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Atharvaveda: Medical Treatise of Ancient India!

Sept. 26, 2020, 11:21 a.m. by Dr.Dilip Mahapatra ( 425 views)

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During the Vedic period, four Vedas emerged with some medical content but it was the last one, Atharvaveda(AV) which accounts for a fascinating compendium of medicine in its various stages of primitive and most surprisingly a highly evolved stage of therapy. The word Brahma has been used in the sense of a physician. Not surprising as the two godly physicians(Ashwini Kumars) were regarded as the sons of Lord Brahma. Also, the name Atharvan is synonymous with Bhesaja or medicine. The charm system of Ayurveda of the Vedic age is represented by AV.

Charms and the amulets are more efficacious than herbs and medicine according to Kayachikitsa(general medicine) in one of the 8 branches of Ayurveda. Some scholars have also mentioned that Ayurveda is a Upaveda or Upanga of AV as so many references in it are quoted from the AV.

Goddess Durga apparently produced her second progeny, Lord Ganesh from her skin cells, this is an amazing concept of stem cell technique. The present day scientist has not produced a human using this technology as skin cells are not pleuri-potent or omni-potent cells.

Highly specialized work and research were conducted by Rubhu brothers on cows for producing better milk enhancement capacity by cloning techniques using cells from the udder of a selected cow which is amazing as the animal cloning took place on 5th July 1996 when Dolly the sheep was born using the adult somatic cell from the udder of a sheep.

Aromatic skin cells were produced by Sage Parashara for Satyabati as she had a fishy odour and requested the sage for this before she agreed to cohabitate with him and as a result, Vyasa was born. Satyabati musk-like bodily fragrance later attracted King. Shantanu to her Lord. Surya fathered the Ashwini Kumars who are mentioned as godly physicians. Sage Durvasa was able to treat Draupadi to enable her to be a mother from the cosmic energy of a God to fertilize her egg to become a zygote. This technique was also passed on to Madri. Modern science describes the zinc micro-molecules emanating a flash of light from a fertilized egg. Sage Vyasa also was able to understand the principle of zygote division which he later applied for creating 100 sons and me daughter to Gandhari from a mass of zygotic cells grown outside the womb in a nourish cell culture broth. The churning of the ocean produced the celestial physician, Dhanwantri who is also regarded as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu rising from the ocean of milk carrying the pot of amruta with him. This was snatched by the asuras(demons) but was taken back by Mohini, another female incarnation of Lord Vishnu as this elixir had the property of anyone taking it to become immortal. Dhanwantri had the knowledge of many medicinal plants. Medical plants have played a very important role during the history of ancient India. When Lakshmana was knocked unconscious by the arrow of Indrajit, it was the plant extract (sanjivini) that saved his life. Dhanwantri’s trayodashi is now officially declared as the national Aruyvedic day by the government.

We will now discuss the aetiological factors, origin, and method of therapy as available to us from the Atharvaveda.

1. Aetiological factors & origin of disease:

a.Krmi (worms,germs & insects) as causative factors.

This enters the human body, multiplies, and is either visible or invisible, like Trisersanam (Roundworms or threadworms), Aglandun(Ascaris), Salunun(A type of Oxuris). According to AV germs are everywhere, in the mountains, in the water, land, and trees. Some are parasites of man. Brilliant observations.

Sirsanyam- which causes mania & lunacy and Parsteyam, a germ that causes diseases of the ribs(Osteomyelitis). AV describes the parasite with a floating head and having three projects around the mouth which is colourless probably describes the parasite roundworm.

b. Witchcraft causing disease:

AV believes that human sorcery can cause various maladies and also cures it of an evil eye referred to as Sapatha as the cause. Some of these rituals are still practiced in India.

c. Bhutas (Demons) causing disease:

Sometimes these diseases are the demon themselves. The same idea has been incorporated in the Ayurveda as well in the Bhutavaidya as one of the branches of Ayurveda which establishes a direct connection with AV.

Some demonic names are listed as Alimsa, Amiva, Anupalala, Asvesa, Araya, Apsarasa, Dvayavin, Gandharva, karuna, Kakibha, Khalaja, Samskanda and Viskanda.

d.4 main groups of demons are Pisacha(Preys on the flesh), Raksasa(Steals away the senses & kills), Atrin(Preys on the flesh and Kanva ( Preys on the foetus in the womb) Apsaras bewilder the mind and cause insanity with amorous behaviour), Some good ones have been mentioned like pingas who protects the babies at birth and can chase the Gandharvas away. Heatstroke can cause disease. The spread of disease from a sore or a pustules by flies, the germ (Yaksma) TB can arise from excessive cohabitation and spread quickly from person to person. Some seasonal variations can cause diseases and an epidemic of Tapman(fever). Disease caused by water, wind, and heat has been described including Asrava(Diabetes), Grahani Vyadi(Tropical Sprue), etc.

e.Dosas(Humour) as the cause of the disease:

It seems AV recognizes 4 types of dosas, Vayu, Viz, Prana, and Vyana & that fever originates from Agni and also refers to tri-dosa (Vata, Pita & Kapha) theory in the context of disease treatment. Prana stays in the body until the person dies. There is a prayer to prana vayu to protect the man from death.

f. God’s role in causing disease:

There is a strong belief in AV that God inflicts diseases as punishment for sinners. Some Gods like Rudra, Soma, Varuna, Vastospati, Aditya, and Marut, etc have exceptional powers to cause human diseases and epidemics/pandemics. Fever is caused by the son of Varuna, Jalodara(Ascites) is caused by Varuna. Rudra is described as the best divine physician possessing many healing remedies as well as treating lightning strokes. A paradoxical situation exists here that Rudra can also cause diseases.

1.Diagnosis of diseases:

The word for disease as described in AV is (Yaksma). Also, there is the word Roga mentioned occasionally in the text of AV. Atharvan knowledge of a few diseases is known through the symptoms like fever and Jalodara(Ascites) is inflicted by Varuna to those who lie. The hyms are prayers as to pacify the gods and as remedies to cure the diseases. Hyms are selective to the Gods foe example (Agini, Soma, Varuna) for fever,(Rudra) for internal pain and aksata,(Garutman) against visa,(Saraswathi) against Krimi,(Indra, Parjanys) against Arava.

2.Some hyms are specifically addressed to diseases like Apachit, Takman, Jananya, Balasa, and Kasa. It is interesting to know that some hyms are addressed to the medicine used, like Silachi (for wound healing), Pippali(cure for Ksipta), Rohini(for fracture healing) , Kustha(for fever), and Visanaka(for Asrava-diabetes).

3.Classification of disease:

A large number of diseases, both minor and major have been mentioned in AV in the known, unknown, or vague form. Diseases of the head, heart, back, rectum, blood , bones, and other parts of the body are well recorded. Some classification of the diseases into various groups are not recorded systematically as in the Charaka and Susruta Samhitas because AV was written during the Vedic times where the diagnosis, pathology, toxicology, and therapeutics were not demarcated. AV on the other hand deals with the following diseases like,Aksiroga(eye diseases), Asrava(Polyuria), Amiva(Feminine demon) causing malnutrition , asthibhanga(Bone fracture),Balasa(skin disease), Harima(chlorosis), Hrdhyota(Heart disease), Jalodara(ascites), Jayanya(TB), Kasa(cough), kustha(skin disease-leprosy), Krimi(worm infestations), Mutravarodha(urinary obstruction), Rudhirasrava(Bleeding), Sirskti(headaches), Slesma(phlegm), Sula(pain), Takman(fever), Trsna(thirst), Unmada(Insanity/Lunacy), Viskandha(Tetanus) and Yaksma(Tuberculosis) Some minor ailments are also mentioned like Angabheda, Aksata, Alaji, Ajnatayaksma, Apva, Jambha, Karnasula, Lohita, Palita, Paman, Papayaksma, Pratyamaya, Udyuga, Vidradha, Visalpaka, Visucika, and Vrasika.

4.The practice of medicine:

The medical practitioner or the Atharvan priest was par excellence with the full knowledge of the medical plants and their healing properties. The priest is the central character in Atharva Veda with full details and professional exhortations. The Atharvan was regarded as the best physician who could prepare the medicine, the amulets, and cures the disease. The priest thus trained is described as who hath attained attainments, has a stronghold on the living for, a hundred physicians are his and also a thousand plants. AV also describes the prognosis of the disease it’s clinical course as adbhutani and aristani. Specific medical aristas like delirium in fever(taken), excessive urine secretion in diabetes(Asarva). Some adbhutani foretell the person’s death. Sakuna Santi hyms and santikalpa attached seem to mitigate some of effects of the disease.

5.Treatment Methodology:

AV methods of treatment are fairly simple, medicinal charms and amulets are used for diseases to ward off evil spirits and the effects of witchcraft. Some plants are mentioned like Anjana used as an ointment, added to a bath or in a drink. Some nonpharmacological methods of treatments are recorded for treating diseases like hydhyot(heart disease) depart when the sun rises which could mean morning exercises. The sun also dispels skin diseases. The sunlight has germ-killing powers as the sun god is the father of the divine physicians, the Ashwini Kumars. Medicinal water has been used for rehydration and remedial properties Herbs like Jangida have been praised for its medicinal properties. Mostly, the Atharvan medical practices are of a semi-religious nature in which a fire is lighted and oblations to the god are offered. Two types are known, one for beneficial rites(Paustikavidhi) and the other for witchcraft(Ghoravidhi). This later course is for chasing away the demons who cause diseases. A lot of symbolism exists in these quasi-religious medical performances. The medical traditions of the Vedic age (AV & Ayurveda) cured many diseases by charms, amulets, incantations of hyms, and the use of a single medical plant. Later on, the drug method became more prevalent in the cure of all types of diseases including baldness.

6.Toxicology(Agadatantra)

AV mentions there is poison in the fire, has many charms against the poison of snakes, scorpions, insects, plants, and arrowheads. The water excreted from the Upajika(termites) is an effective antidote as are plants(Soma, Taudi, Ghrtachi, Durbha grass, Asvaivara, Parusavara, Sweta, Paidva, Madhula useful as an antidote for snake bites.

7.Rejuvenation Therapy(Rasayana);

Rasa originally meant water as described in the Vedas with spam rash phrase appearing in the Atharvan. Similarly in the AV the virtues of water such as conferring virility, bringing luster to the body, resisting disease and delaying old age, bringing immortality, doing away with deformities, making the skin healthy are mentioned infrequent phrases. This could also mean that the divine nectar contained in the water which makes gods un-aging and immortal. This was perhaps a chapter of geriatric medicine as we know off.

Although in the Vedic age water was regarded as Rasayana and acts as a skilled physician’s potion, like the herbs which also contains water. No clear cut definition of Rasayana is available in the AV as later detailed (Rasayana, Medicinal herbs, and Procedure ) in the Ayurveda.

Vayikra (Aprhodiziac therapy):

This is mentioned in the AV as the special charms to promote virility. Also mentioned is the juice of Vrsa, which creates an urge, enhances the quality of semen, and protects manhood. Uccuhusma/Kapikacchu is a highly potent aphrodisiac. Therefore, it can be said that the Vedic people knew about pyscho-sexual disorders affecting men as there is no mention of females and what sort of treatment was given to them. Too much use of aphrodisiac brought about impotency as VajiKarana and Klibata are the ultimate results of proper and excessive use of these medicinal products.

A whole chapter in the AV is devoted to Yaksma(Consumption /Tuberculosis). The most brilliant portion, I found was the description of TB in cattle. Both the human form and bovine TB still exists. With the COVID -19 preventive measures, especially, the use of masks, it is quite probable that TB will disappear as a communicable disease in India by 2025.

Summary:

Vast knowledge about different diseases existed during the Vedic age as described in the Atharva Veda and the ayurvedic scriptures. Details of more than a thousand medical plants were available. I can at least identify a medicinal plant, Ashwagandha(Withania Somnifera) which was used in the Vedic times for reducing stress, boosting brain functions, lowering cortisol, and blood sugar levels. This product is currently used in alternative medicine. The other thing which one can note is the ability to classify the disease, the causative agents, and the management of such diseases. This started in the Atharva Veda and was completed in the Ayurveda. The charms and hymns of many such diseases as being classified, like speaking to children or an adult suggesting that it was common to have both diseases of childhood and those affecting the adults. It is therefore natural for us to ponder upon the Vedic scriptures as a medical compendium which was a continuous tradition of the ancient medical beliefs & practices available then and has also influenced the growth of various Indian systems of medicine still being practiced. The recent excavation findings of 17 types of different operating tools are proof that Shalya chikitsha (Surgery) was well developed during the Vedic period and to the later age of the Indian epics. Therefore to conclude many scholars have referred to it as the upaveda or the upanga of Atharva Veda.

 

-Prof(Dr), Dilip Mahapatra

-Clinical Director, Lugh Medical Centre, College Height’s, Dundalk, Co.Louth, Ireland .


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