Itihasa: Saga of Ayurveda

Itihasa: Saga of Ayurveda


Surendranath of Indic Today and Indic Academy welcomed the panelists and audience. He explained that the purpose of this program was to bring out the historical perspective and place Ayurveda in its entire context as part of the gamut of traditional Indian knowledge. As we are all aware, Indic knowledge systems do not have strict silos; rather, the domains overlap to form a continuum. The pursuit of knowledge of Ayurveda is interdependent with knowledge in the Vedic corpus, including the Vedas, Vedangas, and Itihasas.

Where is Ayurveda situated, then, in different aspects of Indic knowledge? How does it relate to the Vedangas, Tantra, Jyotisha, other Shastras, and Itihasa? How do they interact with each other? 

Language in Ayurveda

Dr. MV Nateshan, the HOD of the Education Department, discusses the relevance of language and Sanskrit and Vedangas in the field of Ayurveda. 

We have to think about 5 comparts: Knowledge (Jnana); Text; Narrative Style; Methodology; Practice. 

Dr. Nateshan explained the narrative styles, which are so important in conveying the messages of various texts of Ayurveda. “Charaka, Sishruta, etc., all have been composed in different narrative styles. Generally, in Sanskrit, all shastras, such as Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Vyakarana, Vedanta, etc., are composed in sutra style. Every sutra has vritti; vritti has vartika; vartika has vyakhyan; and then tika, uptika, panchika: these are all different narrative styles.”

He then forayed into answering “How is knowledge divided?”

  • In the Indian tradition, knowledge is either vidya or kala. Indic systems have 18 vidyas and 64 arts or kalas. Ayurveda is a vidya, a knowledge. 
  • According to Panini, the grammatician, there are 5 divisions of knowledge: Prokta Literature; Drishti Lit; Upagnatha Literature; Krita Literature; Vyakhyana Literature. Ayurveda and Shadangas are part of Prokta, which is expressed knowledge. 
  • In Upanishads, knowledge is divided into Para and Apara Vidya. Apara Vidya has 18 sections, and Ayurveda falls within this. 
  • The final classification is Sastra, Kala, and Darsana. Ayurveda falls within Sastra, never a Darsana. Why? Is it a wrong classification? Darsanas are Astika (6); Nastika has Jaina, Charvaagha, and Buddha. “Actually, Ayurveda is a Darshana,” the speaker pronounced.

In order to understand the inner meaning of each discipline, it is important to follow the principles of Shadangas, according to Patanjali in Mahabhashyam. 

When we hear “Veda”, we think of the four major vedas. Often Ayurveda students don’t read the major 4 vedas, so they don’t follow Shadangas. Vedas are knowledge, whether it is Sastra, Kala, or Darsana. They are also vidyas. So everyone must study all the Shad Vedangas. It is not only for vedic scholars. We have to go into the content of the Shadangas.

For example, let’s take the Shikshas: only 33 of 66 are published; the others are in manuscripts. What is the importance for Ayurveda students? Regardless of what the text you are studying, you should understand how the language, what the style of teaching is, etc. Shiksha shastra explains the phonetics. We have to understand that also, otherwise, the meaning changes. For all the Shastras, you need the linguistics knowledge also.

Another example: Kalpa Sutras has 4 divisions. One is Dharma Sutras, where Dharma Sastra emerged from; Mathematics came from Shilva Sutras. We see a lot of linguistics philosophy within these texts. We need grammar, Vyakharana. It is important for any student in order to understand whichever text they are studying, because it’s the technicality that is so important. Thus, We see the connections between the different texts, and understand the need for the Shadangas. 

Jyotisha in Ayurveda

Dr. Sankaranarayana Sarma discussed the relevance of Jyotisha. Ayurveda is an upaveda and Astrology or Jyotisha is a Vedanga. Ayurveda has a huge component of Rtucarya and Dinacarya, seasonal and daily timings. Timings are the major foundation also found in Jyotisha. 

Jyotisha is studied to understand the right time for everything. We need to know the right timing, even for seed cultivation. Even when someone comes for medical help, the timing has to be right for the full result. Ayurveda places a lot of importance on the 6s Rtus, which is based on the seasons, the Uttarayan and Dakshinayan. Based on them, there are diseases, and we have to treat them accordingly. An individual may carry some diseases from previous births and karmas. Such diseases are classified into 2: Nijam-- imbalances of the doshas; Agandhika-- unexpected.

Astrology also has 2 types of Agandhika: Klesha and Asadya. You can identify the asadyas: If there is any chance of saving the life of the patient, we have to go through the horoscope. So Ayurveda Doctors used to also be great Jyotishas. Astrology is essential for effective Ayurvedic treatment. 

The importance of Astrology can be seen through the concept of studying. In the gurukula system, Ashtami, Chaturthi, and Chaturdashi are not auspicious for learning. Why should we lose these days for studying and working? Certain days won’t give good results. Anyway, nowadays we want holidays on Sundays. But previously, we took the days off based on the moon’s influence on the body and mind. The same thing happens for asthmatic patients: they have the most issues during Amavasya and Poornima, because the water level of the ocean is influenced by the tides. The influences of the planets and moon have been explained by the Jyotisha. Even the days of the week are determined by the planetary positions. In the Hindu calendar, there are 60 years. This is the Vikari, or highly inflammatory, year. So the Corona Virus was destined to come. The systems that were developed by the ancient sages, are still relevant today. 

Dr. Sankaranarayana Sarma also showed the importance of worshipping all aspects of nature-- from snakes and rats to banyan trees and turmeric and tulsi plants, from the earth to the sun. This is the way our Indian sages. They knew about things such as remote control and aeroplanes, even perhaps they were talking about animation. Nowadays children want animated animals to watch, but our Gods all had these long back, from Ganesha and Narasimha as animal-man bodies and 

They relied on the solar system and the planets moving around us, and we have to believe there was some truth in that. Jyothisha also has a medical astrology branch. In the Shodasakarmas, we use astrology to fix auspicious times. We always take a muhurta. 

Darshanas in Ayurveda

Acharya Vasudevan, from the Ayurvedic Trust and Ayurveda College, discussed Darshanas and Ayurveda. 

Ayurveda is the knowledge of life (Ayuh), connected with Atharva Veda. We have to recognize and understand the value of the visions, the darsanas, that were received by India’s eminent sages. What they have experienced cannot be tested in labs. Prajapati took the Ayurveda from smriti or memory, and gave it to Indira, and it has continued through the guru-shishya parampara like that. 

There are six darshanas according to the Vedic System: Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta

Darshanas are essential for the study of any knowledge. We have vedangas for the Vedas to form the complete system. And there are 18 branches of knowledge in Vidya Sthana. And everything is connected together. One knowledge is prevailing, that’s the veda. We have the Shastras, Kalas, Darshanas. It is ultimately one knowledge with many diversions. All of them are linked together. In Vidya-Sthana, Ayurveda is a portion, as an Upaveda of the Atharva Veda, according to Shusrutha. It is also an Upaveda of Rig Veda, some other Acharyas say. No Shastra is independent of Darshana. Just like the Vedas have Vedangas, Darshanas are an integral part of Shastras. Some of the Darshanas are part of the Vidya-sthana, some are not. For example, Sankhya Shastra for Sankhya Darshana; Yoga Darshana; Vedanta Darshana. Everything is interdependent and part of the same whole.

Vedas have two parts: the body, and the head. The body of Veda is the Karma Kanda. The head is the Jnana Kanda. Just as the head is different from the body, and together they constitute a whole, living body, the Karma Kanda and Jnana Kanda together provide a complete picture. Karma is about the action, which is destined. Jnana is the knowledge about the ultimate being. Though they are different in the approach, they are linked to form a whole. Jnana Kanda can be seen as a continuation of Karma Kanda, and Karma Kanda can be seen as a manifestation of Jnana Kanda. It is a depiction of the natural world, the Maya.

Then when you look at Ayurveda, there are sublime knowledges which are not yet present in the current day Ayurveda awareness. Everything is there, and ready to bloom, just like the seed of a plant has everything to offer, and just needs the right inputs. 

Before doshas, manas, etc., before the physical, there was a subtle existence, and before that, there was an existence of the world soul. Health is not just a feeling of well-being for the physical human body. It is connected to the subtle, spiritual, mental, and intellectual aspects. But right now, we are not using those. We also forget the knowledge of Sanskrit. Then, we have to be connected to Jnana, Vaisheshika, and Yoga. Even to the other three vedangas. 

We use the pramanas of Ayurveda to understand the philosophy. Each Darshana has its own pramanas, and those are given to Ayurveda: Pratyaksham, Anumanam, Arthopadesham. The elucidation of Pramanams 

When you take the structure of Ayurveda, the Shastra, it is constituted with the Darshanas. For example, where did Ayurveda get the Panchamahabhootas from? From Sankhya Sashtra, Nyaya Shastra, and so forth. What about the tri gunas? It is from Sankhya. Nyaya and Vaisheshika teach us about Parama as the smallest particle we can have. Each body is composed of paramas, the whole cosmos is. Then Sankhya also teaches us about parinama, or evolution. Once a body is created, it is subject to changes: from birth to death, it grows and deteriorates. This transformation is the theory of Sankhya, and Ayurveda utilizes this. In essence, Ayurveda is about creation, sustenance and destruction. We use these, but we don’t have deeper knowledge, nowadays. But we need to have knowledge of Darshana to understand its relevance in Ayurveda. Darshana can be confined to a jiva (Ayurveda), or a house (Vaastu), or trees (Vrkshayurveda). All these are part of our daily lives. So we need to include all of them in our study. Each part of the body is protected by a devata. 

These aspects are ignored today, because we don’t start from the beginning. We also don’t go fully to the end. This is the issue in Ayurveda studies today. But, you don’t need to know all the texts. Even by going deep into one Shastra, you will know many Shastras.

Mythology and History in Ayurveda

With a beaming smile on his face, Dr. Kirathamoorthi started by explaining that mythology and history as subjects in Ayurveda have been reduced, because people believe it is not important. But, there is a lot to learn from those, especially to plan for the future. 

We know what history is, but we don’t know how to study and connect mythology. Remember, Rome was not built in one day. Ayurveda was also not built in a day, it has a history of 10,000+ years. Vedas refer to Ayurveda: even before creation, even before birth of humanity, a treatment system was required. 

Dr. Kirathamoorthi then began regaling us with the very purpose of mythology and history with his engaging storytelling about the Ashtavaidyas, proving his very point. Once there was a vaidya was walking, and two birds came and asked “thorukh, thorukh” or “Taha Arukh”. The vaidya understood what the birds were saying, and responded: “Nityam Hitamita Boji Krita Chankara Mana Kramena Vaavashaya Avituka Muthra murisho, Sthreeshuyadatma, So Arukh”. That is, there are three pillars for Ayurveda: Exercise; Dietary habits; and Sleep. 

Though it is a story, it has a significance. There’s a lot to be imbibed from mythology to get the knowledge of the Shastras. If Darshana is the soil, Ayurveda is the tree. This is grown from mythology and history. Without Mythology and History, Ayurveda cannot exist. If Ayurveda is the Upaveda of either Atharva or Rig Veda, it is eternal. Not the books, but the principles. Just like gravity existed before Newton enlightened the world with his theory. Indira didn’t learn or teach about the medicines; he learned and taught the principles. With the principles, you can treat anyone or anything. Samanya, Vishesha, Sidharta and Padartha are the keys to open the doors of Ayurveda. This shows the relevance of history and mythology to go deep into Ayurveda.

Dr. Kirathamoorthi continued show how the knowledge was part of the universe. Brahman can be known by any life form. That’s what the story of Varaha was about. We know that some animals will take their own version of herbal medicines when they are not well. 

Once there was a fight between the Devas and Asuras. A king’s wife fractured her tibia in the fight. The bone was crushed and difficult to manage. So the Ashwini Devas fixed a steel rod in the leg. Now, modern science utilizes steel rods in the same way. The story shows that Ayurveda has knowledge that is needed for contemporary issues as well. Other stories talk about medicines that can be used for TB, worms, fever, cough, insanity, diabetes, obstruction of urine, leprosy, skin disorders, longevity, and much more. 

Ashwini Devas were the physicians for the gods. Ayurveda talks about 2 types of physicians: 2 types of physicians: Deva and Manusha. Deva: Indira, Ashwini, Daksha. But they learn from each others experiences, through stories. Medicines are also explained in the vedas, Mantras are also talked about as a therapy. “Brahma Smritva”-- the knowledge existed before Brahma, and he remembered. Brahma gave the knowledge to Daksha Prajapati, who gave it to Ashwini devas, and they passed it to Indira. 

How do we translate and interpret these stories to a new Ayurvedic student? We have to make it palatable to them. When you have a mythological background, you can see that the Ayurvedic devatas are actually qualities. It gives a human atmosphere to the devata. It may not be a personified. For example, Brahma devata is not a person with 4 heads. It is someone who has different types of knowledge, coming from the different sides. Daksha devata is the one with all the capabilities. Daksha is the son of Brahma. That means, capability comes from knowledge! And then the Twin Ashwini Kumaras: because you need both capability and knowledge to make it useful. Then, when that is combined, it comes to Indira, it is shining and radiant! He can give the knowledge in the correct manner to the Maharishis. 

Upto Indira, it is a mythology, then it becomes a history. There are 3 systems of Ayurveda, though the knowledge is the same. It is based on the interest and capacity of the student. Atreya (medicinal), Dhanvantari (surgical), and Kashyapa (treating of children). 

Manlaya (Manali) and Ulapakantaka (Kullu) are listed in the Mahabharata when the Pandavas walk up. But after that, there was Swarga, Heaven. It may be from Mt. Kailash, and there was knowledge there. The Tibetan system probably came from there, where they got the knowledge and then returned. 

Daksha has 24 daughters based on qualities. Sraddha, Bhakti, Dhriti, Tushti, Pushti, etc. So a physician also needs 24 qualities and areas of capabilities. So we must insist on teaching these subjects to the students.

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