Ayurveda, whose Sanskrit name means "the science of longevity" is an ancient (perhaps the most ancient) art of healing, that has been practiced in India for millenia and survives today as a living medical tradition whose principles are at the heart of many alternative, complementary and "holistic" therapies now increasingly popular in the West. According to myth, Ayurveda is said to have materialized at the beginning of time, when life itself was created - born of the mind of Lord Brahma, creator of the universe, and transmitted through Indra, Dhanvantari and other deities to humankind for the sake of relieving suffering. It is therefore thought to have no concrete beginning and will thus continue until the end of creation.
Ayurveda's exact roots are difficult to reckon as its practices do indeed go back to the mists of primordial antiquity around the time when people started to cultivate crops and herd animals, settle in communities and become conscious of their own welfare, synchronously awakening to the fact that they had to take measures to improve and preserve their lives and when fallen ill restore their health.
While it is hard to set a concrete time when actual Ayurvedic practices came about, by the time of the Indus Valley Civilization (whose earliest antecedents at Mehrgar trace back to about 7,000 BCE), Ayurveda was well developed and the attitude of people towards health practices was advanced. The ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were intricately planned to include drainage systems, public wells and waste removal structures indicating their appreciation of proper sanitation. Excavations of these cities found stag-horn and cuttlefish bone suggesting that vegetables, animals and minerals were used as sources for drugs (stag horn and cuttlefish bone are known to be useful in treating cardiac pain and respiratory disorders and, interestingly, among many of these ancient remedies are still used in Ayurveda today).
In addition to the use of certain drugs, Indus peoples placed great emphasis on personal hygiene and fitness, and with their efficient techniques, sound thinking about health matters and insightful knowledge into therapeutics, the Indus Valley Civilization played a vital role in the early development of Ayurveda. In addition to its great age, dating Ayurveda is made all the more difficult by the fact that its canon was reduced to writing very late in its development, having existed solely in oral form for countless centuries.
"The Roots of Ayurveda" brings together selections from the Sanskrit classics of Ayurveda's founding rishis, seers and sages: physicians Charaka, Sushruta, Kashyapa, Vagabhata and Sarangadhara who likely lived between the mid-first millennium BCE up to the fourteenth century CE. Their encyclopedic works included discourses on the structure and function of the physical body; the therapeutic natures and actions of a great many plant and mineral drugs; the surgical treatment and repair of trauma and a great many other kinds of surgical operations; the circumstances leading to the miscarriage and the means to be utilized to ensure a maximum number of births of male children; the means for arresting and reversing the ravages of aging - these are among the aspects of speculative and practical interest described in Ayurveda's foundational works which are ably translated and described in detail in this volume. Here readers will find wide-ranging and fascinating advice on the benefits of garlic therapy, prayers for protection against malevolent disease deities, exercise regimens, the treatment of poisons, the interpretation of dreams, and much more.
The translations - which are from the oldest extant writings of the physicians rather than later commentaries - are in standard modern English. But care has been taken not to transpose English medical terms onto the Ayurvedic concepts. Author Dominik Wujastyk's authentic, critical and reader-friendly renderings of original Sanskrit medical texts offer us a glimpse into Ayurveda as a complete, scientific and living medical tradition.
This is a very concise but nonetheless comprehensive distillation of the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda's classics, the Sushrutha Samhita (the surgical compendium), the Charaka Samhita (the internal medicine compendium) and the Ashtanga Hridaya (the Eightfold Heart of Medicine), to name only the most important. This volume is highly recommended for newcomers to Ayurveda and those interested in developing an appreciation for the historical side of the practice and the unique flavor of its literary cadence. It is also a very worthwhile read for students of Hinduism, ancient India and medical anthropology as well as the history of science generally. Dr. Dominik Wujastyk has done a wonderful service for the Ayurvedic community in producing this thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening work.