The History of Indian Civilization, Anatomy, Alchemy and Medical Ethics in India
"India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition. The most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only." — Mark Twain
India has remained in contact with the outer world since pre-vedic era. There are evidences of trade between India and Egypt during Indus valley civilization. Later on it came in contact with Persia, Greece, Rome ,China ,South-east Asia, Middle east and lastly with Europe and America. Due to its cultural assimilative and intense metabolic power it has absorbed many things from the exotic culture and Science into its varied background and made them integral part of its own culture, but at the same time sticking to its radical character. This has made Indian culture a queer blending of orthodox and progressive forces. The realm of medicine is not exception to this.
History of Indian alchemy can be traced to pre-Vedic period. The archaeological excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in the Indus valley have brought to light that, the people in ancient India were possessing chemical knowledge as early as in the pre-historic period.
People living around the Indus Valley gradually developed their civilization .It was later on called the Harappan culture or Harappan civilization and was considered to exist around 2700-2500BC.But it appears that that civilization was totally out of touch with the mainstream of Bhartiya culture, that’s why their linguistic and literary developments remained in a very primitive shape. The inscriptions of Harappan civilization are found on seals and tablets in the form of signs which very much resemble Phoenician and Semitic signs that were developed around 1500 to 1000 BC and which became the prototype for the development of all the writing systems of the western world.
But, on the other hand, we have the historical record, documented in the Bhagwatam itself (Bha. Ma. 6/94,95,96) that in 3072 BC, 2872 BC, three public programs of the recitation of the Bhagwatam and the discourses on Krishna Leelas had happened in which saints and the devotees participated.
We have thus two entirely different views about the civilization of India in almost the same period of time. Thus, during the period of the Harappan culture, in some areas of the Ganges valley, India did have its advanced civilization and the scholars of Sanskrit language because the discourses on the Bhagwatam were in Sanskrit language; and you should know that India is never bereft of Sages and Saints who hold the knowledge of all the scriptures in their Divine mind.
When the historians write the history of India, even if they are sincere in their efforts, still they try to patch up the Harappan culture with Vedic culture and, in a worldly manner; they try to determine the advancement of the Sanskrit language which is eternally perfect. Such a notion is absolutely wrong. They think that they are trying to be logical in their historical research, but they forget this fact that one cannot determine the history of Bharatvarsh on meager archaeological findings of coins, toys and pots. Whereas the general history of Bharatvarsh is already written in its scriptures and the Puranas whose texts and the philosophical descriptions are the outcome of the Gracious and benevolent minds of eternal saints.
It is thus the history of Sages, Rishis, Saints, Divine personalities, holy kings who ruled the land of Bharatvarsh and also the descensions of the supreme God that happened on the land of Bharatvarsh. It is all described in the Puranas .There are 17 main Puranas,18 subsidary Puranas and one Mahapurana ( supreme Purana), the Bhagwatam.
Revelation of the Vedas, Upanishads and Sanskrit Grammar
The latest reproduction of the Vedas, Upanishads, Grammar , and all Purana was about 5,000 years ago by Ved Vyasa.
The Rigveda mentions the heart, lungs, stomach and kidneys. The Atharva Veda lists medicinal herbs, plants and also mentions "the wonderful structure of man". The Atharva Veda refers to heart as "Lotus with nine gates." an amazingly accurate description of the heart as we know it today. We do know that the heart indeed looks like a lotus bud if held with its apex upwards and there are nine openings in all 3 in the night atrium, 4 in the left atrium and one each in the right and left ventricles. The Atharva Veda refers to "Dhamanis"- which are ducts with thick walls equivalent to arteries; "Siras"- which are ducts with thin walls equivalent to veins and still finer ducts are referred to as "Snavas" similar to capillaries.\
The Vedas were followed by other writings. The `Brahmanas' which can be considered as guide books for the Vedas came next. `Aranyakas' and then `Upanishads' followed Brahmanas.1 Upanishads contain knowledge acquired sitting around one teacher in the "Guru-Shishya tradition" where the disciples sit around the teacher and learn. One such Upanishad called Garbha Upanishad (1400 BC) describes the development of embryo in an astonishingly precise manner:
"From the conjugation of blood and semen the embryo comes into existence. During the period favorable for conception after the sexual intercourse it becomes a `Kalala' (one-day-old embryo). After remaining seven nights it becomes a vesicle - `Budbuda'. After a fortnight it becomes a spherical mass "Pinda". After a month it becomes a firm mass. After two months the head is formed. After three months the limb regions appear." Similar descriptions are also found in the teachings of Vag Bhata, Vishnudhara and in Agni Purana.7
This accurate description of the embryo in the Upanishad, which predates microscopes, is truly amazing as it matches almost accurately with the present-day knowledge of embryology. Seven days old embryo is indeed vesicular and is called blastocyst. The description of formation of the head and the limb regions also more or less matches with the time of their development as we know them today.
In Vedic period single herbs were prescribed. Minerals and animal substances were also prescribed but no compound preparations were in use.
The post-upanishadic period from 800 B.C. to 1000 A.D. may be considered the "The Golden Age of Indian Medicine". Ayurveda, the science of life (Ayur = long life; Veda = science) evolved during this period and two great proponents of this science existed and practiced medicine in India-Susruta and Charaka. Susruta lived two centuries before Christ and was a contemporary of Atreya who was Charaka's teacher. Charaka samhita can be dated back to 1A.D. The first written evidence of Ayurveda is in the Sanskrit writings of Charaka samhita and Susruta samhita. These two manuscripts form the twin pillars of ayurveda.
The training of doctors, and their code of ethics and practice, in ancient India holds a salutary position in the history of medicine. The high ideals of medical practice and the responsibility of the physician are emphasized in Caraka’s poignant statement: ‘No other gift is better than the gift of life’.
Caraka clearly outlined four ethical principles of a doctor: ‘Friendship, sympathy towards the sick, interest in cases according to one’s capabilities and no attachment with the patient after his recovery’.
The Caraka samhita emphasizes the values central to the nobility of the profession, thus: ‘Those who trade their medical skills for personal livelihood can be considered as collecting a pile of dust, leaving aside the heap of real gold’. Furthermore, ‘He who regards kindness to humanity as his supreme religion and treats his patients accordingly, succeeds best in achieving his aims of life and obtains the greatest pleasures’. In the Susruta samhita, the doctor’s duty and obligations to the patient are stressed: ‘The patient may doubt his relatives, his sons and even his parents but he has full faith in the physician. He [the patient] gives himself up in the doctor’s hand and has no misgivings about him. Therefore, it is the physician’s duty to look after him as his own son’.
Both these samhitas devote a complete section "Sarira sthana" to the subject of anatomy.In these sections besides gross anatomy, embryology and histology are also dealt with which indicate a comprehensive study of Anatomy. Naturally the histological features described before the advent of the microscopes were mainly speculative.
During this period the ancient Indians also pioneered in human dissection. Indian anatomists were aware that in order to attain a satisfactory knowledge of human anatomy one had to take recourse to dissection and it was practiced in ancient India as is mentioned in Susruta Samhita:
"Anyone who wishes to acquire a thorough knowledge of anatomy must prepare a dead body and carefully observe and examine all its different parts. One should select a body, which is complete in all its parts. Having removed all the excrementitiously matter from it, the body should be wrapped in grass and placed in a cage. Having firmly secured the latter in a hidden spot in a river, the body should be allowed to decompose. After an interval of seven says, the thoroughly decomposed body should be taken out and very slowly scrubbed with a whisk made of grass roots (of kusa). At the same time every part of the body great or small; external or internal, beginning with the skin should be examined with the eye."8 Since the Hindu anatomists were forbidden by tradition and religious beliefs to cut the body, it was only natural for them to use kusa grass to peel off the layers of the skin and study the interiors.
These early Indian anatomists divided the body into six parts- the four extremities, the neck and the trunk. The emphasis in Hindu anatomy was given first to the bones and then to the muscles, ligaments and then joints. Ancient Indian anatomists belonging to Atreya-Charaka school counted 360 bones and those of Susruta's school noted 300 bones in the human body. They included teeth, nails, cartilages, the bony prominences and protuberances as separate bones, a fact that accounts for the large number they got.
Alchemy in India, was started for the preparation of an elixir of life for imparting immortality and later for the transmutation process for converting base metals into gold. Indian alchemy derived its color and flavor to a large extent from the Tantric cult. Then, during the iatric-chemical period all the previous accumulated alchemical ideas were put into something more practical and tangible. a number of preparations of mercury and other metals were evolved as helpful accessories in medicine.
During the medieval period use of metallic and mercurial preparations developed to the maximum and as such it was but natural that Sarngadhara quoted a large number of such preparations in his text.His contribution regardsing number ot dhatus(metals) is significant.In early daus only six metals were recognized and there was continuing search for the seventh one so that the number becomes parallel to the the body tissues (dhatus) on which they have to act.Sarngadhara became successful in this effort and made the number as seven including pittala(brass) and alloy of zinc as the seventh dhatu.Later on when Zinc was recognized in pure form,it replaced pittala under the name Yasada which is found in the Bhavaprakash (sixteen century A.D.).Thus the credit for initiating the modern concept of seven dhatus goes mostly to the Sarngadhara.
Dr. Bhagwan Dash, wrote in Alchemy and Metallic Medicines in Āyurveda
“Alchemy, according to Indian tradition, is not an end in itself. It is only a means. The actual intention of processing mercury is to administer it for the preservation and promotion of positive health of the individual so that he can practice different religious rites unhindered for a sufficiently
long period to achieve jivan mukti i.e. salvation from the bondage of the world while remaining alive. And further Dash describes the actual processing of mercury that is done in great detail. Here is just some of the initial overview: … “for the treatment of ordinary diseases, only eight samskaras (stages of processing) are considered to be enough. But to make it more potent for curing obstinate and otherwise incurable diseases and to make it more effective for the purposes of rejuvenation (rasayana) which results in longevity leading to salvation while alive (jivan-mukti), mercury should be subjected to eighteen stages which taken together are called astadasa samskara. Deha sidhi (perfection of the body and mind of the individual) is the primary aim of using processed mercury
In Practice of Ayurveda, Swami Sivananda holds that " Rasayana treatment which confers Kaya Kalpa comes under Ayurveda. " “Ayurveda shows you the way to attain a high standard of health, vim, vigor, vitality and longevity. It solves the riddle of old age. It helps you to preserve the youth. It gives a scientific description of the process of rejuvenation, Kaya Kalpa. Chyavana and other sages of yore who had a broken and debilitated constitution on account of old age, renewed their vigor of life and lived for countless years by undergoing Kaya Kalpa treatment. Chyavana prepared a confection out of various herbs and took it. That herbal preparation is known by the name Chyavanaprash which is still used by the people of India. Mandavya Rishi who lived in the Vindhya mountains took an Elixir. He got perpetual youth through the use of drugs. … Kaya Kalpa is that form of treatment which restores the aged and debilitated body to its pristine youth and vigor, re-establishes the full potentialities of the senses and gives good health. Kaya Kalpa adds new life to years and new years to life. Kaya Kalpa restores the natural balance to Vata, Pitta and Kapha, brings the functions of Saptadhatus to a normal condition and cures many incurable diseases. Kaya Kalpa should be conducted under the expert guidance of a very competent Ayurvedic physician. The life-long accumulation of various poisons in the system causes decay, old age, and death. Therefore one should take recourse to Pancha Karma for purifying the body before he begins Kaya Kalpa treatment.
“ The Rasayana Treatment. …According to this treatment, old age is a disease. This needs to be treated. Accidental deaths can be avoided. Life can be continued indefinitely through Rasayana treatment. …. Rasayana treatment is done through sulphur, mercury, nux vomica seeds, Neem, Haritaki, and Amalaka. The Rasayanas can immortalize the physical body. The Rasayanas keep the physical body healthy and strong for a long time in order to achieve the goal of Self-realisation in this very life. If the body is kept healthy and strong for a long time, the Yogic students have much time to attain the goal. Much time will not be lost in dying and being born again. This is the theory of Rasayanas. Three distinct processes are described in the Ayurveda to attain longevity and rejuvenation. They are ‘Rasaraj Rasayana,’ - termed mercury - which has first and foremost place among the ancient therapeutics; ‘Rasayana’ herbs; and ‘Aachara Rasayana.’ ‘Eko Aso Rasaraj Shariram-ajara Amara Kurute’ - the only thing that can make the body ever young and immortal is the blessed Rasaraj. Longevity is also attained through rasayana herbs such as Soma, Nila, Nari, Padma, Hareetaki and Amala. Amala and hareetaki tone the body, give immense strength and virility and make it immune from many diseases. The patient is kept indoor (Kuti-pravesh) or out-door (Vatepik). “Aachara Rasyana” or rejuvenation and longevity through the practice of Yama and Niyama or right conduct … is another kind of treatment by the Yogins and sages.” According to the Sushruta the Rasayana treatment should be performed on the subject either in youth or in the middle age. It will not bestow the desired results, if it is performed when old age or decrepitude has already set in.”
Sanat N. Bhagwat Department of Neurosurgery.Medical Research Center, Bombay hospital,12, Marine Lines, Mumbai, India