History of Ayurveda

Ayurveda includes the word Veda, which is derived from the basic form ‘Vid’ or knowledge. All the four Vedas are known as ‘Apaurusheya’, meaning that they are not evolved from human mind but conceived by the divine mind. Therefore, even Ayurveda, popularly known as the fifth Veda, is originated in the divine mind and descended from the divine sources to the ancient physicians.

This divine origine of the Vedas explains the miraculous curative power of simple herbs described in Ayurvedic texts, experienced in its entirety even today.

The brief history of emergence of Ayurveda tells us that this science was originated in the Divine Mind or Lord Brahma, the creator, who conveyed it to the Daksha Prajapati. From him the entire knowledge was passed on to the Ashwinikumaras who were the physicians of gods.

Ashwinikumaras offered Ayurveda to Lord Indra, the king of gods. Indra had three great physicians as his disciples, viz., Aacharya Bharadwaj, Aacharya Kashyapa and Aacharya Divodas Dhanvantari.

Aacharya Agnivesha was the most intelligent disciple of Aacharya Bharadwaj, and he formed the main Ayurvedic text of internal medicine, which was revised by his student, Aacharya Charak, available to us today as Charak Samhita. Aacharya Kashyapa formed a treatise of pediatrics, which is available in partial form known as Kashyapa Samhita.

Aacharya Sushrut, a renounced pupil of Aacharya Divodas Dhanvantari wrote the most important text on surgery, ENT and ophthalmology available today as Sushrut Samhita. These three ancient scriptures i.e., Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita and Ashtanga Hridaya written by Vagbhatta are known as Brihattrayi and they form the most important database of Ayurvedic medicine at present.

Similarly, the important information about diagnosis of various diseases; different herbs; and that of minerals and various formulations such as decoctions, powders, tablets, Aasavas, Arishtas etc. is stored in three texts viz., Madhava Nidana, Bhava Prakash Nighantu and Sharangdhar Samhita respectively. Together they are known as Laghutrayi.

Dhanvantari — the God of Medicine

Dhanvantari is the God of Medicine in India. The following is the story which tells us how he came into existence.

In ancient times, the Gods and Demons, though cousins, were frequently at war with one another. In one particular war, the Gods were on the verge of defeat. Not knowing where to turn, they went to Brahma, the Creator. Brahma suggested that the Gods ask Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe, for his help.

Vishnu advised the Gods that in order to defeat the demons they needed a special nectar which had powerful medicinal properties and could make them immortal. But this nectar could only be produced by churning the entire ocean in order to harness its ancient healing properties.

To churn the ocean, the Gods needed a very large churning rod. They discovered that a mountain called Mandarachala could be used to swirl the waters of the ocean. The strongest of the warriors tried to drag this mountain to the churning location, but they failed. Vishnu, with the help of Garuda, his transporter, succeeded in bringing the mountain to the ocean. However, when the mountain was placed in the ocean, it sank to the bottom. To bring it back to the surface proved to be impossible. The gods again asked Vishnu for his help. He answered: ‘I will transform myself into a tortoise and hold the mountain on my back until the ocean is fully churned and the magical nectar is obtained.’

Accordingly, Vishnu became a tortoise and lifted the mountain on his back. The gods asked Vasuki, the cobra, to act as a churning rope. The rope could be used to agitate the water around the churning rod. The demons, suspicious of the ongoing events, decided to cause some disruption and started pulling at the cobra’s head. The Gods, in turn, started pulling at the cobra’s tail as decided. Round and round they went, around the mountain and thus the ocean started churning. As both sides tugged harder, the churning got faster. As predicted by Vishnu, out of the turbulent churning came various objects from the ocean. First, there were beautiful pearls and then a deadly poison.

Finally, the god of Medicine, Dhanvantari emerged, with the pot of magical nectar in his hand. Both gods and demons wanted to have this pot of nectar, as it had the medicinal powers of supreme strength. At this critical moment, Vishnu transformed himself into Mohini, a beautiful maiden, to tempt and trick the demons. The demons forgot about the nectar as the beautiful Mohini enchanted them. They were hypnotized by her charm and willing to do anything she said.

Vishnu, in the form of Mohini, said to them, “You must do what I ask you to do. You must wait your turn for the nectar.” They agreed and Mohini began to serve the nectar to the gods first. The demons thought Mohini would be displeased if they objected to it. Mohini kept the demons under her spell. When Vishnu assumed his original form again, the demons realized that they had been deceived. They again declared war with the gods but were later vanquished, as the gods had the strength from the nectar to overcome the demons.

Lord Dhanvantari is described as having four arms carrying various healing instruments in each hand, viz.; a Chakra to defeat evil forces, Shankha (conch shell) to make the atmosphere free of viruses and bacteria by fumigation; Jalouka (leech) used for curing all the diseases caused by vitiated blood and a Kalash (jar) containing Amruta (the elixir of life) to rejuvenate the sufferer.