Talk:/Medical Institutions in ancient india/Smritis and Classical Period/The Smriti and the Classical Periods

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The Smriti and the Classical Periods


Having witnessed the priest-prophet beginnings of the medical man and his later evolution in the post-vedic or samhita period into a fully established lay healer akin to the one of the modern times, we find a deterioration in his status consequent presumably upon a dete�rioration of his high ethical and intellectual standards set up in the hayday of Ayurveda. Particularly this applies to the art of surgery which dwindled into a handcraft unworthy of man of learning and of intellectual equipment It is reasonable to conclude that medicine began to advance and gradually encroached upon the field that was formerly held by surgery so much so that most cases formerly rega�rded as amenable to surgical measures were claimed by the physician in his peculiar domain. There must have been a tendency to make as much of surgery as possible superfluous and the remaining inevi�table measures of incision and excision of wounds and such other minor traumatic conditions, relegated to the simple craftsman such as the barber. Even in Europe until the eighteenth century, the barber surgeon was the prevailing institution. Even in the achievements of the modern medicine, this tendency is apparent. More and more diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea, surgical tuberculosis, and diphtheria have been taken out of the domain of surgery by the inventions of the sulpha group of drugs, radiology and other methods of therapeusis.


We find proof of this kind of transition where the Cikitsaka, the therapeutist, because of his handling impurities like the pus, flesh and blood was regarded as unworthy of attendance at religious sacrifices and ceremonial dinners.


Menu lays down:

"Those who earn their living by therapeutic service or from church property or meat dealing or by trade should be avoided in all religious as well as in obsequial ceremonies.�


Again he says: �The food given by a therapeutist is just like pus, that by a harlot is like semen, that by a usurer is like fecal matter and that by a wine dealer is like refuse.�


�The food offered by a therapeutist, an ungrateful person, a sculptor, a usurer, a eunach and by a harlot should not be accepted."


It is evident that the medical profession during this period had fallen from its pristine glory and nobility. The reasons are obvious. The learning and the practical clinical training disappeared and it became a mere trade and craft descen�ding from parent to offspring as was the case with other trades like smithy, carpentry and agriculture In such circumstances, the love of knowledge, research aud high ethical principles could scarcely be expected to prevail. The Bhisak so exalted in the Caraka and other samhitas becomes a mere Cikitsaka, a therapeutist. The tenets of non-infliction of pain, must have discouraged �surgical measures, dissection and other means involving the handling of flesh, blood and other unseemly things. They must hive ultimately depended on a few time honored herbal and mineral recipes inciden�tally opening up a field of research in metals. The great buddhist Nagarjuna was a veteran in the field of mercury preparations and an alchemist. But Ayurveda, as a science of life, with it vast list of animal products in its materia-medica and dialectics must have disap�peared. The tenets of Vedic religion became more and more dogmatic and the observances of external purity and piety gained ascendancy over the liberalism of thought and spirit that obtained previously. As a sign of the general deterioration of thought and observance, the handling of bodily impurities of blood and flesh incidental to the practice of surgery was regarded as disreputable. The high purpose of surgical therapeusis was lost sight of and only the unseemliness of the method kept in view. This surely signifies a general decay in the cultural and scientific life of the race when mere forms were remembered and worshipped. The noble purpose of philosophy and science was clouded by the clamorous adoration of the external forms of religion and the catch-phrases of science substituted for its spirit and meaning. For, in no otherwise, can we understand the fall and neglect of such a branch of knowledge as Ayurveda, which men of the previous age had held to be supreme even above the other Vedas.

This must have led Caraka whom we have placed somewhere in the second century B C. when the Vedic religion and culture was reasserting itself to have rescued the disappearing science from oblivion and compiled his immortal samhita to reinstate the great science of medicine in the national life That is why in the classical period of India that is for the centuries from the second or first century B C despite the injunction of the Smrtis, Vaidya reasserted his position of social importance in India. The references to the place of the Vaidya in the structure of the village and the towns, and the growing recognition of the significance of the medical science prove his re-instatement before Indian life was once again plunged into confusion and consequent dislocation by foreign invaders or

conquerors namely the mohammedans.


The following few references culled from classical writers bear testimony to the above conclusion


"All other arts and sciences are only for amusement. There is nothing worthwhile to be gained from them. But the sciences of healing, astrology and thaumaturgy are corroborated at every step.�

�O ye deluded philosophers ! why do you still persist obstina�tely in the quest for unity? O ye, angular logicians why do you still go about investigating with your noses in the dust? O ye theologians' why do you afflict the heart with scriptural recitations which pierce the ears like needles? Leave these varieties and seek refuge in medicine, the one perfect science for the sake of giving happiness to all life.�


It was a popular maxim that a physician was a necessary element in any complete civic unit.


"In a country where there is no man of wealth, no Brahmana well versed in the Vedas, no king no river and fifthly no physician, one should not live even for a day�.


Here below is the Caraka�s ideal of a physician:

They are well-born, of wide learning, of wide practical experience, skilful, pure, practised of hand, self controlled, fully equipped with all the appurtenances (of healing), in full possession of their faculties, conversant with the normal course of nature, able to take prompt and appropriate decisions these are to be known as the saviours of life and destroyers of diseases�.


The highest honor that a medical man aspired to was to become the king's physician. The qualifications needed for such title were many and difficult Caraka lays down the qualifications thus:

"The man who is aquainted with the characteristics of all diseases, versed in all therapeutic measures and conversant with the true properties of all drugs,' is worthy of being made the custodian of the king�s life. He who possesses the fourfold knowledge of etiol�ogy, symptomatology, therapeutics and prophylaxis of diseases is the best of physicians and deserves to be honoured by the king. (He is fit for being the royal physician)��.


There can be no doubt that a true and learned physician must have earned'the respect and patronage of society in all the ages past as he does at present and will continue to do for all time. He is the natural friend and guide of society and even the state has to consult him in conditions of grave dangers to racial survival arising from serious disease and lack of social hygienic and sanitary sense. He is the expert on health and his example and precept are valuable education to the society. Medicine may be practised as a trade till some new social revolution takes place when all medical aid becomes an organ of the state, but a spirit of humanity and broad sympathy with the ailing fellowman will ennoble and endear even the practitioner who makes more than a living trom his profession. But the stupendous fortunes to the making of which medicine is now an easy means must come to an end It takes the soul out of the most humane of professions and makes it almost a censurable avocation. Under enlightened conditions of social life, the healer is bound to reclaim his leadership as in the primitive society. He was then the priest and magic man, later on the prophet and the miracle worker of health, the inspiritor of the individual as well as of society, a guide and leader into the higher realms of physical and psychic soundness and integrity. He guides and helps humanity across the rough seas of disease and decrepitude into the heaven of health and long life. Let us repeat the noble lines from Vagbhata in praise of the supreme healer.


Obeisance to that incomparable physician who destroyed the entire brood of psycho-somatic diseases such as passion and the like that perpetually afflict all embodied creatures and that give rise to the urge of desire, delusion and depression.�