India is renowned in the world for its methods of holistic and spiritual healing. In addition to being the home of many religious and spiritual beliefs, it is also home to one of the most ancient forms of medicinal healing system known as the ‘Ayurveda’. The word ‘veda’ means knowledge and the art of healing and living healthily has been recorded in the four vedas namely: Rig veda , Sama veda , Yajur veda and Atharva veda. Ayurveda attained a state of reverence and is classified as one of the Upa-Vedas – a subsection – attached to the Atharva Veda. The Atharva Veda contains not only the magic spells and the occult sciences but also the Ayurveda that deals with the diseases, injuries, fertility, sanity and health.
Ayurveda has influenced many of the older traditional methods of healing including Tibetan, Chinese and Greek medicine. Hence, Ayurveda is considered by many as the ‘mother of healing.’ The knowledge of Ayurveda has survived through time through the three texts known as Charaka, Sushruta and Vaghbata.
Charaka (1st century A.D.) wrote Charaka Samhita (samhita- meaning collection of verses written in Sanskrit). Sushruta (4th century A.D.) wrote his Samhita i.e Sushruta Samhita. Vaghbata (5th century A.D.) compiled the third set of major texts called Ashtanga Hridaya and Ashtanga Sangraha. Charaka’s School of Physicians and Sushruta’s School of Surgeons became the basis of Ayurveda and helped organize and systematically classify into branches of medicine and surgery.
The Science of Ayurveda
Sixteen major supplements (Nighantus) were written in the ensuing years – Dhanvantari Bahavaprakasha, Raja and Shaligrama to name a few – that helped refine the practice of Ayurveda. New drugs were added and ineffective ones were discarded. Expansion of application, identification of new illnesses and finding substitute treatments seemed to have been an evolving process. Close to 2000 plants that were used in healing diseases and abating symptoms were identified in these supplements.
Dridhabala in the 4th century revised the Charaka Samhita. The texts of Sushruta Samhita were revised and supplemented by Nagarjuna in the 6th century.
Over time, there developed eight branches/divisions of Ayurveda:
1. Kaya-chikitsa (Internal Medicine)
2. Shalakya Tantra (surgery and treatment of head and neck, Ophthalmology and ear,
3. Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
4. Agada Tantra (Toxicology)
5. Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
6. Kaumara bhritya (Pediatrics)
7. Rasayana (science of rejuvenation or anti-ageing)
8. Vajikarana (the science of fertility and aphrodisiac)
Many modern medications were derived from plants alluded to in Ayurveda texts. The oft-cited example is that of Rauwolfia serpentina that was used to treat headache, anxiety and snake bite. Its derivative is used in treating blood pressure today.
Ayurveda flourished during the rule of the Emperor Akbar ruled India during the mid-1500s. Unfortunately, the feuding between the Portuguese and Indians in the 1600s resulted in outlawing of Hindu physicians. In addition, by 1833, the British East India Company had banned all Ayurvedic medical institutions and opened the first Western medical university in Calcutta. During this time, as was the case with Chinese medicine in China, Ayurvedic medicine was kept alive only in the rural areas where people either could not afford Western medicine, or were geographically dispersed from the larger urban areas where it was available.
Ayurveda and Kerala
Folk healers of the sub-continent, healing practices in the Vedas, and Buddhism, Jainism and other ascetic and philosophical traditions have all contributed to the evolution of classical Ayurveda. The three canonical texts of classical Ayurveda, Caraka Samhita, Susrutha Samhita and Ashtangahrdayam, reveal such a multi-cultural origin. Over the centuries Ayurveda has remained open to new healing methods brought by immigrants, particularly from the Persian and Arab schools.
Kerala, with its abundant resource of medicinal plants, has a long history of folk medical traditions practiced by healers from all levels of society. The arrival of the canonical Ashtangahrdayam ( composed between the 6th and 7th century CE by Vagbhata, a Buddhist from Sind) in Kerala, stimulated the development of a new dynamic medical culture. Certain upper-caste Sanskrit-literate healers of Kerala adopted this work as their source book while continuing to draw on regional folk and physical medical practices from diverse sources such as poison therapy and Kalaripayath, the martial arts of Kerala.
A unique Ashtavaidya – Ayurvedic tradition of Kerala evolved as a result of this centuries-old interaction between text-based Ayurveda practices and regional folk medical practices utilizing Kerala’s rich medicinal flora. Ashtavaidyas, repositories of the unique confluence of these health traditions, have thus contributed to Kerala’s rise as a prominent center for Ayurveda practice today.
Among the healers of Kerala, the Ashtavaidyas represent the Brahmin scholar physicians who were masters of the eight branches (Ashtanga) of Ayurveda mentioned in classical texts. Ashtangahrdayam, the primary text of the Ashtavaidyas [Table 1], deals with these eight branches of therapy.
According to tradition, initially eighteen upper caste families of Kerala were designated as Ashtavaidyas. Each Ashtavaidya family developed its own therapeutic specialties and its specific methods of transmission. Although many of the specialties were guarded as family secrets, students outside the family were accepted as disciples. This helped disseminate their knowledge beyond the family circle and create new lineages of transmission. The Ashtavaidyas have enriched Ayurvedic literature through their Sanskrit commentaries on the Ashtangahrdayam such as Hrdayabodhika and Vakyapradipika, and compendiums in Malayalam such as Alattur Manipravalam, Cikitsamanjari, Sahasrayogam and Sindhuramanjari. Ashtavaidyan Vayaskara N.S.Moos made one of the most significant contributions to 20th century Ayurvedic literature by publishing ancient texts and his own original works.
More recently, Vaidyamadham Namboodiri has written books and over a hundred newspaper articles to inform the public about Ayurveda. Today, only a handful of Ashtavaidya physicians trained in their ancestral system of study by apprenticeship remain in practice and the tradition itself is at a crucial turning point.
Kerala’s ideal climate and unparalleled herbal wealth makes it perfect for the Ayurvedic Treatment. Monsoon is determined to be the best season for Ayurvedic rejuvenating therapies. During Monsoon, the atmosphere is cool and dust free. Body is said to absorb the herbal oils and medications better during this season since body pores open up at this time.
Note: The ayurvedic centers in Kerala as recognized by the Kerala Tourism