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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 108-110

Book review: An introduction to ayurveda

1 Department of Ayurveda Samhita and Siddhanta, Government Ayurveda Medical College, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, India
2 Department of Sharira Kriya, National Institute of Ayurveda (NIA), Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Date of Web Publication16-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
Akhilesh Shukla
Department of Ayurveda Samhita and Siddhanta, Government Ayurveda Medical College, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/asl.ASL_166_17

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How to cite this article:
Shukla A, Shukla A. Book review: An introduction to ayurveda. Ancient Sci Life 2017;37:108-10

How to cite this URL:
Shukla A, Shukla A. Book review: An introduction to ayurveda. Ancient Sci Life [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 20];37:108-10. Available from: https://www.ancientscienceoflife.org/text.asp?2017/37/2/108/252117

Price : 350 Rupees

ISBN : 978-81-7371-827-4

Pages : 156

Year : 2013

Binding : Paperback

Publisher : Universities Press (India) Private Limited

This is an introductory book on Ayurveda, aimed to provide a comprehensive picture of it. The author of this book, Prof. M. S. Valiathan is the recipient of 'National Research Professorship award' from Govt of India and is a well known surgeon, researcher and author of Bṛhat trayī (three major treatises of Ayurveda) legacy series; “The Legacy of Caraka”, “The Legacy of Suśruta” and “The Legacy of Vāgbhata”.

The book contains a total of 12 chapters, starting from the “Evolution of Healing” to the “New Sprouts on an Ancient Tree”. In between describing the medicine in Buddhist India, basic concepts of Ayurveda, healthy living, food and drinks, diseases, materia medica, training in medicine and surgery, surgical procedures, rejuvenation and enhancement of sexual potency and an Ayurvedic view of life. The illustrative presentations of concepts in this book make it interesting and unique. It contains a total of 59 pictures, drawn by the artists Nampoothiri and Abraham Joy.

In the chapter 'Evolution of Healing' Valiathan has quoted several examples of continuing rich healing tradition in India, which is still serving its rural population. The Atharvaveda which is considered as the source of the noble healing system of Ayurveda, contains descriptions about the diseases and its classification, healing herbs, performance of rituals, uses of Mantras and so on. During Vedic period the healing practise was based more on faith and less on the drug. The treatment plan of disease Hariman (which can be compared with Kāmalā of Caraka Saṃhitā or Jaundice in modern) is presented in the book with beautiful illustration. Later, during Caraka's period the healing practices became more of reason or Yukti based and less based on Mantras, rituals and so forth which shows the changes in healing tradition from Vedic period to Saṃhitā period.

To explain the 'Medicine in Buddhist India' and the glory of Ayurveda in that period, Prof. Valiathan has given several references from Buddhist literature, mainly from Diīgha Nikāya, Milindapanho, Viśuddhamagga, Anguttara Nikāya etc. Though, these are primarily religious and philosophical texts here and there they contain various aspects related to health and treatment. The travelogue of Hiuen Tsiang who visited India during the early 5th century CE gives an idea about the practice of Ayurveda during that period. He has mentioned the name of great Ayurveda physicians such as Jīvaka from Rājgiīr who learned medicine in Takṣaśilā, under the guidance of Bhikṣu Ātreya and after completion of his study got appointed as a royal physician. He was also the physician of Buddha. The author has mentioned several case histories which show the Jīvaka's excellence in the field of medicine and surgery. Hiuen Tsiang's travelogue also mentions about the physician Nāgārjuna from Amarāvatī who lived for several hundred years with his profound knowledge in compounding medicine and the king Sadavāha rāja who also lived for many hundred years without the appearance of ageing changes. It is mentioned that Nāgārjuna used to prepare gold from lower metals, to help the king Sadavāha rāja build a monastery. Though, it is commonly believed that Buddhist criticized the surgeries, but the author of this book being himself a great surgeon, has quoted several examples about the performance of major surgeries, including craniotomy from Buddhist literature. He also says that there are several inscriptions about the surgical operations available in the temples of Tamilnadu etc. The influence of Buddhism gradually eroded the practice of Vedic rituals and the use of hymns in the healing process and with the passing of time the treatment became more empirical than faith based.

Valiathan mentions that the theory and practice of Ayurveda are deeply rooted in spirituality and philosophy having its universal applicability. Caraka Saṃhitā is one of the most authoritative text of Ayurveda believed to be written during the first century CE. This is the foundation book of Ayurveda and explains the fundamental principles of it which remain unchanged even today. At the end of Caraka Saṃhitā it is proclaimed that whatever described here can also be found elsewhere but what is not mentioned here will be found no where. Maintaining the homology between the constituent substances of the body and those of the physical universe is of central importance in Ayurveda. Ayurveda is divided into eight branches which is called as Aṣṭāṅga Ayurveda. Prof. Valiathan has explained the important concepts of Ayurveda in a concise manner with the use of tabulation such as, the theory of Panca mahābhūta (five basic elements viz. ākāśa, vāyu, agni, ap and pṛthvī), Tridoṣa (vāta, pitta and kapha), the seven Dhātu s (Rasa, Rakta, Māṃsa, Meda, Asthi, Majjā and Śukra), Doṣika Prakṛti (human constitution based on Doṣa), six tastes (madhura- sweet, amla- sour, lavaṇa-salty, kaṭu-pungent, tikta-bitter and kaṣāya-astringent), three post digestive tastes viz. madhura, Amla and kaṭu, concept of Vīrya (potency), Prabhāva (specific action) of substance, Ṛtucaryā (seasonal regimen) and Prajñāparādha (imprudent conduct) and so on.

Preservation of the health of healthy person is given prime importance in Ayurveda. Prof Valiathan has given the glimpse of healthy living pattern described in Ayurveda which mainly includes: waking up before sunrise, elimination of natural urges of defecation, urination, cleaning teeth, tongue and rinsing the mouth, use of medicated oil or decoction as nasal drops, gargling, medicated smoke inhalation, chewing betel leaves, using face pack suitable to the season, full body oil massage, doing strengthening physical exercise, bath, use of appropriate clothing and herbal cosmetics, wearing precious jewels and gems, following healthy dietary guidelines, regulated sexual activity and healthy sleep. These constitute the important regimen one should follow religiously along with high standards of personal and social code of conduct and so on which are important aspects of healthy and fulfilling life.

The author has emphasized about the depth understanding and importance of ancient dietary pattern explained in Ayurveda texts. The healthy status of the body and diseases, both depends on the food that we consume. When the food (āhāra) is taken judiciously and according to the codes of dietetics only then its maximum benefits can be achieved. The classification of food and drinks, their properties and effect on Doṣa and body, and so on are explained well in the classical texts of Ayurveda. The list of food items which can be consumed habitually and those which should not be, the properties of the cooked food, the method of cooking, the method of serving the food, sequence of intake of different food articles and post prandial activities etc. are important aspect one must know to plan the ideal diet pattern. Healthy eating is not only about the nutritious food on one's plate, it is also about one's psychological status while eating. One must enjoy the food with a pleasant mind, giving appropriate attention to it, considering its wholesomeness and unwholesomeness for his health.

The descriptions about the diseases available in the classical texts of Ayurveda gives an idea about the kind of health hazards prevalent in that period of time. The book lists both infectious and non-infectious disorders as described in Caraka Saṃhitā and presented it in a tabular form and their references in different Sthānas are shown in Bar Graphs. It is mentioned that knowing about an epidemiological picture of diseases of the past will also be helpful to understand the disease burden of that period and the herbs which were utilized in its treatment. Such understanding will be helpful in screening of the medicinal plants to find out the solution for diseases prevalent today.

In Ayurveda, there are ten important elements of the diagnostic process and ten bodily features of a patient described in Caraka Saṃhitā which are important for the proper assessment of diseases and the patient. There are four means explained by Caraka to arrive at the clinical diagnosis, they are – teaching of the sages, direct perception, inference and reasoning. There are six stages of Doṣa imbalance described by Suśruta in the course of disease manifestation. While making a diagnosis and planning for treatment, the physician should determine which particular Doṣa is primarily involved in pathogenesis and which is secondary. The physician must also see the prognosis and life expectancy of a patient before commencement of treatment. The physician should not attempt treatment if there is presence of any Ariṣṭa Lakṣaṇa (signs indicative of definite death). Achieving success in the treatment depends upon the excellence of the physician, medicament, nursing staff and patient, these four are referred as Cikitsā Catuṣpāda (quadruple of therapeutics). Caraka has explained six therapeutic procedures which are generally employed in treatment. There are five evacuative procedures referred as Pañcakarma which are employed to treat the excessive deranged Doṣa s to expel them out of the body. The author Valiathan has explained the mode of action of these procedures with beautiful illustrations. The principles of psychological treatment include both medicines and spiritual processes. The house of treatment is explained with all details such as location, construction plan, place for medicines and equipment and so forth.

Valiathan mentions that during Vedic period the medicinal plants were mainly used as amulets. The use of medicinal plants as drugs was a gradual process and became popular during Buddhist period. Caraka for first time systematically categorized the medications and it is estimated that the text contains more than 1990 plant names. The availability of such a vast data about medicinal plants has still remained one of the admirable legacies of Ayurveda. Valiathan emphasizes that prescribing Ayurveda medicines need keen observation about the status of disease and patient. Unjustified prescription may lead to severe health hazards and Ayurveda has repeatedly cautioned to be away from such physicians. Developing new formulations from the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda for the management of degenerative disorders has received much attention in the recent period.

Though Takṣaśilā University was the centre of medical education, there were many Gurukulas run by great Gurus, providing excellent residential training to the aspirants. The Gurukulas had an entry of limited and selected students so that special attention could be given to each one. The student had to follow a strict regimen and purity during training. The teachers used to train the student with great responsibility and personalized care, making them understand each verse thoroughly. Suśruta has given great importance to proper training of surgeons and various experimental models are described by him for training of the surgeons. The book includes pictures of the instruments and various surgical procedures such as plastic reconstruction of defective ear, nose and lip, management of fracture and dislocation. Valiathan explains the fate of Suśruta's surgical procedures and gradual decline of rich tradition and how the British observers took advantage of it to develop modern surgery.

A long and healthy life is desired by the Indians from the ancient times and the Rasāyana or Rejuvenation therapy in Ayurveda is the development of the same quest. Rasāyana helps prevent senile infirmities. Mainly two methods of rejuvenation are described in Ayurveda one is Kuṭīpraveśika (intramural) and second Vātātapika (extramural). Use of Rasāyana is helpful to the individual only when he follows an ideal lifestyle pattern and ethical code of conduct. Enhancement of sexual potency is sought by the Vājīkaraṇa therapy. The purpose of Vājīkaraṇa is to get the healthy offspring and sexual pleasure being part of it.

Ayurveda explains the human as an epitome of this universe and whatever phenomenon exists in the universe also exists in the human and vice-versa. Understanding the life and the fundamental questions related to it such as how did life first begin, how this universe evolved and so on are answered by Caraka which correlate with Sāṅkhya views.

In the last chapter of the book 'New sprouts on an ancient tree' Valiathan gives the gist of Ayurveda history and explains the revival of the rich tradition of Ayurveda in different parts of the country during the 20th century by the pioneering work done by great Vaidyas, such as Gananath Sen, Lakshmipathy and P. S. Varier. Some of the foreigners who came in India, took interest in Ayurveda and due to this, Ayurveda became more popular in European countries. Some examples of such foreign pioneers are the Portuguese, Garcia Da orta who wrote the book Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, and Van Rheede, author of Hortus Malabaricus. Sir R. N. Chopra during early 20th century has done significant work to study the pharmacology and worked on standardization, toxicology and determining chemical composition of indigenous drugs. Such work revolutionised the practice of Ayurveda. The researches done on Doṣika Prakṛti and genome have helped Ayurveda to provide a biological basis to explain the ancient concept. Further, Valiathan with his profound knowledge and experience in modern and ancient medical system has given many areas where proper research needs to be done with the help of basic sciences.

The book of Prof. Valiathan 'An Introduction to Ayurveda' is must read by every Ayurveda scholar and who wishes to know about Ayurveda. In concise form giving the whole picture of Ayurveda looks impossible, but the author has successfully done it.


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