Origin of Ayurveda

According to Astangahrdaya, ayurveda has no beginning. Brahma revealed it to Prajapati. He passed it over to Indra, Atreya and others. Here, we have to discuss the concept of anadi; also the characters referred to. But, unfortunately this period is shrouded in mystery, what we get are the exaggerated statements and legendary accounts. We have to reconstruct the history from these materials. Before entering to the process of re-construction, let us examine some of the accounts available to us.

  • The Susruta version

    According to Susruta, ayurveda is auxiliary to Atharvaveda. Brahma created it even before he created man. It consisted of one lakh verses in thousand chapters. Vagbhata follows Caraka and Susruta and explains that Brahma recalled and revealed it thereby signifying that creation is only the revelation of what already existed.

    Susruta says that Lord Prajapati learnt it from Brahma, the Asvinis from Prajapati, Indra from Asvinis and Divodasa from Indra. Divodasa is Dhanvantari. From Dhanvantari Susruta, Aupadhenava, Vaitarana, Aurabhra, Puskalavata, Kara, Virya (Karavirya), Gopuraraksita, Nimi, Bhoja, Kankayana, Galava and Garga learnt the science with the emphasis on surgery and compiled their own works. All the samhitas endorse the lineage up to Indra.

  • Caraka Version

    According to Caraka, Indra revealed the science to Bharadvaja. Towards the end of krtayuga, justice waned and selfish people began to accumulate more wealth. Gradually, they fell a prey to evil passions and subsequently to diseases. Diseases took away the long life from them. The sages pitied them and they assembled on the Himalayan slopes to find a remedy for the human suffering. In this connection, special reference is made to sages like Anghiras and many others. They sent Bharadvaja to Indra to learn ayurveda. Indra was pleased with him and revealed to him the secrets of medicines. From Bharadvaja it passed on through Atreya to Agnivesa, Bhela, Jatukarna, Parasara, Harita and Ksarapani. These sages compiled their own samhitas.

  • Kasyapa Version

    According to Kasyapa, Vasistha, Atri and Bhrgu learnt it from Indra. They passed it on to their sons and disciples. Jivaka compiled Kasyapasamhita. Jivaka, Parvataka and Bandhaka composed paediatric treatises.

    The sages received from Indra the ayurveda with all its eight branches. Divodasa laid stress on surgery, Atreya on medicine and Kasyapa on paediatrics.

The Legend

The stories in the puranas are different from samhita versions. An example is Brahmavaivartapurana. According to it, Prajapati elevated ayurveda like the four Vedas and revealed it to the sun; who compiled the samhita and presented it to his sixteen disciples. Each of them composed their own samhitas.

Ayurveda also embraces the treatments for birds, animals and plants. Sage Salihotra composed ayurveda for horse (asvayurveda) and sage matanga ayurved for elephant (hastyayurveda). Ayurveda for tree (vrksayurveda) is composed by Surapala; but all these are sub-divisions of Brahma’s ayurveda. According to Agnipurana, Dhanvantari imparted the ayurveda for man, elephant, horse, cattle and trees to Susruta.

All legendary accounts trace the origin of ayurveda to Brahma and consider it as a part of the vedic lore. But alchemy, which is a prominent part of ayurveda, owes its allegiance to saiva tradition. Ayurveda in its original form was vast, and varied in content. It is said that there were one lakh verses and one thousand chapters in Brahma’s ayurveda But the samhitas and tantras available today have only one hundred and twenty chapters in eight parts, They were abridged so due to the short span of life and limited intelligence of the people of later ages!

In krtayuga man lived for four hundred years. In the succeeding ages, the life span became shorter and shorter. In kaliyuga this came down to mere one hundred and twenty years. So, for the benefit of those who were not as intelligent as those in the olden days, it was necessary to abridge ayurveda so as to be learnt in a short life span. Thus, the march of time ate out the fund of knowledge.


A close study of our medical texts reveals the progress that ayurveda has made in course of time. The ayurveda with one lakh stanzas traditionally believed to have been created by Brahma is not available now. The knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation by oral tradition; it was after a long time that the knowledge was recorded. During this period, when the vast knowledge began to be compiled, many things might have been lost. But the descriptions and prescriptions of medicines were preserved in tact. The primitive text was the prototype of the present knowledge of ayurveda with all its branches.

On a comparative study about the medical references and the studies expressed in the Vedas and the vedic literature, it can be observed that Atharvaveda is more affluent with the references than the rk, sama and yajurveda. The samhitas mark a further step from the Atharvaveda.

Medicines in Vedas and vedic-literature

Caraka and Susruta declare that though the three Vedas contain ideas of ayurveda, it is the Atharvaveda that deals with it elaborately. Kasyapasamhita points out the origin of ayurveda from Atharvaveda and upanisats. Elaborating on, it says that all Vedas depend on ayurveda and this becomes the fifth veda. It also describes the indivisibility of both the Vedas and states that there is ayurveda in all the Vedas but more of it is dealt with in Atharvaveda.

The word ayurveda

Susruta derives the word and explains it as the science of longevity. Kasyapa says – ‘by this, long life is known and obtained. Ayurveda branched out as a science in the post- vedic Period. The term ayurveda does not occur in any veda; there are only expressions like bhaisajya and ayusya in the vedic period.


There are several wonderful deeds attributed to the twin Asvinidevas in Rgveda. They rejuvenated Cyavana and Vandana in their old age; restored the life of Dirghatamas who was hacked by his servants; blessed the queen Visphala, the wife of Khelaraja, with metal legs when she lost her leg in the battlefield, treated the severed limbs of Atri and others; restored life to Syavasva who was incised into three pieces in battle; replaced the head of sage Dadhici with that of a horse so as to enable him to learn the pranavidya and replaced it with the original head after learning the mantra; blessed blind Rjvasva and Kanva with eyesight; hearing power to deaf Narsada; enabled lame Paravrja and sage Sona to walk; blessed Vadhrimati, wife of an eunuch, with a child; got back Visnvasva, the missed son of Visvaka; cured leprosy of Kaksivati and Syava. Prayers are offered to Asvinidevas for grant of effective medicines; knowledge of medicines and herbs through them; prayer that both of them ever remain physicians by medicines; prayer for eyesight, eternal youth and for a life of 100 years. The cows of sages Arcalka and Samyu that had gone beyond childbearing-state were made capable of bearing calves that yield plenty of milk; Indra’s blessings to blind Paravrja with eyesight and lame Srona with strength to walk; healing of skin afflicted Apala and her father’s baldness; Indra carrying medicine; description of many poisons and germs and their treatment; alleviation of different types of tuberculosis; treatment with sunbath for heart diseases; medicinal quality of water; description about medicines, yaksma, ajnatayaksma, rajayaksma, grahi, pustyamaya, sipisimi and hrdroga. Thus, many descriptions about diseases and herbs can be found in Rgveda.

In two hymns of 12th chapter of suklayajurvedasamhita description of the curative qualities of drugs, alleviation of diseases like slesma, arsa, svayathu, gandu, slipada, yaksma, mukhapaka and ksata; description of anatomy of horse, human beings and their ailments in different chapters, explanation of diseases like yaksma, kaphaja, sopha, pakarus, arsa, visucika, hrdroga, tvagroga, arma, kustha and anghabheda are found. In kamesti portion of taittiriya, prayers are found offered for the relief from blindness, yaksma and unmade. The causes of yaksma, rajayaksma and allied diseases are also given. Samaveda contains many hymns on ayurveda in addition to those found in Rgveda.


In Atharvaveda, there are plenty of hymns affluent with special procedures and treatments on rejuvenation and cure that are not found in any other Vedas. In the other three vedas, matters related to health appear incidentally; but in Atharva, they have a prominent place – matters related to prescriptions for ailments appear repeatedly.

The names relating to diseases that come up are significant. The description of takma disease and its variations, instructions on satata-sarada-graisma-sita-varsika-trtiyakas,the variety of jvara and its use in manduka; instruction on jvara the then common in jungle region of Munjavan, Balhika, Gandhara, Anga and Magadha; vitiation of kapha in bones, joints and heart; the fifty-five variety of manyagandamala, seventy-seven kind grivagandamala and ninety-nine types of skandhagandamala; various other ailments are also referred to in Atharvaveda.

References about nerves and blood-vessels in physiology, statements about hundreds of arteries and a thousand veins; indications of many diseases with physiological descriptions and many other expressions are available in the hymns of Atharva.

In the treatments – for mutrakrcchra, initiating or tempting urination with an arrow or a catheter; water treatment for wounds, opening matured boils with catheter; thus many methods of treatment based on surgery can be seen. Descriptions of different germs that enter in the body and make diseases and the technique to eliminate them; eradication of germs that affect the eyes, nose and teeth, description of germs having different colours; eradication of germs that affect human beings and animals using sunbath; healing of heart ailments, anaemia and jaundice using sunrays; healing of diseases by sudation, sunbath and water bath in the morning; using river water for heart ailments; medicinal quality of water and the exhilatory air of forest and hills; the medicinal properties of air; description of health; means of overcoming impotence or eunuchism, etc. are available.

In the range of drugs – nakta, rama, krsna and asikni having curative power in diseases like kilasa and palita; suvarna, asuri, surupi and syama for skin ailments; a special medicine from anthill for curing dysentery and frequent urination; effect of prsniparni in preventing abortion, vitiation of blood and strengthening physique; the curative power of horn and hide of deer in tuberculosis, leprosy and fits; effect of durvasatavirya in many diseases and its medicinal properties for enhancing health and long life; rejuvenating power of vrsasuska; effect of rohini in healing injuries and joining severed parts; the power of sahadevi and apamarga to assuage hunger, thirst and in ailments of limbs and krtya and satru; the enormous medicinal properties of silacya; the powers of kuth to control takma, yaksma and kustha and the effect of its fumes for all demons and ailments; the efficacy of jangida in fevers like asarika visarika, prsthika, visasarada, its description, wearing of its gems to annihilate enemies and to attain a healthy long life, as panacea its efficacy against visakantha, yaksma, vata svitra, dadru, pama and arsas; the efficacy of visana in bleeding and vata; effect of varana in yaksma; the medicinal properties of pippali in ksipta, atividdha, vidradhi, lohitaka and visalyaka; use of cipadru in vidradhi, kapha diseases, lohitaka and visalyaka; use of devititli for abundant growth of hair; fumigation of guggulu to control tuberculosis; use of ajasrngi for diseases infected through air and water; guggulu, pilanala, dyauksagandhi and pramandi for water-borne diseases; asvattha, nyagrodha and sikhandi to check all contagious diseases; the nobility of herbs; the varieties and description of asikrsnaprsni, prastrnnati, stambini, ekasunga, pratanvati, amsumati, visakha, kandini, vaisvadevi, ugra, avakolva, tiksnasrngi and other medicines; descriptions of vaiyyaghramani made out of various plants and descriptions of many plants like asvati, garbha, soma, vrihi, yava, puspavali, phalini, prasumati, many other fruitless medicinal plants, many of those effective in poison diseases like krtya and slesma; descriptions of sana, sahayava, soma; toxological properties of the herb brahmana; ayastambha’s efficacy in healing wounds caused by poisonous animals, weapons, and plants; the anti-toxic nature of varana and prakraya; explanation of various serpents and the medicinal properties of tambuva and tassuva for their poisoning; anti-toxic properties of madhupa, rusnisi and pala; anti-toxic property of valmikamrt (according to Sayana) or silacya (according to Griffitts) and madhuka; treatment with poison for poison; strapping darbhamani to get relief from alien invasion, in the offering to Indra and for morbid fears; tying of audumbaramani for robust health. Over and above, descriptions of hundreds of drugs, their varieties, usage, application, etc. can be seen interspersed in Atharvaveda.


In Aitareyabrahmana, references to the origin of the body and soul, designation of Asvinidevas as physicians of god, expressions of sensual organs, drugs that alleviate diseases; curing eye diseases by application of collyriums; insanity and leprosy caused by curse and the expression in Sunahsepha story of abdominal dropsy due to the anger of Varuna, etc. can be seen.

In Chandogya, description of blood vessels of the heart; the digestive process; sleep and dream; pama ailments; ways to live for one hundred and sixteen years without diseases, etc. can be seen.

In Brhadaranyaka, elucidation of limbs of horses and men; heart and blood vessels; comparison of man with a tree; descriptions of eyes; death; diseases caused by curse, etc. are detailed.

Samavidhanabrahmana gives instructions to keep away from snakes, attack of demons and diseases. Taittiriya explains the nature of germs.

In srauta works details are seen regarding the diseases to be avoided in sacrificial animals and rtviks in Asvalayaniya and a description of germs in Apastambiya. In grhya works, asvalayaniya says sleeping at dawn and dusk produces illness, about the diseases that should not affect yajamana and treatment of cows. In Sankhyayaniya, prohibition of reciting mantras when one is ill; elimination of demos from food items during agrahayana sacrifice; treatments for all ailments, etc. are discussed. There are elucidations in Gobhaliyasutra regarding mantras that cure the ailments; treatments for snake bites. Apastamba elucidates treating women patients with padmapatra; identification of ardhavabhedaka as the cause of germs, statement about demon Kukkura causing fits in children and medicines for inherent diseases in children. In Paraskariya, reference to the treatment of pressure-point massage therapy for sirasula; in Hiranyakesiya, curative effect of fire and treatment for inherent diseases in children are detailed. In Khadiragrhyasutra, description of germs, letting sick cattle graze in the places where sacrificial fumes are spread; treatment for snakebite, etc. are available. Thus, several descriptions related to medicine are seen in these texts.

In Kausikasutra, while explaining hymns, it instructs to consume purified water or drugs by extolling particular hyms for particular disease and do havanamarjanas. Kausikasutra, compiled based on mantrasamhitas, deals mainly with mantric procedures. However, it also refers to meat and fat diet in diseases like vatikatakma and wine in slesma ailments. It prescribes oils for vatapittaja ailments; in dhanurvatanga-kanpasarira-bhangadivata cases, it recommends nasal drops of ghee (nasyam); suskapankamrttikapanam in bleeding and in excessive menstrual flow; consumption of rice prepared with turmeric for heart ailments and jaundice; application of a paste made out of red kuth, cow-dung and flowers of bhrngaraja, haridra, indravaruni, nilini for white leprosy; application of paste made out of pippali for vitiated vata; irrigation on weapon-wounds with lac decoction; overall application of the paste made out of kuth mixed with butter for rajayaksma, leprosy, head-ache and body ache; drinking of powdered lac mixed in milk for the relief of cuts by weapons; application of paste made out of seashell for gandamala; using leeches for blood-letting; sprinkling powdered rock salt; use of cow’s urine in wounds; tying up purgatives like abhaya (Terminalia chebula) in the case of obstruction of urine and faeces; drinking of akhu, kiri, putikam, mathitam, jarat, pramandam and sravaskam mixed in water; horse-riding and archery; irrigating the milk channels of the cows udder with water mixed with twentyone yava, through an inerted sisna; method of using catheter; drinking of alavisolaphandam in kvatha form of yava-godhuma-vallipancamula and pavika and many similar and treatments are mentioned. Mantra purified santyudaka is a remedy for various ailments which is prepared by mixing pacificatory drugs like sami, sama, kasa, vamsa, samya, vaka, talasa, palasa, vasa, simsipa, simbala, sipuna, darbha, apamarga, krti, lostam, valmika, vapa, durva, prantavrihiyava, etc. Thus, it can be seen that Kausikasutra is closely related with Atharvaveda in medical knowledge and mantric factors.

A close study on the above statements regarding health-care, physiological and medical factors, elicit striking dissimilarities between Rgveda and its allied literatures on the one hand, Atharvaveda and Kausikasutra on the other in the interpretations.

Rgveda and Atharvaveda – difference in approach
Rgveda prescribes wonderful cures but does not give the methodology followed in the process. They are the result of divine powers which are not subjected to practical analysis. Rgveda invokes for curing; but Atharvaveda, on the other hand, uses medicine purified by mantric rites and sending of spirits by mantric powers for the cure.

There can be two assumptions –
The mantras and medicine unknown to the rgvedic period gained acceptance and popularit in the age of Atharva and 2. If the two vedas are considered to be contemporaties, the knowledge of these medicines emerged from different sources and at a later period got merged into a common stream.

Vedic literature and the samhitas – differences

There are some fundamental differences between vedic literatures and samhitas. Comparatively ayurveda is nearer to Atharvaveda. But neither in the Atharvaveda nor in the other vedas do we find the physiological basis for the studies that is seen in the later samhitas. The term tridhatu found in the hymn of Atharvaveda is interpreted as tridosa by some commentators, but the term itself and its cogent physiological explanations are not found anywhere in the vedas. In Atharvaveda, physical and mental disorders are ascribed to their respective deities or to demons, and medicines do not take effect due to their inherent properties on a cause-effect basis. Kausikasutra has more advanced views. It gives the use of medical formulations. The samhitas, howerer, clearly enumerate the properties of each medicinal component and lay down the procedure for using them. Hence, we come across treatments based on the principles of purification and control. Clear procedures are prescribed as in the case of pancakarma. Evil spirits and mantric ways do show up in the samhitas too but only within the confines of reason. The word ayurveda is not found in the vedas, the words used there to denote the idea are bhaisajya or bhisak. During the time of samhitas, the science that emerged with its principle and vision was basically different from that of the vedas. What we get from the vedas are the seeds; it grows in the samhitas nourished by different discussions and concepts of the preceptors.

Diverse views on vedic literature

Scholars of vedic literature hold differing views regarding ayurveda that: i. Brahma created the science, composed of one lakh verses, ii. Spread throughout the vedas, iii. It is the fifth veda, and iv. It is an auxiliary to Rgveda. All these interpretations are based on various hymns related to health and medicine contained in the vedas. But many such hymns have been lost. Hemaraja Sharma proves that the thousand suktas of Maricakasyapa are missing in the ninth mandala of Rgveda and that as he is the author of the invocations to the herb soma and other similar hymns, it is possible that the missing hymns relate to ayurveda. Thus, the grand picture of the early medical science with a lakh of verses appears to be justified. The concentration of all medical hymns in one place indicates its unified concept.

All the same, there is a vast difference in the early medical science and the approach to it from that of samhitas. It is more scientific and superior in quality and its form is evolved from a system of scientific knowledge.

From the vedic period to the time of the samhitas, there is a gap of many millennia. Various branches which were nascent in the vedic age got matured and many new disciplines emerged by this time. All of them influenced the knowledge-system of ayurveda.

Vedic and non-vedic sources

Very often the development of ayurveda is studied on the basis of the details available in the samhitas which trace its source to the vedas. It is possible, considering the similarities and dissimilarities of the two, that the vedas provided the seed for the later development of all knowledge; as such, it is indeed proper that we go to the vedas to find the roots of Indian sciences or arts. But the Indus Valley excavations have brought to light relics of an even earlier civilization that existed in India and exerted its friendly and inimical influence on the vedic civilization of the aryans. The medicines, yogamudras, design of townships providing mental and physical health, the way of living, etc. reflect the high medical tradition of the Indus civilization. It is evident that this non-vedic current also has contributed much to the progress of ayurveda.

Vedas are connected with sacrifices. For the vedic-aryans sacrifice was life’s fundamental activity for their social, creative spiritual and material progress. Many were the problems that came up in course of sacrifices. The sages had to solve them. This led their search to new areas resulting in the development of different branches of knowledge. The history of ayurveda also has to be viewed in this background.

Caranas and parisats

Vedas have many branches. Different groups of disciples studied them under the guidance of preceptors. Learning was on preceptor-disciple basis. Such groups were known as caranas. They started with learning the particular veda. But in the course of study, it extended to many allied topics. The enunciations and pronouncements of learned acaryas with wide practical experience led to commentaries and new observations. This opened new vistas of knowledge in all the groups. Young and brilliant disciples came out with innovative works. Brahmanas, aranyakas, upanisats, kalpasutras, dharmasutras, grhyasutras, pratisakhyas all came up this way in different caranas. The preceptors and intelligent students conferred together and discussed various matters. These conferences were called parisats. New explorations were done through such assemblies.

It was a team work. The system prevailed then was that all the works or literatures that put forth with reference to any carana were named after that particular carana and not by the author. The name of the branches thus come out are usually named after the founder preceptor. The one branch thus founded by acarya Tittiri was known as the taittiriya branch; all the works derived from this i.e. brahmanas, aranyakas, upanisats, kalpasutra, grhyasutra, etc. were known as Taittiriya.

It is not necessary that all the caranas burgeon equally well. Some were confined to sutras of existing works. Such works were called sutracaranas. But in some other caranas, brilliant disciples made new interpretations. Search was extended to the fields hitherto unexplored and new works were composed. With the needs of the society increased, the search for knowledge intensified, new subjects such as ayurveda, natya, vyakarana, chandas, nirukta, purana and itihasa, etc. were developed.

From group-names to individual names

These were developed in two streams; through the caranas and through the individuals. The natyasutra and bhiksusutra referred to in Panini’s Astadhyayi developed through the tradition of caranas, the latter, perhaps through the parasaryacarana of Rgveda. Natyasutra marks the beginning of the theories related to performing arts. This is the development of the sailalaka branch of Rgveda. This is how the preceptors and disciples of this art came to be called sailalaka. Bharata, probably belonging to the sailalika carana, later developed these theories. The knowledge thus redacted came to be known in his name as Natyasastra. Great preceptors studied and investigated new subjects. At a later stage, social changes reduced the importance of carana and the scientific works thus produced came to be known in the name of individuals. The authorship of Natyasastra thus came to be vested on Bharata. Panini too must have made independent studies in extant grammar, utilising the details passed through the pratisakhyas of the caranas. He was not attached to any branch of vedas. The sutras that he compiled in Astadhyayi came to be known as Paniniyam. This pattern, from carana to individual author, was applicable to ayurveda also.

Ayurveda aspires for longevity. The acaryas of later period collected relevant information from the vedas, studied them and added their own findings. The brahmanas, aranyakas and upanisats contain a lot of information, which is not available in the vedic period. Vedas do not refer to the principle of pancabhutas either in the nasadiyasukta that deals with the origin of universe or in the purusasukta that describes the classification of society into different strata. This concept is posterior to the upanisats. Six branches of the veda viz. siksa, chandas, vyakarana, nirukta, jyotisa and kalpa; arts like music derived from samaveda and sciences like ayurveda emerged in this way. This new epistemological atmosphere provides a wider vision and a higher perspective.

Physicians in the vedic age

Rudra and Agni are found invoked in the vedic hymns with the title of bhisak; samhitas confer the position to Indra as the advisor on medicine. ªÉjÉÉè¹ÉvÉÒ: ºÉ¨ÉM¨ÉiÉ ®úÉVÉÉxÉ: ºÉ‡¨ÉiÉɇ´É´É * ‡´É|É: ºÉ =SªÉiÉä ‡¦É¹ÉE ò – thus the status of a bhisak is specified.

There were no caste distinctions in the vedic age, but later the caste system divided the society into different strata. At this stage the position accorded to the bhisak in the society became a subject of controversy. The incident of Indra denying the share of sacrifice to the Asvins on the ground that they were bhisaks (physicians), and Asvins winning back the share from the sacrifice performed by Cyavana, to whom they had granted youth in his old age, gives a clue to this controversy. The smrtis also testify the disregard shown towards the physicians. Atharvaveda also suffered this ignominy; it was considered to be of the asuras due to its esoteric content promoting black magic. The other three vedas were considered divine. In course of time, compelled by practical exigencies, the gap between the trayi and Atharvaveda was narrowed. At a later stage, Atharvaveda elevated the status of Brahma and came to be designated as Brahmaveda. This initial contempt towards Atharvaveda was applicable to medical science also. But gradually the situation changed. At this stage the status of vedas was bestowed on medical knowledge and Brahma came to be regarded as its creator. The term ayurveda is not found used in the vedic age; it appeared in the samhitas at a later stage. Its study became essential for the people belonging to all four categories. According to PC Ray, the belated recognition was the result of this compromise.

The purport of epic stories

None can say definitely the period of the exact origin of medical science. Life sustains through struggles. The fight for survival begins by birth. Even inanimate objects show this tendency. Thus, it would not be an exaggeration if we say that the knowledge of medicine comes to be acquired even before the genesis of life. But it develops only with the development of conscious life. This knowledge had no separate existence in the early stages. When it is said that Brahma recalled ayurveda from memory, it only means that Brahma gave a definite shape to the extant knowledge. This was the case with all the other branches of knowledge.

Man’s life was simple in the early days. The diversity and refinement at a later stage increased his needs. The medical knowledge comprised in the vedic hymns was sufficient to satisfy him at that stage. So, it remained in his memory as complete and omnipotent. But a comparative study will prove that the medical knowledge of the samhitas is far more developed and deeper than that of the vedic hymna.

The concept of Brahma

Lord Brahma has four faces; each one for reciting a particular veda. This concept arose from the sacrifices. Some scholars believe that Brahma symbolizes the community life of pre-historic society. On the discovery of fire, the cave men and women sat huddling together around the fire. Producing, refining and preserving were achieved through the power of fire. The life was formed around the flames. All invocations were addressed to fire; yajna meant the maintenance and worship of fire. Proto-form of production system emerged out of interactions with nature for sustaining one’s needs. Later on, the system of life changed in the society; yet the concept of sacrifice, with Brahma as the controller, continued as a formality. Brahma was assigned the position of the overlord of sacrificer as well as the reciter of mantras. Veda came to be recognised as the beginning and end of all knowledge. The omniscience of Brahma made him capable of recalling and imparting all knowledge.

Now, have we a vedic deity exactly similar to that of Brahma? Yes, the Atharvan. We have already noted the disinclination of aryans towards Atharvan. But later on, Atharvan was recognised as Brahma and Atharvaveda as Brahmaveda. Atharvaveda has close links with Zend Avesta of Persia. The names and deeds of vedic gods closely collaborate with those of the Zoroastrian text. Atharvaveda thus represents a different stream from those of the other three vedas. It was the Persian-link that irked aryans. The term atharva means a priest in Persian, the same as hota. Worship of the fire is the basis of Persian religion. In the invocations to Atharva in the smrtis, Atharva is said to have recalled the three vedas and created the fourth. Atharvan is invoked as the discoverer of fire and the knower of its secret (making fire from arani wood). Producing fire from arani had a significant role in the vedic rituals. Thus there is every reason to believe that Atharvan, who knows the secret of fire, worships fire, recalls the three vedas and recites the fourth veda, at a later stage was transformed to Brahma.

Fire and the inception of creation

The discovery of fire brought a drastic change to the nomadic mode of living of the ancient times. Food items came to be processed in fire and life was centred on the fire place. This social gathering gave impetus for the acquisition and dissemination of new knowledge. The enlightenment enable them to gain strength to control the environment and to device new means of production. This consciousness is euphemistically designed as Brahma. Brahma thus became the beginning of creations. When it is said that the medical science began with the creation, it means that conscious living and medical science came up together.

Prajapati and Indra

Prajapati and then Indra acquired this knowledge created by Brahma. Prajapatis were the heads of clans responsible for the maintenance of its members according to the rules laid down by tradition. Failure or sluggishness in carrying out this responsibility provoked the wrath of the society in the form of curses. Indra was responsible for the protection of aryans. Thus these chieftains were compelled to acquire knowledge of curing to keep their leadership intact. These legendary accounts remind us of the stages of evolution that humanity passed through in the pre-historic era. They also show that the origin of science coincides with that of civilization.

From mantra to science

Treatment at this stage had its own limitations. In the days of hunting, animal husbandry and even in the days of early agriculture, man controlled his surroundings by mantric methods. This was common to the civilizations all over the world. Many things occurred by natural phenomena were mantric to the primitive man. By the development of agriculture and by the invention of advanced equipments capable to recast even the nature, the interaction with nature became more intensive and consequently he acquired more knowledge about it. Natural forces remained beyond his power so long as he concentrated on gathering his food by using crude stone implements instead of production; and he conceived the nature in terms of his own individual feelings or group experiences. He believed that nature also has a life, feelings and passions like him and that it can also be subjugated by invocations, vituperation or protestations as he deals with human beings. This was the background of mantric rituals. While adopting mantric methods against nature, he had to observe nature and imitate it. This led to attain more knowledge on nature.

In primitive period, though the mode of treatment was mainly mantric based, it can be observed that, gradually the predominance in medicine and methods of treatment took precedence over mantras. Atharva is mantra-oriented. This shows its antiquity. All vedas contain mantric cures. The first three vedas uphold on sacrifices and invocations as the means to accomplish the aim and objectives; though this was a continuation to the mantric-oriented psychological thoughts of the early period, it indicates the inception of religious prospect and submission to the nature. The method of pleasing gods for achieving aims adopted in the vedas reflects a change in the outlook of the people.

The medicines of gods, asuras and men

The medical knowledge is classified under three heads – i. that of the three vedas – divine; ii. That of Atharvaveda – demonic and iii. That of samhita – humanistic. Aryans considered others as demons. Designating Atharvaveda as demonic implies its non-aryan origin. The sources of ayurveda cannot be traced to vedas alone; it had received considerable contributions from non-vedic streams also.

Indus valley civilization – medical developments
(2500-1500 B.C.)

The Indus valley civilization is far older than the vedas. Whether this is an aryan or a non-aryan is still a controversy. The relics obtained from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa evinces that a highly developed prophylactic consciousness and curative science existed then. This early civilization reveals the grandeur of advanced health awareness and engineering techniques in the construction of townships with bathing centres and drainage channels. A black ball recovered from there among other things has been recognised on chemical analysis as kanmada (asphalt). According to Dr. Hameed, this mineral secretion might be brought down to this valley for medicinal use, especially for the treatment of urinary disorders.

Another similar item excavated was a layer of horns of deer that were available only in the Himalayan regions. Toys of clay and minerals for entertainment were also found. They were intended for the mental growth of children. The principle behind the use of toys and the mode of their manufacture are explicitly laid down in Jatisutriya of Caraka and Jatakarmottariya of Kasyapa. All these point out the deep concern and the awareness of the Indus people had on preserving the mental and physical health.
The icons of mother goddess recovered along with those of the trinity, and a study of the procedures of their worship indicate that the civilization was matrilineal. The yogamudra excavated indicates the development attained in yogasastra at that time. Yoga requires the control of the body and the mind.

According to historians, the urban nature of the sophisticated layout of townships, the matrilineal customs, beliefs and principles of inheritance, the systems of cremation akin to the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures which give importance to the dead body and the quest for material property, the effort to maintain physical and mental health for enjoyment of life – all these factors point to a civilization that was different from that of the aryans. There are three views among historians in this regard – i. this non-aryan culture belonged to those whom the aryans qualified as asuras, ii. this was a culture of dravidiyan origin and iii. this is traceable to a branch of aryans who settled in India earlier. Whatever it may be, this is quite different from the vedic civilization. This has been designated as a tantric civilization due to the predominance of its tantric and mantric ways. It had imbibed the philosophy of the mantric age, and bears the stamp of its interest in a life of material prosperity. Prof. Needham has pointed out the close similarity of this to the Taoism of China. To achieve eminence in architectural, medical and other sciences so essential for man’s happiness was the aim and inspiration of this civilization. The influence of such a tantra-oriented, matrilineal, goddess-worshipping culture is still very much in evidence in a large section of the Indian society. According to Deviprasad Chatopadhaya, it was from such an outlook on life that systems of thought like lokayata or barhaspatya developed. This background is much the same as that of the early sankhya view that nature is primal and the world is evolved from it. The yogamudras of Indus valley reveal that yogasastra, aiming at the development of the mind and body, was developed in this background. Any curative science can develop only from a society that aspires long life. Thinking on these lines we can conclude that this tantric Atharvaveda stream enriched the finding of ayurveda in the samhitas. The qualitative change in the samhitas was due to the intervention of this new culture. Hence the samhitas are not a mere continuation of the vedas.

The Caraka-Susruta-Kasyapa-samhitas show the sources of medical science and refer to the experts of the system. Many sages enriched the discussions held under the leadership of Atreya. The term balhikabhisak (doctor from Balk) is derived from Balk (Afghanistan), the country that was already under the influence of Babylonia and Assyria. The names like Aupa-dhenava, Aurabhra, and puskalavata, the classmates of Susruta and authors of samhitas, bestir the memories of many countries. China is often mentioned. All these countries must have contributed to the progress of our medical science and helped its popularization. Caraka points out that many medical systems were current in those days. Ayurveda must have developed through its interaction with many countries and different systems. According to Sri A.B. Keith, the samhitas are compilations of various systems of knowledge. The systems such as sankhya, yoga, nyaya and vaisesika appear in Caraka in a well developed form. The early upanisats attribute the origin of universe either to air or water. Principles regarding four or five elements are later developments. It was after a long process of protracted discussions at various levels that the tridosa incorporating the triguna and pancabhuta principles gained acceptance. This shows a big leap in the ideological plane. This new vision emerged at the time of an intellectual enlightenment in the context of an epistemology inspired by the brahmanas and the upanisats.

The large-heartedness and the quest for knowledge of our ancestors enabled such a high thinking as propounded in the invocation – +É xÉÉä ¦ÉpùÉ GòiÉ´ÉÉä ªÉxiÉÖ ‡´É…ÉiÉ: (may noble thoughts flow to us from all quarters). This vision contributed to the medical science of the samhitas. It imbibed the notions that came from all sources in the practical, ideological and other fields.