Spell binding facts of Ayurveda which disclose its unique culture

Nov 05, 2021 By Sascha Kress

Anatomical study in ancient India and importance of Sushruta Samhita

Anatomical knowledge in ancient India was derived principally from animal sacrifice, chance observations of improperly buried human bodies and examinations of patients made by doctors during treatment. The Vedic philosophies form the basis of the Ayurvedic tradition, which is one of the oldest known systems of medicine. Two sets of texts form the foundation of Ayurvedic medicine, the Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita. The Sushruta Samhita provided important surgical and anatomical information of the understanding of anatomy by Indians in the 6th century BCE. Healing traditions were part of the medical practices and are still tied to the current knowledge of the medical sciences, particularly anatomy. As one of the oldest civilizations, India is rich in such history and tradition, which includes significant contributions to our understanding of human morphology. The basics for modern Indian ayurvedic medicine are found in ancient texts written around 4000 years ago. The developmental history of ancient India can be divided into three periods: the Vedic (c. 1500–500 BCE), Brahmanic (600 BCE–1000 CE) and Mughal (1000 CE until the 18th century).

The Vedic philosophies were compiled in the Vedic period and form the backbone of the ayurvedic traditions. Hindu religion is derived from the four Vedas, which are the oldest religious texts in Sanskrit. These Vedas contain rituals, hymns, incantations and also focuses on various health and medicinal practices. In the scriptures, Ayurveda consists of eight parts (ashtanga) which includes major surgery (Salya), minor surgery (Salakya), treatment of diseases of the body (Kayaacikitsa), demonology (Bhutavidya), healing of diseases of children (Kaumarabhrtya), toxicology (Agadatantra), elixir (Rasayana) and aphrodisiac (Vajikarana). Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita, two sets of ancient texts, form the foundation of Ayurveda.

Acharya Sushruta and the origin of Sushruta Samhita

Acharya Sushruta is regarded as the ‘Father of Indian Surgery’ because of his prolific contributions to the science of surgery as he took surgery in medieval India to admirable heights. Acharya Sushruta was a famous physician and surgeon in the sixth century BC who was known for his surgical wisdom, practices and tools. Sushruta Samhita is therefore, a text on his work on surgery, use of instruments and types of operations: a text which is still significant in the modern era. The text also reveals that Acharya Sushruta gained knowledge of the human body by both inspection of the surface of the human body and human dissection. To expand his understanding, Acharya Sushruta had to overcome several barriers pertaining to the Hindu rituals followed for cremation of a body.

According to Hindu tenets, the human body is sacred even in death and therefore, no body above the age of 2 years should be violated by the knife and must be cremated in their original condition. Acharya Sushruta was able to study anatomy in human bodies as he was able to bypass this rule by scrapping off the skin and flesh without the dissector touching the corpse. His anatomical description of the human body included over 300 bones which could be due to the large number of child cadavers used for his study as many of the bones would not have fused. Thus, Acharya Sushruta offered an in-depth understanding of bones, muscles, joints, and vessels that surpassed the knowledge of the time.

Sushruta Samhita is arguable the oldest surgical textbook which literally translates to (that which is well heard). The Sushruta Samhita is divided into two parts: Purva-tantra and Uttara-tantra. The Purva-tantra is further divided into Sutrasthana (basic medical science and pharmacology), Nidana (disease processes), Sarirasthana (embryology and anatomy), Chikitasathanam (surgical procedures and post-operative management) and the Kalpastham (toxicology), totalling 120 chapters: the healing arts were divided into 5 parts which included the Rogaharas (physicians), Shaylyaharas (surgeons), Vishaharas (poison healers), Krityaharas (demon doctors), and Bhisagatharvans (magic doctors).

Author: Dr. Akhila K. Adisser

Note: The information and claims shared, opinion and views expressed, belong to the author.