Ayurveda is the oldest continuously practiced medical system in the world. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Ayurveda also translates to knowledge of life. Atharva Veda, the latest book to be added to the four Vedas, was compiled in approximately 900 BCE. Ayurveda is an upaveda of Atharva Veda. It is in this body of knowledge that India’s ancient medical practice is comprehensively and systematically outlined.
The purpose of Ayurveda is to protect health of the healthy and alleviate disorders in the diseased. The first aim of Ayurveda is to protect and maintain the health of the human being throughout the life span. The second aim of this science is to cure the diseases which are developed in the body of a human. Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in a person’s consciousness, Ayurveda encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment. For achieving Dharma, Artha, kama and moksha (four Purusharthas) health is important.
Ayurveda was an indigenous medical system which was popular and practiced in Indian sub-continent since pre-biblical era and became an integral part of the Indian Society. Ayurveda is said to be a medical science which was delivered by the Gods to the sages and seers (Rishis) who were yogis and renowned in their insight, intuitions, and keen observations of human behaviors. The rishis and munis of Indian society dedicated their entire lives to understanding the truth about the universe. The sages and seers passed down their knowledge and practices to their disciples, with which the oral tradition continued on for thousands of years.
It is said that the Hindu god Brahma, one of the chief triumvirate gods of Hinduism, created Ayurveda. He then transferred this knowledge to his son, Daksha Prajapati. Daksha passed it down to the twin Vedic gods Ashwini Kumaras. The twin gods became the physicians of the gods, and the Devas of Ayurveda. The twin gods presented Ayurveda to Indra, who passed it to Atreya (6th century B.C.E.), who taught Agnivesa. He wrote the first major Ayurvedic treatise, which is no longer in existence. Agnivesa’s disciple, Acharya Charak, then revised this body of work. This started the tradition of passing down the knowledge of Ayurveda from gods to sages.
These are the eight branches of Ayurveda:
1. Kaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine): This branch is concerned with the overall treatment of the entire body. It also focuses on the body’s digestive system and metabolism.
2. Kaumarbhritya (Pediatrics): this branch is also called Bala Chikitsa. It focuses on diseases and sickness that manifest in children. It is also concerned with pre and postnatal care.
3. Graha Chikitsa (psychiatry): also known as Bhuta Vidya, this branch deals with problems and diseases of the mind.
4. Urdvanga Chikitsa (ENT/Treatment of disease above the clavicle): also known as Shalakya Tantra, this branch is primarily concerned with health and issues in the upper part of the body, particularly the eyes, ears, nose, and throat.
5. Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery): this branch is mainly concerned with surgical procedures.
6. Agada Tantra (Damshtra): (Toxicology): this branch deals with the study and remedy of toxins and poisons in the body, food, and environment.
7. Jarachikitsa (Geriatrics) / Rasayana (Rejuvenation): It is the branch of Ayurvedic sciences that deals with the rejuvenation of the body, prevention of the diseases in the elderly, and ways for long and healthy life. It includes Ayurvedic nutrition, Ayurvedic supplements, Ayurvedic medicines used in old age for prevention from diseases, detoxification and immunology.
8. Vajikarana Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac therapy): this involves sexual health and treatment of reproductive problems such as infertility and the insufficiency of essential fluids.