History of Ayurveda: a brief introduction

Ayurveda originated in the 10th century BC, but its current form took shape between the 5 th century BC and the 5th century AD. In Sanskrit, ayurveda means “science of life”. Ayurvedic philosophy is attached to sacred texts, the Vedas, and based on the theory of Panchmahabhutas - all objects and living bodies are composed of the five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and sky. Similarly, there is a fundamental harmony between the environment and individuals, which is perceived as a macrocosm and microcosm relationship. As such, acting on one influences the other. Ayurveda is not only a system of medicine, but also a way of living. It is used to both prevent and cure diseases. Ayurvedic medicine includes herbal medicines and medicinal baths. It is widely practised in South Asia, especially in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Ayurvedic medicine is said to have originated from the ancient Hindu sacred texts the Vedas, but these actually contain few medical references. Modern scholars believe it evolved, gradually absorbing influences from Buddhism and other traditions along the way.

The basis of Ayurveda is contained in two great medical compendiums written by Charaka and Sushruta more than 2,000 years ago. These texts cover a vast array of topics including pathology, diagnosis, treatment, surgery, lifestyle advice and philosophy. Legend has it that Charaka's compendium contains teachings passed down from the Hindu god Indra. Copies of these texts, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves, survive today and form the basis of Ayurvedic training.