It has been my long-standing conviction that India is like a donkey carrying a sack of gold – the donkey does not know what it is carrying but is content to go along with the load on its back. The load of gold is the fantastic treasure – in arts, literature, culture, and some sciences like Ayurvedic medicine – which we have inherited from the days of the splendor that was India.
Modern India will find her identity and the modern Indian will regain his soul when our people begin to have some understanding of our priceless heritage. A nation which has had a great past can look forward with confidence to a great future. It would be restorative to national self-confidence to know that many discoveries of today are really re-discoveries and represent knowledge which ancient India had at her command. World thinkers have stood in marvel at the sublimity of our scriptures.
~~ Nani Ardeshir Palkhiwala (Indian lawyer & philanthropist)
When we look at scientists who are credited with the most important ideas of our time we find mainly Greeks, Europeans, Americans listed. Yet western history seems to have been arbitrarily begun during the Greek era. In fact, when we extend the boundaries of history to view the longer span of history we find some amazing developments predating “modern” history originating in India more than 5,000 years ago.
The ancient thinkers of India were not only scientists and mathematicians, but also deeply religious, esteemed saints of their time. While it may surprise some to think of religious sages as mundane scientists, the Indian view is that religion (universal) and science are but two sides of the same coin – in short…semantics. There are two unique aspects to India’s ancient scientists. First their discoveries are in use today as some of the most important aspects of their field; and are validated by modern technological machines. Second, their discoveries brought peace and prosperity rather than the harm and destruction of many of our modern discoveries.
~~~ Abdul Kalam (President of India) once with utmost disgust asked,”Tell me, why is the media here so negative? Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why?
Why is India not credited? It seems that in the West we have a condescending, Euro- or Greco-centric view that civilizations older than Greece were uncivilized barbarians. This notion was further melded into our collective psyche through Hollywood’s portrayal of ancient cultures. shown as barbaric, superstitious idol worshipping people
The point is that westerners have been brought up for decades incorrectly viewing ancient civilizations as intellectually and culturally inferior to modern man. So it is no surprise to be surprised in learning some of the greatest discoveries not only came from India, but from ancient India. It shakes the very foundations of prejudicial beliefs
In fact this article will cite the origins of some amazing and here-to-for mis-credited discoveries as coming from India. Some examples include so-called Arabic numerals, the concept of the zero, so-called Pythagorean theory, surgery and more. It may seem astonishing, but the ancient texts are there to show the thinking and writing of these great Indian thinkers.
~~~ Alan Watts (English philosopher) rightly commented that “Modern India will find her identity and the modern Indian will regain his soul when our people begin to have some understanding of our priceless heritage. A nation which has had a great past can look forward with confidence to a great future. It would be restorative to national self-confidence to know that many discoveries of today are really re-discoveries and represent knowledge which ancient India had at her command. World thinkers have stood in marvel at the sublimity of our scriptures. For example-To the philosophers of India, Relativity is no new discovery, just as the concept of light years is no matter for astonishment to people used to thinking of time in millions of kalpas, (A kalpa is about 4,320,000 years). The fact that the wise men of India have not been concerned with technological applications of this knowledge arises from the circumstance that technology is but one of innumerable ways of applying it. It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance that when Western civilization discovers Relativity it applies it to the manufacture of atom-bombs, whereas Oriental civilization applies it to the development of new states of consciousness.”
~~~ Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire (French writer and philosopher), once said with deep conviction”. I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges, – astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis. It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganges to learn geometry…But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe..Almost all the theories, religious, philosophical, and mathematical, taught by the Pythagoreans were known in India in the sixth century B.C.
Religions being the core of Hindu life, those sciences were cultivated first that contributed to religion: astronomy grew out of the worship of the heavenly bodies, and the observation of their moments aimed to fix the calendar of festival and sacrificial days; grammar and philology developed out of the insistence that every prayer and formula, through couched in a dead language, should be textually and phonetically correct. As in our middle age, the scientists of India, for better and for worse, were her priests.
The strength of Hinduism lies in its infinite adaptability to the infinite diversity of human character and human tendencies. It has its highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the philosopher, its practical to the man of the world, its aesthetic and ceremonial side attuned to the man of the poetic feeling and imagination; and its quiescent contemplative aspect that has its appeal for the man of peace and the lover of seclusion. ~~~ Sir Monier Monier-Williams (Indologist).
The enigma and charm of India has caught the imagination of endless number of poets, thinkers, scientists, and philosophers. India offered something to ponder everyone s perspective India’s work in science is both very old as well as very young: young as an independent and secular pursuit, old as a subsidiary interest of her priests
The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still. ~~~ Dr.Carl Sagan (astrophysicist)
The most elegant and sublime of these is a representation of the creation of the universe at the beginning of each cosmic cycle, a motif known as the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva. The god, called in this manifestation Nataraja, the Dance King. In the upper right hand is a drum whose sound is the sound of creation. In the upper left hand is a tongue of flame, a reminder that the universe, now newly created, with billions of years from now will be utterly destroyed. These profound and lovely images are, I like to imagine, a kind of premonition of modern astronomical ideas.There is a striking resemblance between the equivalence of mass and energy symbolized by Shiva’s cosmic dance and the Western theory, first expounded by Einstein, which calculates the amount of energy contained in a subatomic particle by multiplying its mass by the square of the speed of light : E=MC2 .~~~ Richard Waterstone (Author & Journelist)
Astronomy was an incidental offspring of physics, and slowly emancipated itself under Greek influence. Where can we look for sages like those whose systems of philosophy were prototypes of those of Greece: to whose works Plato, Thales and Pythagoras were disciples? Where do I find astronomers whose knowledge of planetary systems yet excites wonder in Europe as well as the architects and sculptors whose works claim our admiration, and the musicians who could make the mind oscillate from joy to sorrow, from tears to smile with the change of modes and varied intonation? ~~~Colonel James Todd (American pioneer)
The earliest astronomical treatises, the Siddhantas were based on Greek science. SageVarahmihira, whose compendium was significantly entitled complete system of Natural Astrology, frankly acknowledged his dependence upon the Greeks. The greatest of Hindu Astronomers and Mathematicians, Sage Aryabhata discussed in verse such projects as quadratic equations, sines, and the value of; he explained eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, announced the sphericity of the earth and its diurnal revolution on its axis. He also wrote in daring anticipation of Renaissance science: “the sphere of the stars is stationary, and the earth, by its revolution, products the daily rising and setting of planets and stars.”
Sage Aryabhata’s most famous successor, Sage Brahmagupta, systematized the astronomic knowledge of India, but obstructed its development by rejecting Aryabhata’s theory of the revolution of the earth These men and their followers adapted to Hindu usage the Babylonian division of the skies into zodiacal constellations; they made a calendar of twelve months, each of thirty days, each of thirty hours, inserting an intercalary month every five years; they calculated with remarkable accuracy the diameter of the moon, the eclipses of the moon and the sun, the position of the poles, and the position and motion of the major stars. They expounded the theory, through not the law, of gravity when they wrote in the Siddbantas: “The earth, owing to its force of gravity, draws all things to itself”.
The motion of the stars calculated by the Hindus before some 4500 years vary not even a single minute from the tables of Cassine and Meyer (used in the 19-th century). The Indian tables give the same annual variation of the moon as the discovered by Tycho Brahe – a variation unknown to the school of Alexandria and also to the Arabs who followed the calculations of the school… The Hindu systems of astronomy are by far the oldest and that from which the Egyptians, Greek, Romans and – even the Jews derived from the Hindus their knowledge .Almost all the theories, religious, philosophical, and mathematical, taught by the Pythagoreans were known in India in the sixth century B.C. ~~~ H. G. Rawlinson (English Historian)
Sage Aryabhatt (b. 476 CE) wrote texts on astronomy and mathematics. He formulated the process of calculating the motion of planets and the time of eclipses. Aryabhatt was the first to proclaim the earth was round, rotating on an axis, orbiting the sun and suspended in space. This was around 1,000 years before Copernicus. He was a geometry genius credited with calculating pi to four decimal places, developing the trigonomic sine table and the area of a triangle. Perhaps his most important contribution was the concept of the zero. Details are found in Shulva sutra. Other sages of mathematics include Baudhayana, Katyayana, and Apastamba.
To make these complex calculations the Hindus developed a system of mathematics superior, in everything, to that of the Greeks “It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by ten symbols, each receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value, a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity, the great ease which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions, and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Appollnius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.”~~~ Pierre Simon de Laplace (French mathematician & philosopher)
Besides the discoverers of geometry and algebra, the constructors of human speech, the parents of philosophy, the primal expounders of religion, the adepts in psychological and physical science, how even the greatest of our biological and theologians seem dwarfed! Name of us any modern discovery, and we venture to say that Indian history need not long be searched before the prototype will be found on record. Here we are with the transit of science half accomplished, and all our Vedic ideas in process of readjustment to the theories of force correlation, natural selection, atomic polarity and evolution. And here, to mock our conceit, our apprehension, and our despair, we may read what Manu said, perhaps 10,000 years before the birth of Christ.
The first germ of life was developed by water and heat. Water ascends towards the sky in vapors; from the sun it descends in rain, from the rains are born the plants, and from the plants, animals. Among the most vital parts of our Oriental heritage are the “Arabic” numerals and the decimal system, both of which came to us, through the Arabs, from India. The miscalled “Arabic” numerals are found on the Rock Edicts of Ashoka, a thousand year before their occurrence in Arabic literature. Said the great and magnanimous Laplace:
The Hindu genius is a love for abstraction and, at the same time, a passion for the concrete image. At times it is rich, at others prolix. It has created the most lucid and the most instinctive art. It is abstract and realistic, sexual and intellectual, pedantic and sublime. It lives between extremes, it embraces the extremes, rooted in the earth and drawn to an invisible beyond. ~~~ Octovio Paz (Mexican Nobel Prize laureate in Literature)
It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by ten symbols, each receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity, the great case which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.
There has been no more revolutionary contribution than the one which the Hindus (Indians) made when they invented zero. ~~~ Lancelot Hogben (English mathematician
Zero –The most powerful tool Ancient India invented the decimal scale using base 10. The number-names were used to denote numbers. In the 9th century CE, an Arab mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, learned Sanskrit and wrote a book explaining the Hindu system of numeration. Even today in Arab countries the word used for numerals is “Hindsa” means from Hind (India). In the 12th century CE
this book was translated into Latin. The British used this numerical system and credited the Arabs – mislabeling it ‘Arabic numerals’. “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” – Albert Einstein.
India invented the Zero, without which there would be no binary system. No computers! Counting would be clumsy and cumbersome! The earliest recorded date, an inscription of Zero on Skanheda Copper Plate was found in Gujarat, India (585-586 CE). In Brahma-Phuta’s Siddhanta of Brahmagupta (7th century CE), the Zero is lucidly explained and was rendered into Arabic books around 770 CE. From these it was carried to Europe in the 8th century. However, the concept of Zero is referred to as Shunya in the early Sanskrit texts of the 4th century BCE and clearly explained in Pingala’s Sutra of the 2nd century
The decimal system was known to Aryabhata and Brahmagupta long before its appearance in the writings of the Arabs and the Syrians; it was adopted by China from Buddhist missionaries; and Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarazmi, the greatest mathematician of his age seems to have introduced it into Baghdad. The oldest known use to the zero in Asia or Europe is in an Arabic document dated three years sooner than its first known appearance in India; but by general consent the Arabs borrowed this too from India and the most modest and most valuable of all numerals is one of the subtle gifts of India to mankind.
In the field of mathematics, Bhaskaracharya II (1114 – 1183 CE) contributed to the fields of algebra, arithmetic and geometry. Two of his most well known books are Lilavati and Bijaganita, which are translated in several languages of the world. In his book Siddhant Shiromani, he expounds on planetary positions, eclipses, cosmography, and mathematical techniques. Another of his books, Surya Siddhant discusses the force of gravity, 500 years before Sir Isaac Newton. In addition to that, Sage Sridharacharya developed the quadratic equation around 991 CE.
Algebra was developed in apparent independence by both the Hindus and the Greeks, but our adoption of its Arabic name indicates that it came to Western Europe from the Arabs-i.e., from India-rather than from Greece. The great Hindu leaders in the filed, as in astronomy, were Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Bhaskara. The last appears to have invented the radical sign, and many algebraic symbols. These men created the conception of a negative quantity, without which algebra would have been impossible; they formulated rules for finding permutation and combination; they found the square root of 2, and solved, in the eighth century, indeterminate equation of the second degree that were unknown to Europe until the days of Euler a thousand years later. They expressed their science in poetic form, and gave to mathematical problems grace characteristics of India’s Golden Age.
These two may serve as examples of simpler Hindu algebra. Out of a swarm of bees one-fifth part settled on a Kadamba blossom; one-third on a Silindhra flower; three times the difference of those numbers flew to the bloom of a Kutaja. One bee, which remained, hovered about in the air. Tell me, charming woman, the number of bees. . . . eight rubies, ten emeralds, and a hundred pearls, which are in thy ear-ring, my beloved, were purchased by me for thee at an equal amount; and the sum of the prices of the three sorts of gems was three less than half a hundred, tell me the price of each, auspicious women.
The Hindus were al so successful in geometry. In the measurement and construction of altars the priests formulated the Pythagorean Theorem (by which the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the other side) several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Aryabhata, probably influenced by the Greeks, found the area of the triangle, a trapezium and a circle, and calculated the value of (the relation of diameter to circumference in a circle) at 3.1416-a figure not equaled in accuracy until the days of Purbach in Europe. Bhaskara crudely anticipated the differential calculus, Aryabhata drew up a table of sines, and the Surya Siddbantas propound a system of trigonometry more advanced than anything known to the Greeks.
Sage Kanad (circa 600 BCE) is recognized as the founder of atomic theory, and classified all the objects of creation into nine elements (earth, water, light or fire, wind, ether, time, space, mind and soul). He stated that every object in creation is made of atoms that in turn connect with each other to form molecules nearly 2,500 years before John Dalton. Further, Kanad described the dimension and motion of atoms, and the chemical reaction with one another. The eminent historian, T.N. Colebrook said, “Compared to scientists of Europe, Kanad and other Indian scientists were the global masters in this field.”
Two system of Hindu thought propound physical theories suggestively similar to those of Greece. Sage Canada, founder of the Vaisheshika philosophy, held that the world was composed of atoms as many in kind as the various elements. In Jain Philosophy in India more nearly approximated to Democritus by teaching that all atoms were of the same kind, producing different effects by diverse modes of combination. Sage Canada believed light and heat to be varieties of the same substance; Sage Udayana taught that all heat comes from the sun; and Sage Vachaspati, like Newton, interpreted light as composed of minute particles emitted by substances and striking the eye.
Musical notes and intervals were analyzed and mathematically calculated in the Hindu treatises on music; and the “Pythagorean Law” was formulated by which the number of vibrations, and therefore the pitch of the note, varies inversely as the length of the string between the point of attachment and the point of touch. There is some evidence that Hindu mariners of the first centuries used a compass made by an iron fish floating on a vessel of oil and pointing north.
It will no longer remain to be doubted that the priests of Egypt and the sages of Greece have drawn directly from the original well of India, that it is to the banks of the Ganges and the Indus that our hearts feel drawn as by some hidden urge.~~~Friedrich Mejer (English statesman)
India was the world-leader in Metallurgy for more than 5,000 years. Gold jewelry is available from 3,000 BCE. Brass and bronze pieces are dated back to 1,300 BCE. Extraction of zinc from ore by distillation was used in India as early as 400 BCE while European William Campion patented the process some 2,000 years later. Copper statues can be dated back to 500 CE. There is an iron pillar in Delhi dating back to 400 CE that shows no sign of rust or decay
Chemistry developed from two sources-medicine and industry. Something has been said about the chemical excellence of cast iron in ancient India, and about the high industrial development of Gupta times, when India was looked to, even by imperial Rome, as the most skilled of the nation in such chemical industries as dyeing, tanning, soap-making, glass and cement. As early as the second century Nagarjuna devoted an entire volume to mercury. By the sixth century the Hindus were far ahead of Europe in industrial chemistry; they were masters of calcinations, distillation, sublimation, steaming, fixation, the production of light without heat, the mixing of anesthetic and soporific powders, and the preparation of metallic salts, compounds and alloys. The tempering of steel was brought in ancient India to perfection unknown in Europe till our own times; king Porus is said to have selected, a very special and valuable gift for Alexander, which was not gold or silver, but thirty pound of steel. The Moslems took much of this Hindu chemical science and industry to the Near East and Europe; the secret of manufacturing “Damascus” blades, for example, was taken by the Arabs from the Persians and by the Persians from India.
Besides the discoverers of geometry and algebra, the constructors of human speech, the parents of philosophy, the primal expounders of religion, the adepts in psychological and physical science, how even the greatest of our biological and theologians seem dwarfed! Name of us any modern discovery, and we venture to say that Indian history need not long be searched before the prototype will be found on record. Here we are with the transit of science half accomplished, and all our Vedic ideas in process of readjustment to the theories of force correlation, natural selection, atomic polarity and evolution. And here, to mock our conceit, our apprehension, and our despair, we may read what Manu said, perhaps 10,000 years before the birth of Christ: The first germ of life was developed by water and heat. Water ascends towards the sky in vapors; from the sun it descends in rain, from the rains are born the plants, and from the plants, animals. ~~~ Louis Francois Jacolliot (French diplomat & author)
Anatomy and physiology, like some aspects of chemistry, were by-products of Hindu medicine According to India’s ancient texts; around 3000 BCE sage Kapil founded both cosmology and psychology. He shed light on the Soul, the subtle elements of matter and creation. His main idea was that essential nature (prakrti) comes from the eternal (purusha) to develop all of creation. No deeper a view of the cosmos has ever been developed. Further, his philosophy of Samkhya philosophy also covered the secret levels of the psyche, including mind, intellect and ego, and how they relate to the Soul (Atman).
Around 800 BCE Sage Bharadwaj, was both the father of modern medicine (Ayurveda), and aviation technology. He wrote the Yantra Sarvasva, which covers astonishing discoveries in aviation and space sciences, and flying machines – well before Leonardo DaVinchi’s time. Some of his flying machines were reported to fly around the earth, from the earth to other planets, and between universes. His designs and descriptions have left a huge impression on modern-day aviation engineers. He also discussed how to make these flying machines invisible by using sun and wind force. There are much more fascinating insights discovered by sage Bharadwaj.
Knowledge of botany (Vrksh-Ayurveda) dates back more than 5,000 years, is discussed in India’s Rig Veda. Sage Parashara (100 BCE) is called the “father of botany” because he classified flowering plants into various families, nearly 2,000 years before Lannaeus (the modern father of taxonomy). Parashara described plant cells – the outer and inner walls, sap color-matter and something not visible to the eye – (anvasva), nearly 2,000 years before Robert Hooke who used a microscope to describe the same.
Around 400 BCE many great developments occurred such as in the field of medicine (Ayurveda), sage Divodasa Dhanwantari developed the school of surgery; Rishi Kashyap developed the specialized fields of pediatrics and gynecology, and Lord Atreya who authored Charak Samhita are perhaps the most referred Rishis/physicians today. The Ayurvedic texts, the Charak Samhita, classified the principles of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, embryology, blood circulation and more. Lord Atreya also discussed the healing process of thousands of diseases, many of which modern science still has no answer. Along with herbs, diet and lifestyle, Atreya showed a correlation between mind, body, spirit and ethics. He outlined a charter of ethics centuries before the modern Hippocratic Oath. Atrey was quick to emphasize, proper nutrition according to dosha, and considerd mind/body/soul relationship as most inevitable. He considered that the best medicine for all is spiritual and ethical life.
In addition to Lord Atreya contribution in medicine, sage Sushrut is known as the “Father of surgery” who developed rhinoplasty. Even modern science recognizes India as the first country to develop and use rhinoplasty. One of the Ayurvedic surgical practices being used today in India involves dipping sutures into antibiotic herbs so when sewed into the person, the scar heals quicker and prevent infection. He also practiced amputation, caesarean and cranial surgeries, and developed 125 surgical instruments including scalpels, lancets, and needles. He wrote about causes and cures for diabetes, TB, and heart diseases, at that time when European medicine had no comprehension about them. In fact, even today many of these disease causes and cures are still unknown to modern allopathic medicine. The modern surgical world owes a great debt to this great surgical sage.
Other unique quality of Ayurveda is that it uncovers and cures the root cause of illness, it is safe, gentle and inexpensive, and it treats people in an individualized manner according to their dosha or constitution and not in any generic manner.
As far back as the sixth century Hindu physicians described ligaments, sutures, lymphatic, nerve plexus, fascia, adipose and vascular tissues, mucous and synovial membranes, and many more muscles than any modern cadaver is able to show. The doctors of pre-Christian India shared Aristotle’s mistaken conception of the heart as the seat and organ of consciousness, and supposed that the nerves ascended to and descended from the heart. But they understood remarkable well the processes of digestion-the different functions of the gastric juices, the conversion of chime into chyle, and of this into blood. Anticipating Weismann by 2400 years, atteya held that the parental seed is independent of the parent’s body, and contains in itself, in miniature, the whole parental organism. Examination for virility was recommended as a prerequisite for marriage in men; and the Code of Manu warned against marrying mates affected with tuberculosis, epilepsy, leprosy chronic dyspepsia, piles, or loquacity. Birth control in the latest theological fashion was suggested by the Hindu medical schools of 500B.C. in the theory that during twelve days of the menstrual cycle impregnation is impossible. Fetal development was described with considerable accuracy; it was noted that the sex of the foetus remains for a time undetermined, and it was claimed that in some cases the sex of the embryo could be influenced by food or drugs.
Our present knowledge of the nervous system fits in so accurately with the internal description of the human body given in the Vedas (5000 years ago). Then the question arises whether the Vedas are really religious books or books on anatomy of the nervous system and medicine. ~~~ Rele (Jewish writer)
The records of Hindu medicine begin with the Atharva Veda. Medicine arose as an adjunct to magic: the healer studied and used earthly means of cure to help his spiritual formulas; later he relied more and more upon such secular methods, continuing the magic spell, like our bedside manner, as a psychological aid. Appended to the Atharva -veda is the Ajur-veda (“The Science of Longevity”). In this oldest system of Hindu medicine illness is attributed to disorder in one of the four humors (air, water, phlegm and blood), and treatment is recommended with herbs and charms. Many of its diagnoses and cures are still used in India, with a success that is sometimes the envy of Western physicians. The Rig-veda names over a thousand such herbs and advocates water as the best cure for most diseases. Even in Vedic times physicians and surgeons were being differentiated from magic doctors, and were living in houses surrounded by gardens in which they cultivated medicinal plants.
The great names in Hindu medicine are those of Sushrut in the fifth century before and Charaka in the second century after Christ. Sushrut, professor of medicine in the University of Benares, wrote down in Sanskrit a system of diagnosis and therapy whose element had descended to him from his teacher Dhanwantari. His work dealt at length with surgery, obstetrics, diet, bathing, drugs, infant feeding and hygiene, and medical education. Charaka composed a Samhita (or encyclopedia) of medicine, which is still used in India, and gave to his followers an almost Hippocratic conception of their calling: “Not for self, not for the fulfillment of any earthly desire of gain, but solely for the good of suffering humanity should you treat your patients, and so excel all.” Only less illustrious than Sushrut and Charka was Vagbhata, who prepared a medical compendium in prose and verse. Bhava Misra, whose voluminous work on anatomy, physiology and medicine mentioned the circulation of the blood, and prescribed mercury for that fatal disease, syphilis (a hundred years before Harvey). This discovery had recently been brought in by the Portuguese in Europe.
Sushruta described many surgical operations-cataract, hernia, lithotomy, Caesarian section. Despite Brahmanical prohibitions he advocated the dissection of dead bodies as indispensable in the training of surgeons. He was the first to graft upon torn ear portions of skin taken from another part of the body; and from him and his Hindu successors, rhinoplasty-the surgical reconstruction of the nose-descended into modern medicine. “The ancient Hindus,” says Garrison, “performed almost every major operation except ligation of the arteries.” Limbs were amputated, abdominal sections were performed, fractures were set, hemorrhoids and fistulas were removed. Sushruta laid down elaborate rules for preparing an operation, and his suggestion that the wound be sterilized by fumigation is one of the earliest known efforts of antiseptic surgery. Both Sushruta and Charaka mention the use of medicinal liquors to produce insensibility to pain. In 927A.D. two surgeons trepanned the skull of a Hindu king, and made him insensitive to the operation by administering a drug called Samohini.
For the detection of the 1120 diseases that he enumerated, Sushruta recommended diagnosis by inspection, palpation, and auscultation. Taking of the pulse was described in a treatise dating 1300A.D. Urinalysis was a favorite method of diagnosis; Tibetan physicians were reputed for their ability to cure any patient without having seen anything more of him then his urine.
In the time of Yuan Chawang Hindu medical treatment began with a seven-day fast; in this interval the patient often recovered; if the illness continued, drugs were at last employed. Even then drugs were used very sparingly; reliance was placed largely upon diet, baths enemas, inhalations, urethral and vaginal injections, and blood-lettings by leeches or cups.
Hindu physicians were especially skilled in concocting antidotes for poisons; they still excel European physicians in curing snakebites. Vaccination, unknown to Europe before the eighteenth century, was known in India as early as 550 A.D., if we may judge from a text attributed to Dhanwantari, one of the earliest Hindu physicians: “Take the fluid of the pock on the under of cow . . . upon the point of a lancet, and lance with it the arms between the shoulders and elbows until the blood appears; then, mixing the fluid with the blood, the fever of the small-pox will be produced.” Modern European physicians believe that caste separateness was prescribed because of the Brahman belief in invisible agents transmitting disease. Many of the laws of sanitation enjoined by Sushruta and “Manu” seem to take for granted what we in modern age call the germ theory of disease.
Hypnotism as therapy seems to have originated among the Hindus, who often took their sick to the temples to be cured by hypnotic suggestion or “temple-sleep,” as in Egypt and Greece. The Englishmen who introduced hypnotherapy into England were Braid, Esdaile and Elliotson “undoubtedly got their ideas, and some of their experience, from contact with India.”
The general picture of Indian medicine is one of rapid development in the Vedic and Buddhist periods, followed by centuries of slow and cautious improvement. How much atreya, Dhanwantari and Sushruta owed to Greece, and how much Greece owed to them, we do not know. In the time of Alexander, says Garrison, “Hindu physicians and surgeons enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for superior knowledge and skill,” and even Aristotle is believed by some students to have been indebted to them. So too with the Persians and the Arabs: it is difficult to say how much Indian medicine owed to the physicians of Baghdad, and through them to the heritage of Babylonian medicine in the Near East; on the one hand certain remedies, like opium and mercury, and some modes of diagnosis, like feeling the pulse, appear to have entered India from Persia; on the other we find Persians and Arabs translating into their languages, in the eighth century A.D., the thousand- year –old compendia of Sushruta and Charaka.
The great Caliph Haroun-al-Rashid accepted the preeminence of Indian medicine and scholarship in Baghdad. Lord Ampthill concludes that medieval and modern Europe owes its system of medicine directly to the Arabs and through them to India. Probably this noblest and most uncertain of the sciences had an approximately equal antiquity, and developed in contemporary contact and mutual influence, in Sumerian, Egypt and India.
It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to us such unquestionable gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all our numerals and our decimal system. But these are not the essence of her spirit; they are trifles compared to what we may learn from her in the future. ~~~ Will Durant (American philosopher)
India is eternal. Though the beginnings of her numerous civilizations go so far back in time that they are lost in the twilight of history, she has the gift of perpetual youth. Her culture is ageless and is as relevant to this present 20th century as it was to the 20th century before Christ. ~~~ Nani Ardeshir Palkhiwala (Indian lawer & philanthropist)
India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples. ~~~ Sri Aurobindo (Indian philosopher)
- Sarton Geo; Introduction to the History of Science Vol-1.
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