Home / Health and Wellness / The Vedic System of Medicine


By Stephan Knapp

(An Excerpt from the book Advancements of Ancient Indias Vedic Culture)

by Stephen Knapp


This article shows how ancient India was the first country to make major medical developments, not only in the use of herbs for medical remedies, but also in surgery, dentistry, operations, plastic surgery, embryology, a detailed understanding of the body, and more. Ancient India also developed Ayurveda, the world=s first holistic form of preventative medicine. Herein we review the major ancient texts that outlined the use of the medicine and processes of surgery that were developed.

Medicine and treatment of disease is a science in India which has an origin that is lost in antiquity. However, according to the Charaka Samhita, one of the earliest texts on ancient Indian medicine, it was Brahma, the secondary creator of the universe, who propounded the knowledge of Ayurveda, an upaveda of the Atharva Veda. Daksha Prajapati learnt Ayurveda from Brahma and passed it along to the celestial twins and physicians of the gods, the Ashwins. Lord Indra got this knowledge from the Ashwini twins, then from him it went to Sage Bharadwaj, then Atreya Punarnava, then his disciples Agnivesh, Bhel, Hareet, etc. After being handled by a few more sages, the science of Indian medicine, Ayurveda, was developed into three schools by the sages Charaka, Sushruta and Kashyapa, all of whom have compendiums named after them.

When it comes to the development of medicine from the times of ancient India, there are two major areas, which are Kaya Chikitsa, or the science of general medical treatment specially of the body, and Shalya Chikitsa, or surgery. Soon after this had been established, the branches were standardized into eight, resulting into Astanga Ayurveda. These include Shalya (surgery in general), Shalakya (supraclavicular surgery, mainly head and neck), Kaya Chikitsa (medical treatment of the body), Bhuta Vidya ( management of mental diseases or psychiatry), Kaumarya Bhritya (pediatrics), Agada Tantra (toxicology), Rasayana (elixirization), and Vaji Karana (counseling on sex and geriatrics).

Many of the old treatments have been mentioned in regard to the ancient Vedic traditions, such as how to rejoin the head of a horse after it had been severed in a yajna [Vedic ritual], or the restoration of sight to the sage Chyawan, or restoring his senility, etc. But many more developments were made from the medical foundation.

To explain further, the teacher/disciple lineages are traced to three original teachers: Atreya for internal medicine; Dhanvantari for surgery; and Kashyapa for gynecology and pediatrics. The teachers who provided the means to extend the teachings of these systems are Sushruta (generally accepted to be around the 6th century BCE) of the Dhanvantari tradition who codified surgical practices; Charaka (1st century BCE) of the Atreya school, who codified the precepts and practices in internal medicine; and Vagbhata II (6th century CE) of the Kashyapa school, dealing with gynecology and pediatrics. Bhela (7th century CE) was another scholar of the Atreya school whose compilation of the Bhela-samhita has survived the years. However, one point to consider is that the knowledge for these traditions existed for at least several centuries if not thousands of years before they were codified, such as found in the Atharva Veda and the associated Garbhopanishad which are repositories of knowledge in this field.

Medicine is primarily in the Atreya tradition, and the sage Charaka is famous for propagating this tradition with his Charaka Samhita, said to be the first and main book of Ayurveda.

Treatments like surgery are in the Dhanvantari tradition, from which the famous surgeon Sushruta propagated this tradition with his Sushruta Samhita. It is considered that in 600 BCE, Sushruta recorded complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, hernia, intestinal surgery, bladder stone removal, rhinoplasty or plastic surgery of the nose, and brain surgery, plus suturing, the knowledge of the instruments needed for particular operations, types of forceps, surgical probes, needles, and cutting instruments.

Over 125 surgical instruments were described and used, including lancets, forceps, catheters, etc., many of which are the same or similar as those we still have today. Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics, and immunity is also found in these texts. The Sushruta Samhita is over a thousand pages of descriptions of various diseases, their causes, likelihood of getting them, and treatments. Therein many topics are clarified further with dialogues between Dhanvantari and his disciples. The Sushruta Samhita has 192 chapters, the first nine of which are about 125 different surgical instruments, what they are, what material they are made of, and which type of surgical procedure for which they are used. This also describes ways of stitching wounds and different dressings for various wounds.

Though he mentions many different kinds of surgical instruments, he emphasized so much on the cleanliness of the atmosphere and sterilization of the instruments before or after the surgery, and the ways to do it, that even modern surgeons are amazed. He also wrote about how to make the patients senseless, or the first mention of the use of anaesthetics to help in operations or surgery.

In addition to general surgery, he also discusses trauma and describes six varieties of injuries involving almost all parts of the body. He also gives treatments for 12 varieties of fractures and six types of dislocations, as well as amputations and principles of traction, manipulation, and post operative physio-therapy. Sushruta also made contributions in the development of rhinoplasty in nose and ear replacement, which was a branch of surgery that Europe ignored for another 2000 years. No single surgeon in history has the credit of such contributions, making him the most versatile genius in medical history. 1

The Sushruta Samhita also mentions the surgical removal of harmful tissues or elements born out of what would be cancer in such organs as the intestines.

Even as far back as the times of the Shatapatha Brahmana, which goes back several thousand years, we find a complete description of the function of the heart. It explains that the heart functions through three actions of taking, giving or propelling, and circulating. The Naadi Gyanam Granth also explains that the heart acts in contraction and expansion over and over again. The Bhel Samhita also describes that it is the heart from which the blood flows out and goes to various parts of the body. 2

The ancient advancements in understanding the various functions of the body can be illustrated by the fact that Harvey, of the 17th century, is usually credited to be the discoverer of blood circulation. However, both Sushruta and Bhela as well as Charaka clearly indicate not merely the existence of blood circulation, but also the purpose of blood supply to the whole body, viz. to supply nutrition. It is most noteworthy that Bhela goes to the extent of describing blood circulation even in the foetus. It is understood that blood is a transitory but vital constituent of the body, transitory in the sense that it is always replenished and is ever on the move. Its flow never ceases as long as life exists and why should it flow like this incessantly is an inexplicable mystery (adrustha hetunal). It is nothing but the essence of the food that we take which is transmuted by the rasa kriya or the chemical action of the body to an assimilable form, as the Sushruta Samhita explains (14.3).

Therein it describes that which is the lustrous essence of the well processed food, which is also greatly subtle, that is called rasa. Its place (when it forms a constituent of blood) is the heart. Entering into the 34 arteries from the heart… it satisfies, nourishes and develops, bears and supports, and also continues to maintain for so long the entire body.

We can find additional knowledge of veins and arteries in the Atharva Veda (1.17.1) and the earliest mention of surgery is found in the Rig Veda (1.116.15) where the Ashvins fitted an iron leg to Vishpala who lost her leg in a war. Then in the Atharva Veda (4.12.3-5) we also find a prayer for joining the disjointed parts of the body. 3

The Bhela Samhita (20.3) further points out that it is from the heart that rasa issues forth and from this, the latter goes on to all places (as arteries or dhamanies). The heart is reached by the veins and therefore the veins are said to be born of the heart. (This is a clear conception of the heart-artery-body-vein-heart cycle or circulation of blood with heart as the center.) 4

The Charaka Samhita was the book by the sage Charaka some 2500 years ago. This is the main treatise of the system of Ayurvedic medicine. It consists of 120 chapters in eight sections on surgery, eye and head treatment, therapeutics, toxicology, pediatrics, pharmacology, and medicine preparation, mental diseases, and treatment of reproductive systems. Charaka is the first to point out the effects of diet and activity on the mind and body. He also understood the fundamentals of genetics, and how to determine the sex of a child being carried in the mother. He also established how birth defects was not necessarily due to any defect in the mother or father, but to the ovum or sperm of the parents. He also counted 360 bones in the body, including teeth.

The sage Charaka also explained that nature provides all the natural medicines in the area a person lives. The Rig Veda also names over 1000 herbs and plants used for medical purposes. Thus, a person must investigate the plants and vegetables around oneself and use them. The Charaka Samhita talks about 341 plant-generated medicines, another 177 from animals, and 64 from minerals. The Sushruta Samhita also discusses 385 plant-generated, 57 animal-generated and 64 mineral-generated medicines and how to use them. All kinds of powders, distillates, decoctions, mixtures, gels, and various other kinds of medicines were produced from these. 5

According to a World Health Organization report, there are about 400 families of flowering medicinal plants of which 315 families of plants can be found in India. In the old days, the Ayurvedic practitioners prepared medicines from the flowering plants individually for each of his patients, which, unfortunately, is not the way it has been done for many years.

Historically, though surgery in Bharatvarsha had developed to a great extent in ancient Ayurveda, it declined from the period of Buddha onwards because of emphasis on non-violence to the extent of banning dissection. Hence the contents of present day Ayurveda are essentially of Kaya Chikitsa and its medical material. The developments of knowledge and its practice as medicine had reached a zenith much before the times of Buddha, while the Greek civilization and its achievements in medicine are principally post Buddhistic, such as after 620 BCE. The historians of western (modern) medicine trace its origin to this Greek civilization. 6

Nevertheless, we can understand that surgery and medicine was already highly developed in India while the rest of the world remained completely unaware of these possibilities. Nevertheless, a well‑developed medical system was fully in existence by the 1st century CE. Progress in medicine led to developments in chemistry and the production of medicine, alkaline substances and glass. This also brought about colorfast dies and paints that were developed to remain in good condition over the centuries. The paintings in the caves of Ajanta are a testimony to this.


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The Charaka Samhita explains, AThe basic aim of the concepts and fundamental principles of all sciences is to establish happiness in all living beings. But a correct and thorough knowledge of the basic principles of the universe and the body leads to the correct path to happiness, while deceptive knowledge leads to the wrong path.

The whole point of Ayurveda is found in the meaning of the word, which is Ayur (span of life) and veda (the knowing thereof). This means it is a knowledge of the span of living given to an individual, to extend it, to render it healthy, happy, salutary, and exuberatingly excellent. In this light, diseases are accidents brought about by pragna aparadha, meaning the willful transgression of the laws of living, which confer svasthya or health. Its specialty is that it recognizes self or soul as integral to living, and mind is but an organ of it, best employed so the mind does not lead it astray. This is jitendriyatva, control of the sensesBthe surest way to never get a disease.

To explain more clearly, Ayurveda is the Vedic system of holistic medicine. It has become quite popular in the West and is continuing to gain ground and acceptance. Acharya Charaka has been called the father of medicine, known most for his work, the Charaka Samhita, which is like the encyclopedia of Ayurveda. What he covers still hold its value even after three millennium. These include human anatomy, embryology, pharmacology, circulation, and diseases, such as diabetes, tuberculosis, heart problems, etc.

Ayurveda is traditionally divided into eight branches, according to Charaka, which are: 1. Sutra-sthana, general principles, 2. Nidama-sthana, pathology, 3. Vimana-sthana, diagnostics, 4. Sharana-sthana, physiology and anatomy, 5. Indriya-sthana, prognosis, 6. Chikitsa-sthana, therapeutics, 7. Kalpa-sthana, pharmacy, and 8. Siddhi-sthana, successful treatment.

Sushruta was another noted physician who greatly developed the Vedic system of medicine. He had been a professor of medicine in the University of Benares nearly 3000 years ago, and wrote his Sushruta Samhita in Sanskrit, a process of diagnosis and therapy, which had been given to him by his teacher, known as Divodas Dhanvantari. Two other authorities appeared later, which were Vagbhata, who was present in Sindha about two centuries before Christ, and Madhava, who appeared in Kishkindha in Andhra in the 12th century. There is a Sanskrit verse which explains, “Madhava is unrivaled in diagnosis, Vagbhata in principles and practice of medicine, Sushruta in surgery, and Charaka in therapeutics.” It is known that the Arabs and Persians translated the knowledge of Sushruta and Charaka into their own language in the eighth century CE.

It should be understood, however, that many surgeons were known in India before Shusruta, but he was the one who compiled the knowledge which came from the teachings of Divodas Dhanvantari, who had been king of Kashi according to the Sushruta Samhita. Panini, said to have appeared around 800 BCE according to historians, mentions both Charaka and Sushruta, so they had to have appeared sometime before that. This means the dates that are generally accepted for their appearances, as previously listed, are too late and not accurate.

In any case, the impressiveness of the medical system of India was noted by many people. For example, Arthur Selwyn-Brown, who came to India during the British rule as an English dental surgeon and studied Indian medicine, wrote in his two-volume publication Physicians Through the Ages, “Indian medicine is an extremely old science. Ayurveda, the most ancient medical science of India, is the oldest medical science of the world, and history has distinctly shown that Western medicine is the offspring of Ayurveda.”

Sir W. W. Hunter explains in History of Hindu Chemistry: “The surgery of the ancient Indian physicians was bold and skillful. They conducted amputations, arresting bleeding by pressure, a cap-shaped bandage and boiling oil; practiced lithotomy; performed operations in the abdomen and uterus; cured hernia, fistula, piles; set broken bones and dislocations; and were dexterous in the extraction of foreign substances from the body. A special branch of surgery was devoted to rhinoplasty, or an operation for improving deformed ears and noses and forming new ones, a useful operation which European surgeons have now borrowed. The ancient Indian surgeons also mention a cure for neuralgia, analogous to the modern cutting of the fifth nerve above the eyebrow. They devoted great care to the making of surgical instruments and to the training of the students by means of operations performed on dead bodies spread over a board or on the tissues and cells of the vegetable kingdom, and upon dead animals. They were expert in midwifery, not shrinking from the most critical operations, and in the diseases of women and children.”

To understand more about what Ayurveda is, I let Pratichi Mathur, an Ayurvedic practitioner herself, tell us about it from the book, Vedic Culture: The Difference It Can Make in Your Life:

“So what is Ayurveda exactly? Literally translated from Sanskrit it is composed of two words ‘Ayus’ which means life and ‘Veda’ which denotes knowledge. So Ayurveda is the knowledge of healthy living and is confined not only to the treatment of diseases. Life is a vast, and an all-encompassing phenomena, which includes death. On one end, life is a celebration of birth, growth, child bearing, youth and sexuality; on the other end, life also brings forth disease, decay, aging, and loss of vigor. Ayurveda is that ancient art and science that helps us understand this very ‘life’ with all its different shades and colors; understand how best we can undertake this journey; and how we transition through its different phases, example from teenage, to adulthood, to maturity, etc. Following the principles of Ayurveda brings about a profound understanding of the inner ability to have sound body, mind and spirit. From this point of view, Ayurveda is a compendium of life and not disease. This is a major agenda indeed for any system of medicine, but can it be any less–especially if true healing has to take place. Perhaps, this is exactly why Ayurveda manages to get to the root of the disease that distresses the mind or the emotion that ails the body.

“Ayurveda has twin objectives–maintaining the health of the healthy, and cure illnesses of the diseased. Ayurveda, which is not just a system of disease and its management, but literally a living dynamic philosophy and manual on the art of living, is well fitted to meet its objectives. On one hand Ayurveda offers treatments like Panchakarma or even surgery for the diseased; and on the other hand Ayurveda offers preventative medicine for the healthy. These include elaborate details for following ideal daily and seasonal routines, specialized diets for optimizing health and immunity (Ojas), Rasayana Chikitsa (promotive therapy), Vajikarna Chikitsa (aphrodisiac therapy), Swasthavritta (regimen to stay healthy furnishing details on topics such as exercise, smoking for health), Sadachar (social hygiene), etc.

“Ayurveda advocates a complete promotive, preventive and curative system of medicine and includes eight major clinical specialties of medicine namely, (1) Medicine (Kayachikitsa), (2) Surgery (Salya Tantra), (3) ENT (Salakya Tantra), (4) Pediatrics (Kaumatabhritya), (5) Psychiatry (Bhutvidya), (6) Toxicology (Agad Tantra), (7) Nutrition, rejuvenation and geriatrics (Rasayan tantra), and (8) Sexology and virilization (Vajikarana). This shows what a developed science Ayurveda was in ancient times.

“The exact origin of AyurvedaAyurvedaorigin is lost in antiquity is lost in the mists of antiquity. Since Panini is placed at 7th century BC and Ayurveda depicts non-Paninian Sanskrit grammar, it is logical to place Ayurveda between 6th B10th Century BC. Tracing the continuity of Ayurveda, it is natural to look for the continuing thread in India’s ancient Vedic tradition. Although the term Ayurveda does not seem to appear in the Vedas, and it appears first in Panini’s Ashtadhayayi, however, there are positive evidences to show that in the Vedic period, medicine as a profession was prevalent. The Rig VedaRig Vedamentions Ayurveda and the Atharva Veda both mention that there were thousands of medical practitioners and thousands of medicines. References to Ayurveda are found as early as the Rig Veda. The three Rig Vedic gods Indra, Agni and Soma relate to the three biological humors: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. References are made of organ transplants as in the case of the artificial limb of queen Vishpala, daughter of King Khela. The functions of physicians are also described in the Rig Veda.

“Rishi SushrutaRishi Sushruta, famous Ayurvedic surgeon, also holds that AyurvedaAyurvedaa supplement of Atharva Veda is a supplement (upanga) of the Atharva Veda. While several other sources including the famous Hindu epic Mahabharata speak of Ayurveda as an upanga of Atharva Veda; several other schools of thought hold Ayurveda as a fifth Veda (Panchamveda). Perhaps Ayurveda grew from Atharva Veda first as a branch and then as a comprehensive vast system deserving it’s own status, or it developed parallel to the four Vedas as an independent knowledge (with close resemblance to the Atharva Veda).” 8



Long before there was the Hippocratic oath, the basis of the attitude the medical practitioners should have, there was the oath described in the Charaka Samhita (Vimana Sthana Adhyaya 6.8-14), which says, AIf you desire success in profession, success in wealth, attainment of fame and heaven after death, you shall pray everyday while you get up or while you sit, for the welfare of all creatures beginning with the cows and the brahmanas. With all your attention, endeavor to secure the health of your patients. You shall not desert or injure your patients even for the sake of your living. You shall not commit adultery with others  women even in mind. Similarly, you shall not covet others  possessions even in mind. You shall not be a drunkard or a sinful man, nor should you associate (yourself) with the abettors of crime. You should speak words that are gentle, pure and righteous, pleasing, worthy, true, wholesome, and moderate. Your behavior must be in consideration of time and place, and heedful of the past experience (you have gained in all these matters). You shall act always with a view to the acquisition of (new) knowledge and the excellence of the equipment (as are needed for your exciting profession).

In this way, the atreya anushasana, or oath taking ceremony prescribed for both students and teacher by Charaka is much more comprehensive and elegant compared to the Hippocratic oath taken by the modern medical students. This samhita tradition dates to 7,000 years back, whereas the Hippocratic oath dates back to only the 4th century BCE.



In regard to surgery, what became known as plastic surgery had already been known in India for many years. However, as described in India=s Glorious Scientific Tradition, by Suresh Soni (pp.183-84) one example of its affects were witnessed by two British doctors named Dr. Thomas Crasso and Dr. James Findlay. This was in 1793 when a person, a Marathi coachman named Kavaasji, had to have a new nose. The doctors watched and submitted a report with pictures in the Madras Gazette, which was republished in the October, 1794 edition of Gentleman Magazine, London. It is described therein:

AAn artificial nose made of fine wax is placed instead of the nose that has been cut off. This wax is spread on the forehead of the person (who has to undergo the plastic surgery). An outline is marked out and the layer of wax is removed. Then, the surgeon takes out the skin of the similar shape from the patient=s forehead while it remains stuck to a small portion below the eyes. Because of this joint, the portion of the old nose that is left is divided into two. An incision is made behind it. Now, the skin from the forehead is brought down and stuck to the incision.

ATerra Japonica (yellow kattha) is made into a dough after mixing it with water and spread over a piece of cloth. Five or six such pieces are placed one on top of the other and kept in the place of the surgery. After keeping this kind of a bandage for four days, a piece of cloth soaked in ghee is placed on it. After twenty days, the joined skin (from the center of the eye) is removed and the new nose is given the proper shape. The patient has to keep lying down for the first five days after the surgery. On the tenth day, cylindrical pieces of cotton wool or soft cloth are placed inside the new nostrils to keep them open.

It was further explained, This operation was always successful. The new nose used to stick permanently and would start looking like the old nose. Even the mark on the forehead, made by removing the skin, would vanish after sometime.

Obviously, this report created reactions at the time in the European medical world. The entire process for nose replacement, along with over 300 other surgical operations, had been given in the Sushruta Samhita. Nonetheless, the surgeons from all over Europe studied the above process, and after understanding the method, a 30-year-old surgeon named Dr. J. C. Carpew transplanted the nose of a man in 1814. This operation was also successful. This brought about a revolution in surgical treatment and it was given the name Plastic Surgery. All surgeons, including Dr. Carpew, unanimously agreed that plastic surgery was a gift from ancient India.



We also find a description of the process of vaccinations that was used for the small pox disease in Bengal in an article called An Account of the Disease of Bengal; Calcutta, of February 10, 1731. It explains that there are many cases of small pox in Bengal. For this, vaccination is given in the same way that Dr. Jenner [who is said to have discovered vaccination in 1798] had later done by making a vaccine out of the pus. In Bengal too, pus was collected from the blisters of small pox patients and stored for use the following year. The entire process had been given in detail in this journal. In this way, the process had been performed in India years before it had been done in Europe.

Another example is from the book, Operation of Inoculation of the Small Pox as Performed in Bengal: 1731. This describes the process that was done. But it is interesting that in reply to the question to the villagers regarding how long this process had been going on, the author says that it was evident from at least 150-200 years earlier, but in answer to who discovered it, the villagers of Bengal replied that Dhanvantari had showed them the path. This makes the method so old that it is lost in antiquity.



As it is explained by B. B. Chaubey in Science and Technology in Ancient India, AIt would be a great surprise for the modern scientists to know that India has to its credit besides many sciences, the development of embryology in the Vedic period. Though we do not find a systematic treatment of the subject, some hymns of the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda and frequent references scattered in the Vedic texts give a clear picture of the knowledge of the Vedic seers about this branch of science. Hundreds of technical terms concerning the development of the infant from conception to birth occurring in Vedic texts are testimony to the fact that the Vedic scientists had a very sound knowledge of embryology in that hoary past when people of most of the countries were living a savage life. How the semen (ritas) is formed and how does it develop together with Rajas after being placed in the womb, all these things have been described in Vedic texts. The Brahmanas have many references to the process how the male and female child is born, giving arthavada [or authority] to the ritualistic injunctions [that describe how to conceive a male or female]. The Vedanga literature too supplies ample material in this regard. The Puranas, especially the Garuda Purana [along with the Bhagavata and others] gives the details how a man appears in the womb. 9

Furthermore, the knowledge of the body was quite precise. The Sushruta-samhita (Sharirasthanam, Adhyayah 5, paragraph 6) gives a description of the body as Aa collection of 7 layers of skin, 7 tissues, 7 receptacles, 7 elements, 700 tubular vessels, 500 muscles, 900 sinews, 300 bones, 210 joints, 107 vital parts, 24 (blood) vessels, 3 humors, 3 impurities, 9 sense organs, 16 tendons, 16 plexuses, 6 bunches of muscles, 4 muscular chords, 7 (fibrous) sutures, 14 bony complexes, 14 terminal formation, 22 capillaries, and 2 intestines. Hardly any book of that era gave such details.

How these develop in the body is also explained in the Sushruta-samhita, which offers a rare explanation, especially considering the time in which this was written: AIn the fourth month, the division of all the major and minor organs manifests. Because of the manifestation of the heart, the gaining of consciousness becomes evident. How? Because of its position. Therefore, in the fourth month of pregnancy (the foetus) seeks sense objects. (The foetus) communicates its desire to the pregnant woman. By the dishonoring of such desires, the woman generates a hunchbacked, crippled, lame, paralytic, dwarfed, cross-eyed or blind child. Therefore, whatever she desires, have them given to her. The pregnant woman who gets what she desires generates energetic and long-living child.



As we would expect, if the ancient area of India was known for its advancements in medicine and surgery, it would also have developed the means for progress in dentistry. There is evidence from the Neolithic site of Mehrigarh in Pakistan on 11 individuals from 7500 to 9000 years ago. This is long the main route between Afghanistan and the Indus Valley. This is mentioned in a report in the April 6, 2006 issue of Nature. They discovered drill holes on a least 11 molars from people buried in the MR3 cemetery. Light microscopy showed the holes were conical, cylindrical or trapezoidal in shape. A few had concentric rings showing drill bit marks; and a few had evidence of decay. There were no fillings, but tooth wear on the drill marks indicate that each of these individuals continued to live on after drilling was completed. It is noted that the instruments were small flint tipped wooden drills to fix the teeth.

Dr. Arthor Selwyn-Brown writes in The Physicians Through the Ages (page 274): “You will be agreeably surprised to know that dentistry in all its branches was well known and practiced by the old Hindu doctors. Searching into Ayurveda, one finds that there is a whole chapter devoted to the mouth cavity, wherein are described all the operations that are known to the present-day Western dentistry, such as: 1. Extractions by forceps; 2. Extractions by elevators; 3. Lancing of the gums; 4. Removal of the Tartar; 5. Fitting of artificial dentures. That dentistry must have existed then is certain, for even today, we come across cases in which front teeth are decorated with gold or jewel studs by Indian jewelers. As a dental surgeon, I appreciate that difficulty of drilling a through and through hole which is required for such decorations, without killing the nerve of these teeth; and yet thousands of teeth are with impunity perforated for this decoration. The work is so well done that any modern dentist might be proud of it.”



In discussing the age-old medicine systems of ancient Bharatvarsha, we should also include a look at the special Soma plant, which was also known for its potency as a curative and energy giving ingredient of the ritualistic elixir of ancient Vedic ceremonies. It was a respected brew and medicine in its own right, used for heightening one’s strength, vitality and consciousness.

As described in The Rig Veda and the History of India, by David Frawley, he explains what and where the Soma plant could be found. A…I identified Sharyanavat with Lake Manasarovar in Tibet, which is the source of the Sindhu, Sarasvati and Sarayu rivers of Vedic fame. Yet, while Lake Manasarovar was perhaps the ultimate Soma lake and source of the Sarasvati, the lakes in Kurukshetra and those in Kashmir were important Soma areas as well. Soma referred to plants growing in the lakes of north and perhaps central India. However, it appears that the main Soma lakes were those in the Sarasvati region, which probably existed even before the river began to dry up.

AThis may also explain why Soma disappeared. Soma was mainly a plant cult of the Sarasvati area and the Sarasvati-based Vedic religion. When the glaciers had largely melted and the Sarasvati stopped flowing, most of the Soma lakes and the areas of Soma worship also disappeared or shifted.

AIt cannot be a coincidence that the loss of Soma in the Vedic religion and the demise of the Sarasvati River went together and occurred about the same time! The [simultaneous] loss of the Soma plant and the loss of the Sarasvati River reflect the same geological, climatic and cultural changes at the end of the Vedic age! Vinashana Soma and Vinashana Sarasvati represent the same phenomenon! That Sarasvati and Soma lost their earthly counterparts and became mythological in later texts shows their close connection. 10

AAccording to Sushruta, the great Ayurvedic teacher, Soma grows in all the mountain regions of India. However, the main Soma lands are Kashmir, particularly its lakes, and beyond it across on the Indus in the mountains, the regions of Gilgit and Ladakh. These Somas are named after the meters of the Vedic hymns, showing their special importance in the Vedic ritual.



After the early development of medicine in early India, it started to spread elsewhere, and it was in Tibet where it got its greatest popularity. It was there in the 8th century where a big work in four parts, Chatustantra in Tibetan, entitled Amritahridaya, was translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan. The teaching within it was ascribed to Buddha Bhaishajyaguru. But some of the passages are clearly quotations from the Charaka or Sushruta Samhitas. The work then went into Mongolia, and then into Russia in the following centuries where it again became quite popular. Several other texts were translated into Tibetan and were included in the Tibetan Tanjur. The first one was Yogashataka, and then the extensive Ashtangahridaya of Vagbhata, together with two extensive commentaries. Indian veterinary medicine is also included in the Tibetan Tanjur, with a translation of the Ashvayurveda by Shalihotra. 12

From there, and from India itself, it spread into Europe and throughout the world. Today it has strong advocates in the West. More doctors are trained in it, more students study it, and an increasing number of people see and experience the advantages of following this holistic system of medicine, especially as a means of preventative medicine to keep the body healthy. In this way, here is another example of the old Vedic culture that remains as relevant today as ever.

When studying Ayurveda, the literature that was produced are of three basic categories:

  1. The classical works, which include the Samhitas of Charaka, Sushruta, Kashyapa, Bhela, and so on. Vagbhata was another noteworthy text, along with later ones such as Bhava, Prakash, Madhava Nidana, and Rasaratna Samucchaya.
  2. The second category includes the lexicons or famous Nighantus. These start with the Dhanvantari Nighantu of classical times up to the most recent Shodala Nighantu. These presented the medical material of the contemporary times.
  3. The third category are those texts of modern times and authors that blended the Ayurvedic with contemporary medicine and more current techniques. These days, this third category can be found in numerous places around the world. 13




  1. Niranjan Shah, India’s Sushrut Was First Surgeon of World, India Tribune, July 5, 2008.
  2. Suresh Soni, India=s Glorious Scientific Tradition, Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2010, pp. 172-174.
  3. Dr. Manabendu Banerjee, Dr. Bijoya Goswami, Science and Technology in Ancient India, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, Calcutta, 1994, p. 5.
  4. K. H. Krishnamurthy, Medicine and Surgery in Ancient India, a Yugayatri Publication, Bangalore, pp. 39-40.
  5. Suresh Soni, India=s Glorious Scientific Tradition, Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2010, p. 177.
  6. K. H. Krishnamurthy, Medicine and Surgery in Ancient India, a Yugayatri Publication, Bangalore, p. 3.
  7. Ibid., p. 4.
  8. Prathichi Mathur, in Vedic Culture: The Difference It Can Make in Your Life, edited by Stephen Knapp, 2005, pp. 165-166.
  9. Dr. Manabendu Banerjee, Dr. Bijoya Goswami, Science and Technology in Ancient India, edited by Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, Calcutta, 1994, pp. 72-3.
  10. David Frawley, The Rig Veda and the History of India, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 146-7.
  11. Ibid., p. 147.
  12. Jean Filliozat, The Expansion of Indian Medicine Abroad, published in India=s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, Published by Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai, 1970, p. 69.
  13. K. H. Krishnamurthy, Medicine and Surgery in Ancient India, a Yugayatri Publication, Bangalore, pp. 1-2.


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