• By Dr. K. R. Srikantha Murthy
  • April 28, 2024
  • Dr Murthy, in a Bhavan Journal 1974 article, tells about Ayurveda’s contribution to medicine in the West and East, names of libraries in the West that have Ayurvedic manuscripts. 

Author Dr. K. R. Srikantha Murthy, Professor of Indian Medicine at Sri Jayachamarajendra Institute of Indian Medicine makes an assessment of Ayurveda in World Context.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1974.


SINCE the dawn of her civilisation, India has continued to be the centre of attraction for the whole world. In the beginning, trade was the spur for such contacts but later on the intellectual achievements of our ancestors became more attractive to scores of seekers of knowledge made pilgrimages to India through the many centuries, learnt new know[1]ledge, adopted it and enriched themselves and their country.


Unmistakable traces of Hindu culture has been discovered in Egypt, Ethiopia and even in far off Mexico and Peru. All ancient civilisations of Europe such as Ionian, Hellen, Scandinavian, Celtic and Semitic, trace their early beginnings to Indian migration. The civilisations of Middle East or west Asia, those of Assyria, Babylonian, Persian and Iranian have close similarities to Vedic culture. The great Buddhist monarchs like Ashoka and Kanishka did much to spread Buddhism and through it the Indian culture to many western nations, needless to say of neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma, Siam, Thailand, Japan and even China which formed part of their empire.


From the Fourth century A.D. and onwards, the naval conquests of Indian Kings on the islands of the Indian archipelago formed the greater India which was the eastward spread of Indian culture, The civlisation of Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore etc., are again strong holds of ancient Indian culture. The close similarity of many religious rites and customs, language and literature, art and architecture, thoughts and traditions between these countries and India is undeniable.


With these facts one can safely presume that ancient Indian culture had spread to all the four quarters of the world and even exercised great influence in the evolution of culture of every ancient nation.


Ayurveda was one of the most important branches of ancient knowledge which was highly appreciated by the foreigners since the beginning. The great progress it had made long before the Alexandrian era urged many to come to India solely to learn this science, Charaka Samhita enumerates the names like Kankayana the physician of Bahlika and many others who were learning Ayurveda in this Country.


The Medical school of Takshashila was a famous seat of learning probably the only seat at such an antiquity. Alexander and other enlightened kings who invaded India, realised the greatness of Indian Wisdom and during their return took back with them good lot of literature and even expert physicians, philosophers and so on. Many Emperors invited Indian scholars to their countries, kept them in their court and learnt much from them. The Persian, and Arabian Empires which acted as the media of transmission of knowledge between India 1and other European countries, imbibed all that was good from India.


Indian physicians served as Chief physicians at the Royal Court of Baghdad; they helped translate medical texts into Arabic and Persian. The revered name of Manka or Mankaka is a glorious example. The Greeks who vanquished the Persians and Arabians gathered all these valuable books. The library of Darius and of Pompeii contained many books on Indian medicine. This migration of literature continued unabated till the 18th cent A.D.


But about the middle of the 19th cent. A.D., interest in ancient Indian culture grew considerably among western pe0ple, thanks to the works of great western Sanskritists and Indologists like Max mueller, Wilson Jones, Muir, Jocobi, Julious Colly, Zimmer, Macdonnel, Weber, Hoernle, and others.


They have established beyond doubt the role of Ayurveda in moulding Greek; Arabian and other systems of medicine of Europe.


The libraries, archives and Museums of England, France, Germany, Rome and many other countries have within their shelves a large number of manuscripts and other materials relating to Ayurveda.


The best examples for this are the Wellcome Institute of History of Medicine, the India Office Library, the Royal Asiatic Society-all at London, the Medical History Museums of Germany, France etc., Similar is the case with the Eastern Countries, the pagodas of Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia etc., containing a large collection of ancient manuscripts.


This interest in ancient Indian wisdom continues to hold hundreds of elites of America and Europe even today who visit this country in increasing numbers year after year. During their short stay in India they come across many novel methods of treatment of diseases being practised in India, try to understand them, appreciate them and show their keenness in adopting them when they return.


The Western mind in its frantic search for peace and happiness more stable than the material benefits of modern scientific and technological development has turned to India; for, they hope, that the ancient Indian wisdom can lead them to the light. The various systems of philosophy, religion, ethics and many sciences which were in vogue in ancient times in our country are being put into practice in America and Europe. Religious cults like the Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation etc., the Yoga system of physical and mental cul- ture, the philosophical preaching of Rama Krishna Mission, the Divine life society, the Mahabodhi Society etc., have quite a large number of adherents. These and many others have made the western mind suit- able and eager to receive and absorb ancient Indian wisdom.


Modern medicine with its many phenomenal achievements has still many a gap to fill; in some spheres it has reached a dead end and the more it discovers anew the more it is rallying to the doctrines of Ayurveda.


The theory of bacterial origin of disease which held away like a monarch during the 18th and 19th centuries has been gradually giving room to Toxicity theory, Humoral theory, Psychosomatic theory and the like, thereby acknowledging indirectly the theory of multiple causation of diseases enunciated in Ayurveda. This is just an example to show that many doctrines of Ayurveda are being vindicated as truths, by the latest researches in western countries. So, interest is gaining ground in the minds of the Western scientists to have a good look into the ancient systems of medicines of the East-especially of India and China.


Now it is the opportune moment to place before the scientists of advanced countries the ancient doctrines of Ayurveda. Ayurveda suffers from lack of scientific understanding and evaluation. This can be better done by western scientists who are unbiased than by their Indian counterparts. It should be given a bonvoyage to acquaint the elite of other countries about its important doctrines, efficacy of treatment of such diseases for which modern medicine is lingering; while at the same time borrowing many things from them and enrich itself.

The newly constituted Central Council of Research in Indian Medicine and Homoepathy has to bestow greater attention to this aspect of popularising Ayurveda abroad. A great step has already been laid in this direction in helping the Govt. of Sri Lanka in setting up the Bhandaranaike Memorial Ayurvedic Research Institute under the enlightened guidance of Pandit Shiv Sharma and Acharya Rama Raksha Pathak, two eminent scholars of India.


In one of his recent utterings Pandit Shiva Sharma, the president of the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homoepathy told that a very big Research Institute is being set up in Australia and in it Ayurveda and other ancient systems of medicine shall find place for progress. Russia has established an Institute of History of medicine in which Indian Medicine forms an important wing. In its establishment Dr. G. Dwarakanath, former Adviser to Govt. of India had played a major role. These are signs of hope for betterment and the C.C.R.I.M.H. should catch up this thread and chalk out a programmes on the following lines, to propagate Ayurveda abroad:-


1. Selected scholars of Ayurveda be sent abroad on Lecture Tours, who in their talk can impress the scientists with basic doctrines of Ayurveda. 

2. Setting up of Ayurvedic Hospitals and Research Institutes in collaboration with foreign Govt., to treat patients who are declared in [1] curable by modern medicine. It can also undertake the survey of ancient medical manuscripts, folk medicines and medicinal plants etc., of those areas.

3. Collect, compile and publish books, research papers and other writings of eminent Indologists and Sankritists, in the form of an Anthology on Ayurveda. 

4. To boost, through export promotion, the trade of Ayurvedic medicines currently being conducted in many Eastern countries. 

5. To establish an Institute for advanced study in Indian Medicine for the benefit of medical men of foreign countries. It should be of a federal type-an international centre where the medium of Instruction shall be English. This can serve as a forum to conduct seminars and act as a liaison Institution for exchange of Professors and Research Workers. 


Let us hope the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homoepathy and Govt. of India by implementing such schemes will give a boost to Ayurveda at home and popularity abroad.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, November 10, 1974 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


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