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History of Ayurveda

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The enigma of the emergence of humanistic arts and science have always been a point of curiosity for generations and amongst all these queries; inception of science of medicine has invariably been a point of skepticism. Bhāradwāja is considered to be the father Ayurveda and medicine in general[1]. Thence, the history of Ayurveda begins with the exploration of the era of this great sage.

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 historians must go back to the origin of life to find the beginning of this science. We can, however, only proclaim with the Ṛśi Dṛghatamas of the Ṛgveda who saw the completion of a divine plan in the emergence of life.

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 Devas are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

As per Ātreya[edit]

Ayurveda which is concerned with both life and intelligence believes that there was no particular beginning and thus the question of when and how life and intelligence came into being is discountenanced. Supporting this theory, Ātreya said,

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

Supporting his this theory, Ātreya propounds that as life has existed all the time similarly Ayurveda, which is the tradition embodying knowledge of life, has also existed from that very time. The knowledge of healing has come down as an eternal tradition. Ātreya on a dynamic view asserts that the whole world is being reconstituted every moment and information on the knowledge of existence is no exception.

Thus, the continuity of tradition which Ayurveda has enjoyed is the continuity of growth and not of mere survival. Ātreya 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. It is impossible to trace the continuity of medical tradition to its source. Reason and revelation is no less than sorcery and superstition which has contributed to its flow and is 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 Samhitā[edit]

The Caraka Samhitā, in accordance with the other ancient works, recalls the tradition of the heavenly descent of medicine. Since it asserts 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 Bhāradwāja who had been deputed to bring it down to earth by the assembly of sages who met on the slopes of the Himalayas.

Caraka is emphatic on the point that the science of life does not have beginning and has existed for all time. On scrutinizing the facts in Caraka that characterizes the historical truth regarding the systematic emergence of the medical science in the history, descent of Ayurveda can be studied.

Origin of Caraka Samhitā[edit]

It is said that when diseases started to assail the lives of righteous people, the learned sages met together on the slopes of the Himalayas to find out a way to overcome these impediments. The book mentions that it was a historic assembly of ascetics of not only India of those times but also of the neighboring countries. The assembled sages after a lot of discussion decided that they could get help in this regard only from Indra, the king of the Devas, who had received the science of life from the divine Aświns. 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 Bhāradwāja offered to go on the great quest. It is described that how he meets Indra 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 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 of diseases could be got only from Indra, they planned to depute a worthy member to acquire the much-needed wisdom.
  3. Bhāradwāja offered to travel to acquire the science. He returned and described it to a 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 Agniveśa's compilation was the best of them. They declared it 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 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 passing 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 have anything much. But ideologically Ayurveda, following the lines of the general concepts of life, may be classified and described in its several stages of development considering the metaphysical concepts of matter and life. But the last method 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 and become a subject of discussion for the historians. Similarly in medicine, the lives and activities of outstanding men like Bhāradwāja, Ātreya, Caraka, Śuśruta and Vāgbhatta and others in Ancient India constitutes the history of ancient medicine in India. In all, ancient history, whether of medicine or arts or political life, the multitude remains passive spectators, with a few important and dynamic individuals holding the reins of the chariot of national life.

Discovery of Medicinal Arts[edit]

All the medicinal herbs were not discovered by a single person. Differentiating between useful and non-useful things in vegetables and animal worlds was neither done by a single person nor in a specific time period. All the information that is available now is the result of the experience of jillions of researchers. The medical science has played an important part in the development and sustenance of our civilization.

There is a hypothesis that medicine can never be traced to definite human origins. This has led the researchers of medicine in India to connect its roots to the divine existence. Beyond a certain degree of progress and evolution, all the statistics revealed point towards the domain of sub-conscious of super-conscious origin. Hence all the knowledge available now 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 does not have beginning and the first promulgation of it was by the Devas and the best among mortals who besought their guidance through which they were able to obtain this 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.


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