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Medicines of Ancient India

Ayurveda as a science of medicine owes its origins in ancient India. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word Ayurveda is the science of life or longevity. Ayurveda constitutes ideas about ailments and diseases, their symptoms, diagnosis and cure, and relies heavily on herbal medicines, including extracts of several plants of medicinal values. Ayurveda was formally organized into eight sections or branches called Astanga (eight-armed) Ayurveda. They are Kayachikitsa Tantra(Internal Medicine), Shalya Tantra(Surgery) - Shalakya Tantra(Ears, eyes, nose and throat), Kaumarabhritya Tantra (Pediatrics ), Agada Tantra(Toxicology), Bajikarana Tantra(Purification of the genetic organs), Rasayana Tantra(Health and Longevity), and Bhuta Vidya(Spiritual Healing).

Ancient scholars of India like Atreya, and Agnivesa have dealt with principles of Ayurveda as long back as 800 BC. Their works and other developments were consolidated by Charaka who compiled a compendium of Ayurvedic principles and practices in his treatise Charaka-Samahita, which remained like a standard textbook almost for 2000 years and was translated into many languages, including Arabic and Latin. 'Charaka-Samahita' deals with a variety of matters covering physiology, etiology and embryology, concepts of digestion, metabolism, and immunity.

The oldest treatise dealing with surgery is the Shushruta Samahita. Shusruta was one of the first to study the human anatomy. In the Shusruta Samahita he has described in detail the study of anatomy with the aid of a dead body. Shusruta's specialty was rhinoplasty (Plastic surgery) and ophthalmology (ejection of cataracts). Shushruta has described surgery under eight heads Chedya (excision), Lekhya (scarification), Vedhya (puncturing), Esya (exploration), Ahrya (extraction), Vsraya (evacuation) and Sivya (Suturing).

Around 500 AD, Vagbhatt compiled the third major treatise on Ayurveda, Astanga Hridaya. From 500 AD to 1900 AD, sixteen major Nighantus or supplementary texts on Ayurveda like Dhanvantari Bhavaprakasha, Raja and Shaligram among others were written incorporating new drugs, expansion in applications, discarding of old drugs and identification of substitutes. These texts mention about 1814 varieties of plants in vogue.

Yoga is a system of exercise for physical and mental nourishment. Since Vedic times, the principles and practice of yoga have crystallized. But, it was only around 200 BC that all the fundamentals of yoga were collected by Patanjali in his treatise, named Yogasutra, that is, Yoga-Aphorisms. Patanjali says that through the practice of yoga, the energy latent within the human body may be made live and released, which has a salubrious affect on the body and the mind.