Ancient Indian Medicine

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Indian study on medicine boasts of a  very long history or in other words as long as time. But somewhere today, it is hidden in the annals of history. When we fall sick, we immediately rush to an allopathic doctor and an allopathic hospital. We may be right as allopathy offers quick treatment. Have we ever thought that  Indian medicine nearly, 7000 years ago had  brain surgery and C-section and many more modern surgery. Ayurveda is a good and safe option to cure diseases without any side effects. If you  think I am crazy read on to know more…….!

Put on your seatbelts and be ready to travel to 5000 BC that is nearly 7000 years ago to the Northwest Bharat i.e., near river Sindhu or Indus as the Greeks called it! The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was a Bronze Age Civilization in the north-western regions of Indian Subcontinent from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Western Northwestern Bharat. It existed from 5000 BC to 1300 BC, and in its mature form from 2600 BC to 1900 BC. Along with Egyptian and Mesopotamian, civilizations it was one of the three early civilizations of the Asian continent. It flourished in the basins of the Sindhu River, and is perennial, mostly monsoon-fed, rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the seasonal  Ghagar-Hakra river in northwestern Bharat and eastern Pakistan.

It is to be noted that this is the only urban civilization while the rest of the above-mentioned civilizations were rural. The civilization’s cities were noted for their urban planning, baked bricks houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, clusters of large non-residential buildings, and new techniques in handicraft (seal carving) and metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin).  The large cities of Mohenjo-Daro (Sind) and Harappa (Punjab) likely had a population of between 30,000 and 60,000 and the civilization itself during its florescence may have contained between one and five million people.

The Indus Valley Civilization is the source of ancient Indian medicine. I will discuss medical science in the Indus Valley Civilization with evidence of trephination and tooth drilling uncovered by archaeologists.


A Bronze Age Harappan skull has been discovered and found to have traces of ancient brain surgery with the help of surgical tools, said the researchers at the Anthropological Survey of India. In a study published in the latest issue of Current Science, researchers concluded that an incision in the 4,300-year-old skull showed an “unequivocal case” of Trephination. “To treat head injuries or remove bone splinters or blood clots resulting from a blow to the head, prehistoric societies performed Trephination surgery, which involved drilling or cutting through the skull vault”.

Harappan male skull that was stored in Kolkata’s Anthropological Survey of India Repository contained a Trephination hole, according to the research article that was later published. It was found in Cemetery H, which had red-ware but not conventional Harappan ceramics. “It has been used in religious ceremonies and to “fend off evil spirits” in several parts of the world. Although there is evidence of cranial trauma, the Trephination on the Harappan skull was done to treat it, as shown by a noticeable linear depression, likely caused by a violent blow”, confirmed a research conducted by A.R. Sankhyan and G.R Schug. In addition, there are signs of healing, “showing that the victim survived for a substantial period of time following the operation,” according to the report cited above.


When researchers discovered the proto-dentistry skills of the people of Mehrgarh in the early 2000 BC, they were elated. A scholarly journal published in Nature in April 2006 stated that “the earliest evidence for human teeth being drilled in vivo i.e., in a human had been discovered in Mehrgarh. The authors of the study stated “that early farming societies in the region had a legacy of proto-dentistry and drilled molar crowns from nine adults skeletons were found in a Neolithic graveyard in North-west part of the Indian Subcontinent which is nearly 7,500 and 9,000 years old”. These findings show that early farming cultures had a long legacy of proto-dentistry. In the Indus Valley Civilization, people used different herbs and drugs that helped in treating diseases and were also conversant with the medical sciences.


Vedic Period

Ancient medicine is mentioned in the Vedas, especially in the Atharva Veda, which was written around 2000 BC. Many years later, an unknown writer, stated “the God of Ayurveda was Dhanvantari who received Divya Amrut from the Lord Brahma. The period of Vedic medicine continued till 800 BC. The Vedas are rich in magical practices for the treatment of many diseases like fever, cough, consumption, diarrhea, edema, abscesses, seizures, tumors, and skin diseases like leprosy. The herbs recommended by the physicians were mostly effective.

The golden age of Indian medicine, was from 800 BC till 1000 AD. There were many epoch-making theses  like Charaka Samhita And Sushruta Samhita. Charaka was a physician while Sushruta was a surgeon. The Charaka Samhita was written in 1st century AD. The Sushruta Samhita  was written in the last century BC All later writings on Indian medicine were based on these two books.

Since the Hindus were prohibited from cutting the dead body, their knowledge of anatomy was limited. The Sushruta Samhita recommended that a body should be placed in a basket and sunk in a river for seven days. Later the parts could be easily separated without any cutting. The Hindus believed that the body contains three elementary substances, microcosmic representatives of the three divine universal forces, which they called spirit (air), phlegm, and bile. Our health depends on the normal balance of these three elementary substances. The seven primary constituents of the body: blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, chyle, and  semen are produced by the action of the elementary substances. Semen was thought to be produced from all parts of the body and not from any individual part or organ.

Both Charaka and Sushruta state the existence of a large number of diseases (Sushruta: 1,120). In all texts, “fever,” of numerous types were described, and is regarded as important. Phthisis (wasting disease, especially pulmonary tuberculosis) were apparently prevalent, and the Hindu physicians knew the symptoms of the cases likely to terminate fatal diseases. Small Pox was common, and it is probable that smallpox inoculation was also practiced.

Hindu physicians used all the five senses in their diagnosis. Hearing was used to distinguish the nature of the breathing, alteration in voice, and the grinding sound produced by the rubbing together of broken ends of the bones. They appear to have had a good clinical sense, and their discourses on prognosis contain  references to symptoms that are serious. Magical beliefs still persisted, however, until late in the classical period. It is believed that, the prognosis could be affected by such  factors as the cleanliness of the messenger sent to fetch the physician, the nature of his transport, or the types of persons the physician met on his journey to the patient.

The Indian ‘Materia medica’ was extensive and consisted mainly of vegetable drugs, all of which were from indigenous plants. Charaka knew 500 medicinal plants, and Sushruta knew about 760. But animal remedies (such as the milk of various animals, bones, gallstones) and minerals (sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate, gold) were also employed. The physicians collected and prepared their own vegetable drugs.

Due to the strict religious beliefs of the Hindus, hygienic measures were considered important in treatment. Two meals a day were decreed, with indications of the nature of the diet, the amount of water to be drunk before and after the meal, and the use of condiments. Bathing and care of the skin were carefully prescribed, as were cleansing of the teeth with twigs from named trees, rubbing the body with oil, and the use of eyewashes.

Hindu medicine reached its zenith, in surgery. Operations performed by Hindu surgeons included excision of tumors, incision and draining of abscesses, punctures to release fluid in the abdomen, extraction of foreign bodies, repair of anal fistulas, splinting of fractures, amputations, cesarean sections, and stitching of wounds. A broad array of surgical instruments were used. According to Sushruta, the surgeon should be equipped with 20 sharp and 101 blunt instruments of various descriptions. The instruments were largely made of steel. Alcohol was used as a narcotic during operations, and bleeding was stopped by hot oils and tar.

In two types of operations especially, the Hindus were outstanding. Stone in the bladder (vesical calculus) was common in ancient India, and the surgeons frequently removed the stones by lateral lithotomy. They also conducted plastic surgery. Amputation of the nose was one of the prescribed punishments for adultery, and the repair was carried out by cutting from the patient’s cheek or forehead a piece of tissue of the required size and shape and applying it to the stump of the nose. The results appear to have been tolerably satisfactory, and the modern operation is certainly derived indirectly from this ancient source. Hindu surgeons also operated cataracts by couching, or displacing the lens to improve vision.

How could we forget such great history. May be Bharat would soon be a ‘Vishwa Guru” and ancient sciences will prevail. I for sure will wait for such day.





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