Harmony in Medical Systems


Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Among the medical systems prevalent today, the western system called Allopathy is the most widespread and in use all over the world. Other systems are Ayurveda and Homeopathy that are also in use for curing disease and maintaining physical well-being of people especially in Asia.

Ayurveda that literally means Science of Life is an ancient system that has been in existence in India and neighbouring countries for about 5000 years. A reference to its earlier form is found in the Vedas — in Atharva Veda. One of the earliest practitioners of this system was Agnivesa in about 1200 BCE.

Based on this knowledge of Ayurveda, Charaka and Shushrata wrote their Samhita (treatises) about 2600 years ago. The former concerned itself with physiology and medicine with emphasis on philosophy of life and general health care.

The Shushrata Samhita dealt with surgical aspects of disease and surgical operations. Anesthesia was not known at that time so the patient had to be tied down and use was made of opium and some sedatives such as hemp to lessen the pain. This procedure was followed till as late as 1770s at the time of Hyder Ali, in India.

Today there are other Samhitas that cover child healthcare and healthy food that a patient may eat for nutrition and prevention of disease.

On a personal note, I remember going to a farm in Dharamshala in the vicinity of where Dalai Lama lives in India in exile. The farm had many rare plants and herbs. I was asked by the owner of the farm to put a small herb in my mouth. Within a few seconds my jaw became stiff and I was asked to spit the herb from my mouth. When I asked what this herb was, I was told that this is how some dental procedures to remove a tooth etc were earlier carried out. The herb acted as a natural antiseptic.

Ayurveda deals not only with curative aspects but also preventive aspects so that the chances of disease are reduced. It deals with disease and its symptoms and treatment in a holistic manner; it is based on knowledge of trees, plants, herbs that have medicinal values. A few books dealing with these medicinal values have been published by some Professors of Anthropology of Delhi University. For example, the leaves of neem trees have properties that keep diseases such as throat or chest infections away.

Similarly, tulsi a plant that can be grown even at home also has positive features of prevention. So does Haldi powder (turmeric). It is also known that a fruit called jamun that looks similar to blackberry and ripens in the summer months is helpful for people suffering from diabetes. Efforts at patenting the chemicals of some of these plants in western countries were turned down when Indian scientists established that their properties were well known and in use in India since pre historic times.

It is also known that the Ayurvedic system of medicine was in use in Kerala (south India) and in neighbouring countries of Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar etc.  One interesting application is massage with special oils to promote health and to remove lethargy among patients. In Sri Lanka, one can see several Ayurvedic centres where patients are not only prescribed medicines but can also stay for a week or more to recoup one’s physical and spiritual well-being.

Today with advancement in the study and research of Ayurveda, degrees  called BAMS — Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medical Science , that are equivalent to MBBS and MD degrees of Allopathy (western medicine and surgery) are being offered in Ayurvedic institutions .

Comparison of Ayurveda and Allopathy is not to downplay the effectiveness of the western form of medicine and surgery. The western system has been proved to not only effectively cure patients of several serious diseases like cancer, heart problems, kidney or liver replacement, removal of cataract from the eyes, retinal and other critical problems that our bodies suffer from, but also to prolong the average life spans of people all over the world. It has also reduced infant mortality.

My main focus is also on the increasing effectiveness of Ayurveda in not only curing but also in prevention of disease. Emerging demand of establishment of different forms of healthcare has helped boost research and application of the ancient system of Ayurveda along with corresponding efforts in the modern medical systems.

This is only symbolic of the integration of economies, cultures, knowledge systems, science and technology — the globalisation of the world. Ayurveda and Allopathy are examples of the sharing and harmony between two systems of medicine and surgery.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Aug 2018.

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