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Process to Become Medical Practitioner in Ancient Indian Education System

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The knowledge imparted was both theoretical and practical. The students were required to excel difficult tests in both these exams. There is the story of Jivaka which gives us an inkling into the method of practical examination adopted in ancient days.

Entrance examination[edit]

In order to maintain a lofty standard of intellectual studies pursued in the ancient universities, the Dwāra Pandits or entrance Pandits were appointed who were very vigilant in the entrance examination so that the educational standards of the institution was maintained. Each Dwāra-pandit was an expert in the various subjects taught at the university. They conducted an entrance examination of the aspirants for the higher studies. They were very strict in their tests. Hardly 20 to 30 % of the students succeeded in getting admission. They were the benchmark guardians of the prestige and scholarship of the university. Thus the entrance examination of the university was zealously guarded by the experts who were always ready with the most difficult questions in the entrance test to find out the competence of the candidates seeking admissions into academics.

Practical Examination[edit]

According to the Tibeten tales, Ātreya said to his pupils, "Go to the pine hill and fetch from it that which is not a remedy". The pupils went there and each of them brought back those plants which they thought was no remedy. But Jivaka contemplated that there was scarcely anything which is not a remedy for some or other ailment.

When they all returned to Ātreya, each of them showed what he had brought with them. Ātreya explained to them the use of each of the plants brought by them as different remedies in one or other illness. When Jivaka was asked about what had he brought, he replied saying that each plant was a remedy and there exists nothing which is not a remedy. However, he had brought a knot of a reed, a piece of stone and a leavening pot thinking of them to be of not useful as remedy. To which Ātreya said that, if a man is stung by a scorpion, he can be fumigated with the reed knot and healed with leavening pot and a piece of stone."[1]

Theoretical Examination[edit]

Śalākā Parikṣā[edit]

For the theoretical test, they employed Salākā Parikṣā. This method was adopted at the final examination in Mithilā which re-flourished during the thirteenth century.[2] The test was conducted as under. The page of the manuscript was picked up by a probe at random and the student was asked to explain the matter contained. This test was equally difficult as the admission test of Nālandā and Vikramaśila controlled and conducted by the Dwāra Pandits. This Salākā test was a test of the students knowledge in theory.

Final Test[edit]

The final examination was equally difficult. This method of test was also employed for a foreigner coming here for practice. It was called as the practitioner's test. Any practitioner desirous of getting registration and the right to practice in this country, had to pass this examination before he was permitted by the State to practice. A physician should be examined by another physician on eight topics mentioned below:

  1. The system and its interpretation
  2. The main sections of the system and their interpretation
  3. The chapters in each section and their interpretation
  4. The questions and their interpretation

He should be able to give satisfactory answers by verbatim quotations, by explanations of the quotations and by further elucidations of difficult parts of the explanations to all the above denoted subject.

Expounded Verbatim[edit]

When a system promulgated by a seer is recited in its entirety and in the order of its original enunciation, then it is said to be delivered verbatim. After understanding the truth of the subject to the minutest details in the words that are elaborate or succinct, as the occasion may demand, by the method of proposition, reason, analogy, application and conclusion and in a manner that is intelligible and appealing to the three types of student mind, then it constitutes an exposition of the system with comment. When the difficult passages occurring in the treatise are elucidated by further glosses, then the exposition is called a detailed elucidation.

This could discriminate real scholars from quacks. On the completion of his studies, the physician is said to be 'reborn' and acquires the title of a 'Physician'. No one can be a physician by birth. On the completion of his studies, the spirit of revelation or of inspiration of the truth descends into the student. It is due to this reason of initiation, that a physician is called a Dwija or a twice-born one.

Significance of Registration[edit]

A graduate in medicine had to obtain king's permission to embark on his professional career. It was the duty of the state to protect its people not only from external invaders and depredators but also from diseases. To prevent the ravages of the internal enemies, registration of responsible professions such as the lawyers and the doctors has come into being. Thus it appears that in ancient times an utmost care was taken to safeguard the welfare of the people from the unauthorized and ignorant exploiters in the name of medical men.

Maximum attention was taken to maintain a high standard in the profession by the tests to which the applicants to the profession had to submit. In the case of foreigners, they had to pass the same rigorous examination as well as the final examination before having the permission to practice either by the royal physician or by a council of physicians. Śukrācārya lays down positively that without the permission of the king, no physician should be allowed to treat. Even the veterinary surgeon had to appear before the king for registration and then be allowed to practice.

Viśikhā, A licensed Practitioner[edit]

Registration was the practice observed even in the ancient times, where the State took proper care to eliminate half learned person from being a physician by strict methods so that they cannot endanger the welfare and life of the people. The men that had studied the science well, had acquired proper skill in the practice and had passed all the theoretical as well as practical examinations could set up practice only after obtaining the permission of the king or the state. Such a registered practitioner, who received the approval of the state, entered Viśikhā[3] stage where he had to keep the tuft. This was the actual entrance into the professional life.

Having studied the science, fully grasped the meaning of it, having acquired the practical skill and having performed operations on dummies, with the ability to teach the science and with king's permission, a physician should start his profession. The need for such testing and previous approval of a physician before setting up his practice is explained by pointing out the duty of the king to protect his people from the harm that might otherwise befall them through dummy the apparels of the real physician. The existence of such bogus men was considered a blot on the king and the state.


  1. There is a reference about this story in Caraka Samhitā. It is said in the 12th passage of the 26th chapter of Sutrasthāna.
  2. Mithilā was the capital of Videha, the ancient seat of learning.
  3. Viśikhā also means a gem.
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India