Devas, on Bharadwaja who had been deputed to bring it down to earth by the assembly of sages who met on the auspicious slopes of the Himalayas.

Caraka is emphatic on the point that the science of life is beginning-less and has existed for all time. When we read the full story of this descent of Ayurveda to the Earth as described in Caraka, the following facts are easily seen to characterize the historical truth regarding the systematic emergence of the medical science even in that far off day of antiquity in our history.

Origin of Caraka Samhita[edit]

lt is said that when diseases first seriously assailed the lives of righteous people, the merciful sages took pity on them and met together on the auspicious slopes of the Himalayas to find out a way to overcome these impediments in their pursuit of the good life. The book mentions several of these sages and it reflects that this first historic assembly was representative of the wise men not only of India but of the greater India of that day and even of the neighboring countries. The assembled sages after much deliberation decided that help could come only from Indra, the king of the Devas, who had received the science of life from the divine Aswins. But when asked about who was ready enough to seek out the king of the Devas in his celestial court and obtain from him the science of life. There was an uneasy silence and then sage Bharadwaja offered to go on the great quest. It is described that how he meets the king of the celestial in his blazing court and having received from him the coveted lore of life, returns to the waiting sages, makes picturesque.

Origin of Ayurveda[edit]

The knowledge of Ayurvedic science is dedicated to logic, the very foundation of science. It can be proved by the information stated as below:

  1. In that age, there took place a great conference of learned sages of India and of the neighboring lands in order to find out a solution for the serious problem of disease which had assailed humanity then.
  2. On finding that the necessary knowledge for combating the situation could be had from a far away land, they planned to depute a worthy member to acquire the much-needed wisdom.
  3. Bharadwaja who stood up offering to undergo the tribulation of traveling far and acquiring the science was chosen. He returned and described it before the selected gathering of the sages. Though they were satisfied with the great message of hope and relief, being practical men, they first put it to the test by actual experimentation on themselves as well as on others. When they were assured of the practical efficacy of the science they accepted it as a system.
  4. Then, they invited six outstanding scholars to classify and compile all the data pertaining to drugs and disease collected in various parts of the country and to embody them methodically and systematically in one complete treatise. When these six compilations were ready they were placed before a committee of selected judges. They decided that Agnivesas compilation was the best of them. They declared it before the world as the authoritative text of the medical science.
  5. This is the first historical record, perhaps in the whole world, of systematizing the medical knowledge, knowledge that had come down, till then, as a living tradition traced either from a divine origin or from the findings of the deep thought and meditation of sages or from the instinct experiment and experience of generations of humanity.

This is a brief story of Ayurveda in its transition from its legendary to its historical epoch and we shall content ourselves now in facing its mundane history as it passed from master to pupil and from the learned men of each age to their successors.

Development of Ayurveda[edit]

History denotes of being evolved either on chronological or ideological or biographical lines. Chronologically, ancient Indian history including Ayurveda, does not afford much scope. But ideologically Ayurveda, following the lines of the general concepts of life, may be classified and described in its several stages of development in the light of metaphysical concepts of matter and life. But the last method viz, biography seems best suited for our present purpose.

It has been rightly said that history is the biography of outstanding individuals in each age and this is even more true with the history of medicine. Though there are millions of men living in each age, it is only a handful of men who play a vital role in the drama of life and provide food for the historian. Similarly in medicine, the lives and activities of outstanding men like Bharadwaja, Atreya, Caraka, Susruta and Vagbhata and others in Ancient India constitute the history of ancient medicine in India. In all, ancient history, whether of medicine or of the arts or of political life, the multitude remains passive spectators, with a few important and dynamic individuals holding the reins of the chariot of national life.

Where popular institutions and life have not developed into active and self conscious functioning, the biographical method of history is the only true method to adopt


  1. as per Caraka Samhita
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India