Ayurveda is probably the earliest medical system having a positive concept of health to be achieved through a blending of physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual welfare. Ayurveda deals elaborately with measures of healthy living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness. In short, Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of medicine dealing with both the preventive and curative aspects of life in a most comprehensive way.
Several treatises indicate the presence of eight specialities in Ayurveda, called ‘Ashtanga Ayurveda’. They are:
- Internal Medicine (Kaya Chikitsa)
- Paediatrics (Kaumar Bhritya)
- Psychiatry ( Bhoot Vidya)
- Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology (Shalakya)
- Surgery (Shalya)
- Toxicology (Agad Tantra)
- Geriatrics (Rasayana)
- Eugenics and aphrodisiacs (Vajikarana)
Like Ayurveda, Siddha is also a traditional medical system with a very rich history. It was developed in southern India and has its literature in Tamil, unlike Ayurveda, with its literature in Sanskrit. Its origins are, sometimes, also traced to mythological sources, to Lord Shiva. According to tradition, there were 18 ‘Siddhars’ (practitioners of Siddha and symbols of psychosomatic perfection), of which Agasthya is considered the first and foremost.
In the Siddha medicine system, the use of metals, minerals and chemical products is predominant. Alchemy actually has its origin in the Siddha system, which was connected with the Tantrik culture, aimed at the perfection of man not only at the spiritual level but also at the physical level. The use of human urine in medicine also started with the Tantrik culture.
The origin of surgery in India can be traced back to the Indus-Saraswati valley civilisation. In fact, recent findings suggest that the origin could be pushed even further. Excavations from the Mehrgarh area of the present-day Pakistan have revealed that the practice of drilling human teeth existed even 9000 years ago.
Among the eight divisions of Ayurveda, surgery was considered the first and the foremost branch. Sushruta is recognised as the father of Indian surgery. He used a variety of surgical practices that compare well even with modern practices. Some of the pioneering concepts/practices of Sushruta include, but not limited to the following:
- He had put forth a comprehensive list of blunt and sharp instruments, meant for removing foreign bodies, for sucking the fluids, for facilitating the various surgical procedures, to hold and pull any objects, etc
- He can be considered as the first person to introduce diagnostic instruments and their principles
- He proposed 14 types of bandaging capable of covering almost all the regions of the body
- He was aware of all the degrees of burns, the effects of heat-stroke, sun-stroke and frost-bite
- He gave a classification of accidental wounds, which he divided into 6 kinds. This classification has not changed even after many centuries, except for the inclusion of gunshot wounds
- A classification of bones and their reaction to injuries was also given by Sushruta
- The most outstanding contribution of Sushruta was reconstructive/plastic surgery. He reconstructed mutilated noses (rhinoplasty), earlobes (otoplasty), and lips (oroplasty); grafting of the healthy skin from the cheek, rotation of the pedicle flap, its transfer to the nose, ear or lips, and reconstruction resembling the normal shape have been described in great detail by him .