India and Ayurveda

“Life (ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond.”

— Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, 1.42-43

Ayurveda is the science of life, the origin of most forms of natural and alternative medicine and has its mention in one of the oldest (about 6,000 years) philosophical texts of the world, the Rig Veda. Etymologically it is composed of two words Ayur and Veda. Ayur means life and Veda means science or knowledge. Hence, literally Ayurveda means Science of Life. Ayurveda is not only a medicinal system it is a way of life, a philosophy.

In its broader scope, ayurveda in India has always sought to prepare mankind for the realization of the full potential of its self through a psychosomatic integration. A comprehensive health care is what this natural and alternative medicine prescribes for the ultimate self-realization. Ayurveda is considered to be the most ancient medicinal form.

Life according to Ayurveda is a combination of senses, mind, body and soul. It deals not only with the physical aspect but also spiritual health too. The laws of the nature govern it. According to ayurveda the structural aspect of every individual is made up of five elements, namely: earth, water, fire, air and space. The verses of Rig Veda, the earliest source of ayurveda, refer to panchamahabhut (five basic elements of the entire creation), and the three doshas or primary forces of prana or vata (air), agni or pitta (fire) and soma or kapha (water and earth) as comprising the basic principles of ayurveda.

The most fascinating aspect of ayurveda is, it was using almost all methods of healing like lifestyle regimen, yoga, aroma, meditation, gems, amulets, herbs, diet, jyotishi (astrology), color and surgery etc. in treating patients. Though ayurveda came into being as an independent upaveda of Atharva Veda, it has close links with other Vedas also. The Yajur Veda, which recommends rituals to pacify the panchamahabhuts in a view to heal both the Cosmic Being and the individual soul, is related to ayurveda in its principles and regulations of lifestyle. The upaveda called Dhanur Veda or the martial arts and ayurveda both refer to each other in the treatment of marmas or sensitive points in the body. Ayurveda recommends specific ayurvedic massages, exercises and bodywork for this purpose.

Evidences show that ayurveda had nurtured almost all the medical systems of the world. The Egyptians learnt about ayurveda long before the invasion of Alexander in the 4th century BC through their sea-trade with India. Greeks and Romans come to know about it after the famous invasion.

In the postmodern age, the popularity of this vibrant tradition of ayurveda lies in its, subtle yet scientific, approach to heal a person in its totality. It aims, not only at healing the body, but also the mind and spirit, at one go. Its unique understanding of the similarities of natural law and the working of human body, as well as its holistic treatment methods, help it to strike a balance between the two. This gives ayurveda an edge over other healing systems. Perhaps that’s the reason behind ayurveda being the longest unbroken medical tradition in the world, today. It is important to note that Ayurveda was originally a consciousness based system of health care. Its philosophy, expressed in modern terms, is to strengthen the immune system.

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