Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicine ancient Hindu art of medicine for the treatment of various diseases. At the time of the British conquest, India's medical system incorporated Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha as well as folk medicines of different kinds. Ayurvedic practitioners or the kavirajas in 19th century Bengal generally belonged to high caste Hindu families and were well-versed in Sanskrit. Because of the social taboos of orthodox Hindu society devout Brahmins and widows would not touch allopathic medicine and relied on medicine prepared by Ayurvedic practitioners. There prevailed a personal bond between the kabirajas and their patients. Apart from diagnosing illness, the practitioners would advise a patient on the proper diet and other activities or norms to be observed during the intake of medicine. The kaviraja would only give medicines prepared by himself or under his supervision to ensure the purity of ingredients and observance of proper methods of preparation.

Reputed Ayurvedic physicians instructed students in traditional Sanskrit texts in the Tols. The students also assisted the kaviraja in treating patients and preparing medicines and thus acquired much needed practical experience. Some of the leading schools of Ayurvedic practice in 19th century East Bengal were those at Chittagong and Khandarpara which were famous for treating insanity, and one at Chandsi which treated different kinds of ulcers, fistula and piles. Kumartooli and Murshidabad in West Bengal were respectively famous for the preparation of medicines and diagnosis based on reading the pulse.

The first few decades of the 19th century witnessed peaceful coexistence of Indian and Western medical systems. Western medical researchers took a lot of interest in the indigenous system of medicine. By the end of the 18th century, medicine formed an integral part in the Orientalist project of representing and capturing the essence of Indian civilization. The works of early Orientalist scholars emphatically pointed out that an ancient system of medicine which was worthy of investigation did exist in India and also that a search for ancient Sanskrit manuscripts should be undertaken to rediscover this knowledge. Largely as a result of the efforts of scholars like Jones, ancient medical texts became the subject of critical and systematic enquiry.

Most of the authors after Jones, including J Johnson, B Heyne, H Wilson, W Ainslie, W Turning, G Playfair, JR Martin, JF Royle, and TW Wise, compared the past glories and achievements of Hindu science and medicine with its later degeneration. Still, however, the early decades of the 19th century witnessed an eagerness to learn about India's rich materia medica from medical texts and also by interrogating native practitioners. The aim of these authors was undoubtedly to devise the 'best method of ruling' Bengal. Their works nevertheless stimulated further research. The British authorities thought it worthwhile to establish institutions for teaching indigenous medicine. In 1811, lord minto recommended such establishment of colleges at Nadia and Tirhut for the restoration of indigenous learning in Bengal under the patronage of the Government. In 1822, the School for Native Doctors was established in Calcutta to train doctors for the army. In June 1826 the General Committee of Public Instruction received requests from the Secretaries of the Sanskrit College and the Calcutta Madrassa Committee for conducting medical classes at their institutions. Captain W Price, Secretary of the Sanskrit College wrote to the General Committee that six students of the college and twelve outsiders belonging to the Vaidya caste had appealed for the establishment of a medical class to enable them to receive medical instructions so that they could afterwards enter the medical profession. Dr John Tytler, superintendent of the Native Medical Institution himself took charge of the class and conducted lessons in western medicine. The Ayurvedic system was also taught and the Susruta- and Caraka-Samhita were among the texts used.

After the foundation of the Calcutta Medical College in 1835, Ayurvedic institutions faced difficulty due to loss of official patronage and paucity of resources. Eminent Ayurvedic practitioners like Gangadhara Ray (1789-1885) and Gangaprasad Sen (1824-1896) and their students upheld the prestige of indigenous medicine in Bengal. The former was born in 1789 in a village of Jessore and studied Ayurvedic medicine in the tol of Ramakanta Sen. After the completion of his studies he came to practice in Calcutta because he wanted to publish the famous Sanskrit text Caraka-Samhita and had come to know that a wealthy resident of Calcutta owned a flawless copy of that text. He stayed in Calcutta from 1819 to 1835 and left the city because the climate had an adverse impact on his health. Gangadhara settled at Shaidabad (Berhampore) and became a Court physician of the Nawab of Murshidabad. He opened a tol in his house to train pupils. Gangadhara became famous for his skill in diagnosis by the reading of pulse and also in the therapeutic use of poison. He made immense contributions to Ayurvedic scholarship by writing commentaries in Sanskrit texts and the most famous was Jalpakalpataru, a commentary on Charaka. He died in 1885, but his students continued his work.

While Gangadhara avoided contact with western medicine and fought to preserve the pristine purity of Ayurvedic medicine, Gangaprasad Sen, a junior contemporary of Gangadhara, chose the path of popularising Ayurvedic drugs to compete with western medicine. He sold medicines according to fixed prices, introduced consultation fees, which sometimes surpassed the fees charged by allopathic practitioners, published advertisements for drugs and even exported them. He also published Ayurveda Sanjivani, the first Bengali magazine on Ayurveda. The movement for the revitalisation of indigenous medicine, developed in India from the late 19th century onwards, had three central features: codification and dissemination of knowledge available in the classics and later Ayurvedic texts, institutionalisation of training and teaching, and manufacture and marketing of Ayurvedic drugs. A student of Gangaprasad Sen, Bijoyratna Sen translated one of the three classic texts of Ayurveda, Astangahrdaya into Bengali. He received his education in a tol but he learned English and acquired some knowledge of allopathy. He set a trend for co-operation between allopathy and Ayurveda which was carried on by his student Jaminibhusan Ray.

Chandrakishore Sen, a junior contemporary of Gangadhara, started a small dispensary in Calcutta in 1878 to sell medicines at cheap rates. Within 20 years, CK Sen and Co. became a large-scale manufacturing concern. In 1884 NN Sen and Co. Private Limited was founded in Calcutta. Other similar pharmaceutical concerns were sakti oushadhalaya of Dhaka, Sadhana Ausadhalaya, Kalpataru Ayurvedic works founded by Gananath Sen and others. All these earned a high reputation and became commercially successful.

Jaminibhusan Ray founded the Astanga Ayurveda College and Hospital in 1916. His aim was to give parallel instructions in western anatomy, physiology, surgery and midwifery to the students of Ayurveda.

The establishment of the All India Ayurvedic Congress in 1907 provided impetus to Ayurvedic medicine. The National University of Bengal Gaudiya Sarvavidyayatna was established in 1921 as part of the non co-operation movement. It included an Ayurvedic medical wing, known as the Vaidya Shastra Pitha. In 1922 the Gobinda Sundari Ayurvedic College was started by Kaviraja Ramchandra Mallick who was patronized by the Maharaja of kasimbazar, Sir Manindra Chandra Nandy. It provided parallel instructions in western medicine and Ayurveda. Similar courses of study were introduced in the Vishwanatha Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya established in 1932 by Kaviraja Gananath Sen.

The Ayurvedic movement successfully established a parallel set of institutions devoted to indigenous and western learning. But the movement failed to rejuvenate indigenous medicine or give it an official status equal to that of western medicine. Moreover, internal conflicts which ensued between the protagonists of the Shuddha or pure system of traditional Ayurveda and the advocates for the integration of indigenous and western systems of medicine gradually weakened the movement and continued to exist even in the post 1947 period. [Sujata Mukherjee]