Author: Dr. Priyanka Shandilya.
Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine is said to have its roots Atharva veda(1). But, there have been multiple efforts by (videshi) foreign authors, intended to disconnect “Ayurveda” and its paradigms from the Vedas. The attempts question the very antiquity and the indissoluble ancestry with the Vedas. These interpretations give a false view that, Ayurveda and Vedas are isolated bodies of knowledge and are not related in anyway. The primary intent, it might seem, is to give an impression that Ayurveda is not part of the Vedic wisdom. Almost all of the questions raised and the interpretations provided can be seen to be deriving from the lack of a holistic understanding of the Indian traditional sciences . The true essences have not been grasped and this has resulted in misinterpretations of the principles and paradigms of Ayurveda through myopic western constructs.
Some of these videshi authors see the description of Anatomical structures in atharva veda as “accidental” mentions(2). Few authors go on to say, the names of “Sages” that appear in Charaka samhita, are mere Interpolations to make the text/Ayurveda, appear more closer to Vedas(3).
The question that whether Ayurveda has its root in Vedas, could be resolved only when the very “Process” and “context”, that led to the “manifestation” of Ayurveda is pondered upon and known. Here, an attempt is made to explain the process of “manifestation” of Ayurveda and its inseparability with the Vedic wisdom, with the help of a few direct and contextual references from the classical treatises of Ayurveda.
Manifestation of Ayurveda
We should first know “HOW” and most essentially “WHY” Ayurveda manifested/came into existence.
I am deliberately not using the term “Originated”, because it is mentioned in the classical literature that the wisdom of ayurveda was not created afresh.
Ashtanga Hrudaya, one among the three greater classical treatises of ayurveda states, “lord Brahma out of his memory recollected the wisdom of Ayurveda, and did not create it anew”(4). Sushruta samhita one among the three greater treatises of ayurveda,too opines that it was only an expression of existing wisdom of Ayurveda and not its creation anew(5).
Why was ayurveda formulated ? – The Milieu
It was when the diseases started bothering the sages impeding their Dharmic practices (tapa- upavasa-adhyayana-brahmacharya-vrata), that the need for a science that instilled health and cured the disease, arose (6). It is said that, in the early phase of satyayuga, people were gifted with an unlimited span of life (Ayu) because of their constant indulgence in the dharmic practices. But, at the end of satyayuga, some people became lethargic and as a result, they started hoarding for the future and this in turn led to attachment and greed. Later, in Treta yuga , the “Negative emotions” (Arishad vargas) dominated the human mind and it lead to a reduction of some amount of dharma, consequent to which there was a reduction in span of life (Ayu) too. Later, the process continued and the disharmony in components like “Agni and maruta” set in and the first disease to manifest and afflict the mankind was the jwara(~ Fever) (7).
The sages in their quest for a solution to the diseases (shamopaya), approached Lord Indra for a science that could take care of the diseases and bestow a good health. This is the milieu of manifestation of ayurveda.
It has been repeatedly mentioned in the classical literature that, Ayurveda was not created afresh but was rather a manifestation of wisdom that existed. Also, it is said that the wisdom of ayurveda an upa-anga of atharvana veda, was current even before the creation of mankind (8). Which means the wisdom which was already present was articulated and given a proper form. And “Ayurveda” a science that explicitly dealt with health and illness came into being.
Something similar to the process of manifestation of Ayurveda, is the description of manifestation of another allied Indian science of aesthetics, which is the “Natyaveda”, which too is considered as having its roots in the Vedas (9). So, the question of something new arising or originating does not arise, as it was only a change in the form and a convergence of paradigms to cater to a specific need. The medical wisdom which was already existent was given a much vivid form/framework so as to cater to the medical needs that had greatly increased then.
Ayurveda and its Vedic ancestry – Considerations
Many foreign (videshi) authors attempt to de-link Ayurveda from the Vedas. They try searching for the emblematic terms of ayurvedic literature in the Vedas(10) and upon not finding them “verbatim” conclude that, as the ayurvedic terms are not found in the Vedas, ayurveda has no roots in it.
One example that is found repeatedly quoted is of the term “Tridhatu” appearing in the Rigveda. Acharya Sayana, commentator of Rigveda and Atharvanaveda, commenting on term (Tridhatu) says that “Tridhatu is to be understood as Tridosha”. This is correct when seen in ayurvedic context, as the “Doshas” when functioning optimally are termed as “Dhatus” as they help sustain the body. However, whether it is the same as “tridosha” that the Rigveda is referring to in this context can be clarified only by the Vedic-Sanskrit scholars. However, this view of Acharya Sayana equating “Tridhatu”of Rigveda to “Tridosha” of ayurveda, has been refuted by some western authors(10) and they have concluded that tridhatu mentioned in rigveda is not the same as tridosha, hence, ayurveda/its paradigms have no antecedents in Vedas(11).
“Vedas”- A seed for eternal wisdom
But, the whole attempt of going in search of the emblematic terms of Ayurveda in Vedic literature, specially “verbatim” itself is not right. Because, firstly the principle subject matter (Adhikarana)of Vedas is not “Disease and Illness” and second and most importantly the terms mentioned in “Ayurveda /Ayurvedic literature” or any in other Indian sciences for that matter, be it the Yoga or Natyaveda, are called as “Swasanjna”(12) (~Emblematic terms) . In addition to this, the meaning of the terms have to be understood with the help of “Padartha tantrayukti” (It is a method of text analysis that helps determine meaning of a term, based on the context), as the meaning of a term significantly varies based on the context in which it is mentioned.
What is “Swasanjna” tantrayukti? Tantrayuktis, are the keys that are formulated to decode and decipher ancient Indian treatises. In ayurvedic literature, they are typically presented at the end of each treatise. It is the tantrayukti that facilitates an accurate understanding of the treatise. “Swasanjna”(~ Emblematic terms) are those terms which are specially designed, extensively- explicitly mentioned in a particular Indian science(12). Example- Vata-pitta-kapha-Tridosha etc.,of Ayurveda. Hence, the emblematic terms like “vata-pitta-kapah”, may not be found in vedic literature verbatim, as they are swasanjna/specific to Ayurvedic science. If ayurvedic concepts were already found explained verbatim in the Vedic literature and as elaborately as it is in “Ayurvedic literature”, there was no need for a separate science.
The concepts and paradigms of Ayurveda in the “seed form” were already there in the Vedas, because the “Truth” remains unchanged and is unswerving across sciences in Indian tradition. Based on the principle subject matter a separate tantra(~science) flourished, rooted robustly in the Vedas.
One simple example for this is the presence of the term “Ayushya”(~ life span enhancing),Ayushyagana in Atharva veda (13), which is repeatedly mentioned in Charaka samhita, naturally because the very principle subject matter of Ayurveda is to deal with substances/actions concerned with ayushya ( Life span enhancing) and anayushyani dravyani (Life span depleting) entities. [Ayurveda, the science dealing explicitly about the “ayu”]
Ayurveda – An upaveda of Atharvaveda.
The concepts and fundamental ideas of Ayurveda in the seed form, were already current in the Vedas and period prior to them. The eternal enduring truth was explained across sciences wherever relevant and necessary. It is mentioned in Charaka Samhita that, the Vaidyas (~Physicians) owe their loyalty to Atharvaveda, as Atharva veda is the one that offers to treat a disease through non-corporal means like Charity-propitiatory rites-Worship-auspicious activities-oblations-observing restraints(dana-swastyayana-bali-mangala-homa-niyama- prayashchitta)(14). These practices enhance the “ayu”(Lifespan) of an individual. And ayurveda is a science revolving entirely around various aspects of “AYU”. Hence, the loyalty and semblance.
Just because the terms like “vata pitta kapha /Tridoshas,”(for example), are not mentioned “verbatim” in the Vedas, it would be wrong to surmise that Ayurveda /its concepts have no Vedic ancestry. Besides, the descriptions concerned with practices of “Rasayana,Vishatantra,Bhuta vidya Vajikarana”(Branches of ayurveda) are present in atharvana veda (15).
It would be totally wrong to sever connections of Ayurveda or for that matter any other Indian science from the Vedas.
Indian tradition offers various divergent paths to converge at the supreme being, the practices and paradigms of which are spread across the various sciences in Indian tradition.
Ayurveda, is one such science among many other sciences from Indian wisdom, which is said to elevate a person in both Physical and spiritual spheres and lead a person to “Moksha”.
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Priyanka Shandilya is a practising ayurveda physician, based in Mysore. She completed under graduation and post graduation from Government Ayurveda Medical College, Mysore affiliated to Rajiv Gandhi University of Health sciences (RGUHS), Bangalore. (Read More)
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