THE TRADITIONAL HEALTH SCIENCE OF INDIA
Ayurveda is one of the great gifts of the sages of ancient India to
mankind. It is one of the oldest scientific medical systems in the world,
with a long record of clinical experience. However, it is not only a system
of medicine in the conventional sense of curing disease. It is also a way
of life that teaches us how to maintain and protect health. It shows us
both how to cure disease and how to promote longevity. Ayurveda treats
man as a “whole” – which is a combination of body, mind and soul.
Therefore it is a truly holistic and integral medical system.
The word “Ayu” means all aspects of life from birth to death. The word
“Veda” means knowledge or learning. Hence Ayurveda indicates the
science by which life in its totality is understood. It is a way of life that
describes the diet, medicine and behavior that are beneficial or harmful
for life. The roots of Ayurveda can be traced to the beginning of cosmic
creation. Indian philosophers state that Ayurveda originated from Brahma,
the creator of the universe. Brahma is not a mere individual but the
unmanifest from the Divine Lord, from whom the whole manifest world
comes into being. The desire to maintain fitness, health and longevity is
one of the basic instincts of all creatures. Ayurveda in this respect sets
the pattern for other system of medicine. It is a tradition with an antiquity
comparable to that of life itself.
The magico- religious aspect of medicine in the Vedas was gradually
supplemented by observations based on scientific thinking. Ayurvedic
scholars from subsequent generations gave a sound and logical footing of
philosophy to Ayurveda. The material scattered in the Vedas was
collected, subjected to rigid tests of efficacy and systematically arranged.
Such compilations were called ”Samhitas.” Many of these compilations no
longer exist. Only three authentic works have stood the test of time and
are available today – the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and
Ashtanga Hridya Samhita. This great trio – the Brihatrayi as it called –
has enjoyed much popularity and respect for the last two thousand years.
Although these texts have undergone some modification by various
authors in subsequent periods, their present form is at least 1200 years
old. They are all in the Sanskrit language.
The Charaka Samhita is the oldest of the three and was probably
first compiled around 1500 BC. It is considered the prime work on the
basic concepts of Ayurveda. Charaka represents the Atreya School of
physicians. It is a systematic work divided into eight Sthanas or sections,
which are further divided into 120 chapters.
Sushruta represents the Dhanwantri School of surgeons, and is
considered in Ayurveda to be the father of surgery. Even a great American
society of surgeons is named after Sushruta. In the Sushruta Samhita
there are sophisticated descriptions of diseases and surgical instruments.
The next important authority in Ayurveda after Charaka and Sushruta is
Vagbhatta of Sindh, who flourished about the seventh century AD. His
treatise called Ashtanga Hridya.
THE EIGHT BRANCHES OF AYURVEDA
• Kaya Chikitsa (General medicine)
• Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
• Shalakya Tantra (Diseases of Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat)
• Kaumarbhritya (Children diseases, obstetrics and Gynecology)
• Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
• Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
• Rasayana (Rejuvenation), and
• Vajikarana (Aphrodisiac/sexology)
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF AYURVEDA
Ayurveda is the science of positive health and fulfillment in life. The aim
of Ayurveda is threefold:
• To achieve positive health for the individual
• Protection of the masses
• Ultimate liberation
The last goal can be achieved by following regulations of daily conduct
and by following strict seasonal regimens, so that one can be
constantly healthy. Being continuously healthy is comparable to
achieving ultimate liberation, as it involves the eradication of the
factors that bring about suffering.
To understand Ayurveda, it is very essential to know its basic concepts.
These are the backbone of Ayurvedic philosophy. Ayurvedic approach to
health care is based on their applications.
A. Pancha Mahabhuta (The five basic elements)
B. Doshas (Biological elements)
C. Dhatus (Basic tissues)
D. Malas (Waste products)
E. Agni (Biological fire)
1. PANCHA MAHABHUTA (The Five Basic Elements)
Ancient Indian philosophy is of opinion that all materials, living or nonliving
are made of five fundamental elements called Panchamahabhutas,
representing five fundamental categories of matter. These are:
• Akasha (ether)
• Vayu (air)
• Teja (fire/energy)
• Jala (water), and
• Prithvi (earth)
All material on this earth contains Panchamahabhutas in different
2. DOSHA (Three biological humors)
Biological application of Panchamahabhutas reflects in the form of
Tridosha. Here ‘Tri’ means three and Dosha’ represents to humor (bioentity).
Thus the word ‘Tridosha’ denotes to three humors i.e. Vata, Pitta
and Kapha. These are said ‘Dosha’ because these have tendency to get
vitiated and also to vitiate others. This bilateral tendency of Dosha is
cause of health and diseases. State of balance of Dosha represents
health while imbalance to the disease. Every Dosha has definite
place/location and functions in our body. All have their five types
Our body is supported and sustained by seven Dhatus (basic tissues).
Beside this, Dhatus have property to vitiate. Dosha and Dhatus have
relation with each other in health and disease. In pathogenesis of disease
these both play key role.
Following are the seven Dhatus:
i. Rasa (Plasma)
ii. Rakta (Blood)
iii. Mamsa (Muscle)
iv. Meda (Adipose)
v. Asthi (Bone)
vi. Majja (Marrow)
vii. Shukra (Reproductive tissues)
4. Malas –
The word ‘Mala’ means excretal products. Ayurveda has a unique concept
of Malas. Sustenance of Mala in appropriate limits, sustain the life. To
understand it in a better way, take the example of common excreta –
urine. Excess urination may cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
5. Agni –
Agni is considered as biological fire. In our body entire range of digestive
and metabolic activities are performed by it. Ayurveda considers about
thirteen types of ‘Agnis’.
a. Jatharagni – It performs digestion of food and considered to govern
b. Dhatvagni – Every Dhatu has a particular type of Agni, which
is responsible for that for that particular tissue metabolism. These
are seven in number.
c. Bhutagni – Each of the five Mahabhuta (elements) has a specific
Agni, which is responsible for molecular metabolism.
6. Trigunas –
The word literally means three qualities or three properties. These are the
three specific properties of the Mind. They are Satwa, Rajas and Tamas.
AYURVEDIC PRAKRITI (CONSTITUTION):
Please try to remember any occasion when you enjoyed the food with your
friend. Next day you found that you are not feeling well, as your stomach
is ‘not in order’ but your friend is happy even next day with the taste of
food enjoyed with you last night. You get puzzled, what happens to you?
Why the same food reacted in a different way to you and your friend? In
your daily life there may be so many occasions like this. It is really
strange to observe such things. Yu may wonder that why under similar
conditions, people react in a different way.
Ayurveda has answer of all these curiosities. The concept of Prakriti is
unique and has explanation for this. Every person is born with a definite
genetic constitution, depending upon Doshas, there are three major types
of Prakriti, and these reflect predominance of that particular Dosha. Our
body behaves according to the status of Dosha Prakriti. For example, a
person is born with Vata Prakriti and his or her diet is rich in Vata
promoting substances then he or she is likely to develop a problems like
Constipation etc. while the same diet is consumed by a person of Pitta
constitution that will keep him or her in order.
There are seven possible Prakriti (constitution) types –
a) Vata Prakriti
b) Pitta Prakriti
c) Kapha Prakriti
d) Vata – Pitta Prakriti
e) Vata – Kapha Prakriti
f) Pitta – Kapha Prakriti
g) Tridosha Prakriti
These are only broad categories. But by variation in proportion it may be
of innumerable types. We find that most people around us have a dual
personality. You are required to develop a good concept of Prakriti
analysis, without knowledge of one’s Prakriti, it is practically impossible to
apply Ayurvedic fundamentals in prevention, promotion and cure of
Have a look of some important features of different Prakritis
1. Vata Prakriti – These persons are either short or long but are
most often with a thin body frame. Mostly towards lower side of
weight range, sometimes under weight. Skin is dark, dry with
cracks. Nails are hard and brittle, Appetite is variable, mostly
suffer from constipation. Sleep is light but varies from night to
night. They remember easily and forget easily. Find great
difficulty in developing a routine, but are very active.
2. Pitta prakriti – They are of medium body frame. Skin is usually
delicate, light in color and more prone to sunburn. Sweating is
excessive. Nails are soft, strong and well formed. Endowed with
good appetite and rarely constipated. Have capacity to perform
vigorous exercise. Go to sleep easily but is light. These persons
are more practical in life. Memory is good. More organized in
3. Kapha Prakriti – Body frame is mostly medium to broad. Weight
gain is varying easy. Skin of these people is smooth, thick and
slightly oily. Sweating is moderate. Nails are strong, large and
symmetrical. Appetite is moderate and bowel habit is regular.
They enjoy sleep, which is usually heavy. Appear calm and quiet.
They are of stable nature. From them it takes time to memorize
but once happen, it is forever. Most of the time they are relaxed.
Diseases and their Causes –
The harmony and the balance of the Doshas, Dhatus, Malas and Agni
in the body is the primary condition of the health. The equilibrium is
maintained through a life in conformity with the laws of nature.
A wrong behavior and food habit disturbs the harmony and lead to
The vitiated Doshas are the prime causative factor for a disease.
Because they are the only causative factors for the vitiation
(derangement) of other body elements like Dhatus, Malas, Agni etc.
Both under pathological and healthy conditions, the Doshas behave in
different patterns and elicit various signs and symptoms in regard to
their vitiation, direction of spreading area of localization and
The Doshas can be vitiated mainly by two ways normally and
abnormally. The normal vitiation is produced by the inevitable and
natural factors like seasonal variations, diurnal variations, various
stages of digestion. This type of vitiation is easy to treat and often it
does not require any treatment as the condition subside automatically.
Abnormal vitiation of Doshas is caused by deliberate exposure to
specific etiological factors, both external and internal. That is abuse of
functions of sense organs, wrong bodily habits, suppression of body
urges, ill food habits, avoidance of seasonal and daily regimes.
Incompatible combination of food, lack of body care and preservation
of health, constant exposure of mind to bad feelings like greed,
jealousy, anger etc.
Having a through knowledge of the signs and symptoms produced by
the vitiated Doshas and Dhtus, and through careful examination one
can know causative factors of a disease.
This very much helpful in aspect of treatment. The basic principles of
treatment in Ayurveda is to eliminate the internal disease causing
factors of disease, also to bring back the vitiated Doshas, Dhatus,
Malas and Agni to normal functioning state.
Diagnosis in Ayurveda
There are three main methods mentioned in Ayurveda for diagnosing
the Dosha imbalance and disease process in a person. They are –
1. Darsana Pareeksha – By observing the patient’s physical signs
and symptoms, Example – colour of skin, hair, eyes, behavior,
body condition etc.
2. Prasna Preeksha – By asking minute questions regarding the
imbalance of each Doshas.
3. Sparsana Pareeksha – By touching the patient. The pulse
diagnosis, palpation, percussion and auscultation are included in
Nadi Pareeksha (Pulse diagnosis) is a very important tool for
diagnosis. The physician feels the radial artery pulsations on the wrist
of the patient and through his experience he can get a clear picture of
the milieu interior.
The treatment in Ayurveda can be classified broadly into two-
1. Shamana Chikitsa (Alleviating Therapy)
2. Sodhana Chikitsa (Purification Therapy)
This is specially done after the sodhana therapy and in less vitiation.
Herbal medicines are used internally and externally to correct the
derangement of functions of Doshas, Dhatus, Malas and Agni and also to
increase the Immunity. The restoration of normality is brought about
without any elimination.
The main aim of this treatment is to eliminate the internal causative
factors of the disease. A large quantities of toxic bi-products are formed
in the body as a result of continuous metabolic process. All though most
of these toxins are eliminated naturally by the body’s excretory system,
some may get deposited in the various tissues of the body, which ensures
the vitiation of Doshas, Dhatus etc. and then the normal functioning of the
system is impaired. Similarly disease causing toxins accumulate in the
body as a result of various factors like wrong body habits, wrong food
habits, incompatible combination of food items, suppression of the body
urges, emotional imbalance etc. Panchakarma therapeutic procedures are
used to facilitate the elimination of such harmful factors.
Panchakarma is the cornerstone to Ayurvedic management of
disease. Pancha Karma is the process, which gets to the root cause of the
problem and re-establishes the essential balance of ‘Tridosha’ (three
doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha) in body. Pancha Karma is not only good
for alleviating disease but is also a useful tool in maintaining excellent
health. Ayurveda advises undergoing Pancha Karma at the seasonal
changes in order to clean the body and improve the digestion and
Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five
treatments”. This science of purifying the body is an ancient branch of
Ayurveda. The Treatment in Ayurveda consists of two main types.
One is Shaman Chikitsa, used to subdue the vitiated Doshas, which may
cause any ailments. It is administered by using various medicinal herbomineral
However, if the Doshas are vitiated beyond a particular level, they give
rise to various toxins, which have a tendency to be accumulated in the
minute channels. These are beyond the level of pacification and hence
need to be eliminating from the body. In such cases, the second type of
treatment, which is Shodhan Chikitsa or cleansing therapy, is indicated.
Since it consists of the five types of main therapies, it is known as the
Panchakarma has been given a special place in all ancient Ayurvedic
texts. Aacharya Charak, the author of the most important ancient text on
internal medicine, has described a wide use of Panchakarma therapy in
almost all major diseases. Two separate sections, Kalpa Sthanam, and
Siddhi Sthanam in Charak Samhita describe in details special decoctions
and other preparations used for Panchakarma therapy.
Panchakarma includes three parts namely:
Poorva Karma (Preparatory Methods), which includes:
• Paachana (Digestion)
• Snehana (Internal and external oleation)
• Swedana (Fomentation)
Pradhan Karma (Main methods), which includes:
• Vamana (Induced vomiting)
• Virechana (Induced purgation)
• Anuvasana (Medicated oil enema)
• Asthapana (Medicated decoction enema)
• Nasya (Drug administration through nose)