Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of health care that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is presently in daily use by millions of people in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The word "Ayurveda" is a tatpurusha compound of the word āyus meaning "life", "life principle", or "long life" and the word veda, which refers to a system of "knowledge". Thus "Ayurveda" roughly translates as the "knowledge of life", "knowledge of a long life" or even "science of life". According to Charaka Samhita, "life" itself is defined as the "combination of the body, sense organs, mind and soul, the factor responsible for preventing decay and death, which sustains the body over time, and guides the processes of rebirth" According to this perspective, Ayurveda is concerned with measures to protect "ayus", which includes healthy living along with therapeutic measures that relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony. Ayurveda is also one among the few traditional systems of medicine to contain a sophisticated system of surgery (which is referred to as "salya-chikitsa").


According to the Ayurvedavatarana (the "descent of Ayurveda"), the origin of Ayurveda is stated to be a divine revelation of the ancient Indian creator God Lord Brahma as he awoke to recreate the universe. This knowledge was passed directly to Daksha Prajapati in the form of shloka sung by Lord Brahma, and this was in turn passed down through a successive chain of deities to Lord Indra, the protector of dharma. According to this account, the first human exponent of Ayurveda was Bharadvaja, who learned it directly from Indra. Bharadvaja in turn taught Ayurveda to a group of assembled sages, who then passed down different aspects of this knowledge to their students. According to tradition, Ayurveda was first described in text form by Agnivesha, in his book the Agnivesh tantra. The book was later redacted by Charaka, and became known as the Charaka Samhitā. Another early text of Ayurveda is the Sushruta Samhitā, which was compiled by Sushrut, the primary pupil of Dhanvantri, sometime around 1000 BCE. Sushrut is known as the Father of Surgery, and in the Sushrut Samhita, the teachings and surgical techniques of Dhanvantri are compiled and complemented with additional findings and observations of Sushrut regarding topics ranging from obstetrics and orthopedics to ophthalmology. Sushrut Samhita together with Charaka Samhitā, served as the textual material within the ancient Universities of Takshashila and Nalanda. These texts are believed to have been written around the beginning of the Common Era, and are based on a holistic approach rooted in the philosophy of the Vedas and Vedic culture. Holism is central to ayurvedic philosophy and elements of holism is found in several aspects of ayurveda.


There is a concept that has been passing down verbally from generation to generation in India about the origin of Ayurveda. Accordingly, the ancient "Rishis" or wise men of India gathered at the foot of the Himalayas. Their objective was to innovate together the secret of leading a healthy, long life. The final product of their effort came to be known as Ayurveda or the "science of life".

Documented references to the precise timing of the origins of Ayurveda are not available. The age of Ayurveda has been established on the basis of correlating the evidence with other disciplines as well as circumstantial evidence. Ayurveda is said to have been first compiled as a text by Agnivesha, in his book Agnivesh tantra, which was written during Vedic times.[citation needed] The book was later revised by Charaka, and renamed to Charaka Samhitā (encyclopedia of the physician Charaka).[8] Other early texts of Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhitā and the Sushruta Samhitā. The system was orally transferred via the Gurukul system until a script came into existence.

The earliest scripts would have been written on perishable materials such as Taalpatra and Bhojapatra, which could not be readily preserved. The script was later written on stone and copper sheets. Verses dealing with Ayurveda are included in the Atharvaveda, which implies that some form of Ayurveda is as old as the Vedas. Ayurvedic practices have also evolved over time, and some practices may be considered innovations upon earlier Vedic practices, such as the advances made during the Buddhist period in India.

Hinduism attributes the genesis of Ayurveda to several theories in which the knowledge is believed to have been passed on from being to being, initially, through its realization by the divine sages, and gradually into the human sphere by a complex system of mnemonics. Details of Ayurvedic traditions vary between writers, as is expected when oral traditions are transcribed from multiple sources. The earliest authors of Ayurvedic manuscripts recorded divergent forms of the tradition.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Ayurveda. The Official Guide to Ayurveda is Helen Thomas. Dr. Helen Thomas is an enthusiastic high energy person who loves sharing her passion in alternative medicine. Dr. Helen interned in Pune, India with Dr. Narendra Pendse in an Ayurveda clinic for five years. Helen also served as an Intern in a hospital for Lepers in India and after that experience she declared: "I was the one that was healed".

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