Widely regarded as the oldest form of healthcare in the world, Ayurveda is an intricate medical system that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda means the science or knowledge of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Charaka, “ayu” comprises the mind, body, senses and the soul.
A healthy person, is defined in Sushrut Samhita as “he whose doshas are in balance, appetite is good, all tissues of the body and all natural urges are functioning properly, and whose mind, body and spirit are cheerful (and in perfect equilibrium).” Therefore, practice of Yoga, meditation and attention towards one’s conduct are an integral part of Ayurvedic treatment.
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There are various legendary accounts of the origin of Ayurveda, e.g. that it was received by Dhanvantari (or Divodasa) from Brahma.
The fundamentals of Ayurveda can be found in the Rig Veda, which was written over 5,000 years ago, containing a series of prescriptions that can help humans overcome various ailments. Ayurveda is a discipline of the upaveda or “auxiliary knowledge” in Vedic tradition. The origins of Ayurveda are also found in Atharvaveda, which contains 114 hymns and incantations described as magical cures for disease. Tradition also holds that the writings of Ayurveda were influenced by a lost text by the sage Agnivesa (1500 BCE).
The principal early texts on Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhita; the Bheda Samhita (Atreya Punarvasu); the Sushruta Samhita and the Kasyapa Samhita (all around 6th century BCE). Other texts are Harita Samhita, Astanga nighantu (8th Century by Vagbhata), Paryaya ratnamala (9th century by Madhava), Siddhasara nighantu (9th century by Ravi Gupta), Dravyavali (10th Century), and Dravyaguna sangraha (11th century by Cakrapanidatta), among others.
Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien wrote about the healthcare system of the Gupta empire (320–550 AD) and described the institutional approach of Indian medicine. This is also visible in the works of Charaka, who describes about hospital and how it should be equipped.
Cataract surgery is mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita (by father of surgery Sushruta), as a procedure to be performed with a jabamukhi salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the obstructing phlegm and push it out of the field of vision. The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged.
Harvard University, Scripps Clinic, University of California San Diego, Mt Sinai University , University of California San Francisco and Duke University – are collaborating on a project to study ayurveda’s healing powers. Called the `Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) Research Study’, the study is being conducted at the Deepak Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California.
Though it’s a more than 5,000-year-old healing science, Ayurveda is extremely logical and clear in its approach. Ayurveda has a holistic approach and uses natural methods (and herbs, oils, minerals, fruits, spices etc.) to try and get rid of disease permanently from its roots. This ancient science underlines the need to live in tune with nature and aims to boost the body’s immunity, thus aiding in preventing and fighting against all types of diseases.
Ayurveda’s objective is not to suppress a particular symptom but to restore harmony and balance. Ayurveda aims to restore health by working on the underlying causes of the disease, considering:
- State of mahabhootas or elements (air, fire, water, earth and ether)
- How to balance the individual’s tri-doshas or bio-energies of our body (vata/ pitta/ kapha)
- Dhatus (tissues) (blood/muscles etc.)
- State of malas or excreta (stool/ urine)
- State of the srotas or body channels
- Behavioural signs like attitude and conduct
Balancing the tri-doshas
Vata pertains to air and ether elements. This energy is generally seen as the force, which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination. As per Sri Sri Ayurveda, foods to avoid for people with vata disorders are Rajma, Chole, Chana, dry peas, chana flour. Person must avoid air-cooled places.
Kapha pertains to water and earth elements. Kapha is responsible for growth and protection. The mucous lining of the stomach, and the cerebral-spinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal column are examples of kapha. Foods to avoid for kapha disorders are curd, paneer, butter, cheese, paneer, ice cream and sweets. Person must avoid irregular sleeping habits.
Pitta pertains to fire and water elements. This dosha governs metabolism of food and metabolism in the organ and tissue systems. Foods to avoid for people with pitta disorders are bread, pizza, fried food, pickles and spicy food. Person must avoid fasting, late nights and walking in the heat.
Impairment of the doshas, dhatus and other factors can differ in patients even when they may have the same disease. Since Ayurveda aims at balancing the imbalanced factors and restore the impaired factors, Ayurvedic treatment in the form of medicines, the recommended lifestyle, food regimen, type of exercises, timings of taking medicines can differ from patient to patient.
If toxins in the body are abundant, then a cleansing process known as ‘panchakarma’ is done to purge these unwanted toxins. This five-fold purification therapy consists of the following:
- Therapeutic vomiting or emesis (Vaman)
- Purgation (Virechan)
- Enema (Basti)
- Elimination of toxins through the nose (Nasya)
- Bloodletting or detoxification of the blood (Rakta moksha)
Unlike allopathic medicines, side effects are rare in Ayurveda. Even if it occurs it might be due to your body’s intolerance to some types of herbs and minerals, or if you are not following the diet and lifestyle advice as per instructions.
- India has 6,600 indigenous herbal plants, found in the Himalayan region, around its coastline, deserts and rainforest eco-system.
- India has 9,000 units engaged in the manufacture of AYUSH (Ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homoeopathy) drugs.
- The country has developed vast AYUSH infrastructure comprising of 686,319 registered practitioners, 26,107 dispensaries and 3167 public sector hospitals (of which 2,458 are ayurvedic), 501 undergraduate colleges with annual intake of 28,018 students, 151 centres for post graduate education with annual admission of 3504 scholars and 8896 licensed drug manufacturing units.
Indian food is the most varied compared to anywhere else in the world. You can eat a different Indian dish everyday, but still not repeat it for an entire year! Indian food is as diverse as its culture, its religions, geography, climatic conditions and traditions. It is the different combination of a handful of spices (not always hot) that produce the most delectable dishes in the world.
Herbs and spices
Every single ingredient of an Indian dish is there with a purpose and compliments each other. In fact, the succession of dishes also keeps in mind the flavour and ‘nature’ of the spices, whether hot or cool. Some of the commonly used ingredients in Indian food are: chilli (hot fiery red or green); coconut; garlic; ginger; basil, coriander (cilantro), mint and parsley; fenugreek (methi); saunf; garam masala; mustard seeds; tamarind (imli); saffron (kesar); rose water (gulkand), etc.
The character of cuisine in India is essentially regional, depending on the local climate. The most striking contrast in eating habits shows up between the bread eating northern regions and the pulse-and-rice southern regions.
Northern India cuisine
The ‘Roti’ or ‘Chappatis’ or ‘Parathas’ accompanied with a wide assortment of “curries”, which include spicy vegetables and lentils is the typical north Indian food. Another popular combination is the ‘makki ki roti’ and ‘sarson ka sag’.
The cuisine of western India is principally vegetarian. It can be spicy and extremely rich with almost everything being doused in ounces of ghee (clarified butter). An interesting exception is the Goan cuisine, which effectively mixes local Konkan and Portuguese flavors. Maharashtrian food offers a variety of crunchy crisp snacks like the ‘vada pav’, ‘misal’ and ‘pav bhaji’.
Eastern India is close to the sea and gets plenty of rain. Hence rice and fish are staple all over here. The other good thing of the eastern cuisine (Bengali) are their delicate sweets.
Rice is served everywhere in south India and flour-based breads are rare, if at all. The south Indians put chillis, mustard, coconut oil and various other spicy seeds to very effective use to conjure up mouth watering dishes like dosas and idlis, served with sambar.