Inspiration to garner precious gems of medical wisdom strewn throughout the length and breadth of the Atharva Veda and to fashion them into a compendium, wherein these pearls of medical wisdom could be viewed through the scientific prism of 21st century medical know-how, was engendered in my innermost self, during my early years as a teacher in Calicut Medical College. As a student, first of Ayurveda and then of the western system of medicine, there never arose any dichotomy in my medical reasoning, nor did I perceive any inherent conflict between the two systems. In fact, the more I delved into the treasure house of medical lore that is Atharva Veda the more I realized the innate similarities between the twin systems, one so ancient, the other very modern.
There has never been any dearth of critical material on our Vedas. Vedic scholars have written volumes about these ancient scriptures. However, it cannot be denied that among the Vedas, the Atharva Veda has not been dealt with in equal detail by these scholars, because of the misapprehension that the Atharva Veda is probably less important than the others. The false notions and fallacies about Atharva Veda are many, one charge leveled against it being that it is all about black magic or sorcery. There is a crying need to make a dispassionate analysis of this Veda, so as to dispel all such misconceptions.
Against such a background, it would be pertinent to recall here that although five eminent authors have published translated versions of Atharva Veda, either wholly or in part, none of them had attempted to explain the ancient medical wisdom in Atharva Veda in conjunction with modern medical terminology and treatment. In addition, no comparative study been done of current ayurvedic practices with medical procedures as described in the Atharva Veda.
An interesting aspect of the methodology used in Atharva Veda to present medical knowledge includes anatomical descriptions occurring only when describing diseases, although such knowledge in vedic times was almost complete. Other aspects include physiological descriptions occurring usually with anatomy; curative properties of medicinal herbs being always linked to diseases; and assigning responsibility for mental diseases, epilepsy, depression and so on to supernatural forces of the evil variety. In the Atharva Veda while one may come across specific surgical descriptions pertaining to vasectomy, such references may not be found in ayurvedic texts. On the other hand, ayurvedic texts abound with details of tridosha sidhanta with even Hippocrates talking of a related theory of the Four Humours, the Atharva Veda does not contain any similar postulate. It is noteworthy that Buddhist medical books, although dealing with various branches of medicine including surgery, in the later texts, make no mention of the tridosha theory, for example, Jeevaka, a Buddhist ophthalmic surgeon describing the procedure for cataract surgery makes no mention of this theory. Similarly, in the Atharva Veda, obstetrics and gynecology have been dealt with in great detail, including tubular pregnancy and different types of obstructed labour but there is no such description in ayurvedic texts.
There are abundant vedic references to uphold the theory that medical science progressed steadily but slowly even before the vedic era, mainly in the form of experimentation with plant and other natural remedies coupled with the use of charms, incantations and the likes. Knowledge regarding the diagnosis and treatment of diseases was considered as originating from divine revelations of sages like Brahma Prajapati, the Asvins, Indra, Rudra and so on. As medical knowledge grew and broadened over the centuries, it was not restricted to any particular Samhita or Veda. One can find medical references in the Brahmanas, the Sutras, the Upanishads and so on. In spite of the foregoing, the Atharva Veda needs to be acknowledged as the favored child of the hoary Indian medical tradition. There are also numerous repetitive references to ancient teachers of ayurveda viz Bharadwaja, Atri, Angiras, Kanva, Bhrigu, Brahaspati and Kasyapa. It could be that quite a few of these names are not of one particular individual at a given point of time but of a guru parampara where traditional medical lore is handed down from guru to shishya, along with the name, which perhaps amounts to an honorific.
The Atharva Veda is sometimes also called Bhishajya Veda because its hymns contain most of the traditional medical knowledge of that era and is arguably the authentic source for all such wisdom. The continuity of this ancient Indian medical knowledge is traceable in Buddhist texts like the Dighanikaya, the Mahavaga, the Vinaya and in the Asoka edicts. Similarly, texts like Thanaga, Vivagasiya, Vavahara Bhashya, BrahatKalpa Bhashya and so on abounds with medical knowledge. From these references one is convinced of the continuity of the ayurvedic tradition during the lesser known periods of ancient Indian history.
The fact that all the three ancient, acknowledged and accepted samhitas of the ayurveda system of medicine, viz, Charaka Samhita, Kasyapa Samhita and Susruta Sainhita, unhesitatingly declare their allegiance to the Atharva Veda, places beyond doubt the traditional perception that the ayurvedic lineage has descended from the Atharva Veda. However, opinions of certain learned scholars offer differing insights. For example, Vaghbhata calls ayurveda the Upa Veda of Atharva Veda, whereas the Gopatha Brahmana does not even list ayurveda among the Upa Vedas. The Brahmavaivarta Purana gives ayurveda the status of the fifth Veda, whereas some have termed it an upanga of the Atharva Vêda while others have termed it an independent vedanga.
A plausible explanation for these conflicting views, could lie in ayurveda’s metamorphosis during its evolving relationship with the Atharva Veda over centuries. Ayurveda might once simply have been an upanga (accessory) of the Atharva Veda but later assumed the status of an Upa Veda because of its impressive growth. Such growth dould even have granted it the elevated status of a fifth and perhaps superior veda, because of its usefulness and versatility. Although, in the beginning, the Atharva Veda cured diseases with a preponderance of charms, incantations and sacrifices, with only a modicum of medicinal plants, as the ayurvedic system developed and evolved its own separate ethos, use of plants, herbs and other natural resources became prevalent and the drug method of treatment gained prominence over the charm method.
The Atharva Veda is alternatively known as Brahma Veda and Bhrugu Vistara as Atharva is also known as Atharvangiras and Bhruguvangiras. The current belief is that there are nine branches of the Atharva Veda, to which Path anjali Mahabashya, Saunaka Charana Vyuha and few other texts are in full agreement. Nine branches are Charana Vyuha, Paippalada, Tauda, Moda, Saunaka, Jalada, Jalaja, Brahma Veda, Veda Darshana and Charana Vidya. Among those nine texts, Saunaka is the only one freely available and commonly referred.
There are 731 sukthas and 6000 verses in the Saunaka Paada of the Atharva Veda. About 2350 verses are common in Rg Veda and Atharva Veda. The topics dealt with are also very similar. It is on te topic of yanjaas that these two vedas mainly differ. The Rg Veda gives prominence to yanjaas on a grand scale, whereas the Atharva Veda mentions only domestic and small yanjaas. Atharva Veda has got only one Brahmana — the Gopatha Brahmana which contains several references to Brabman. Among the ten Upanishads, Prasna, Mandukya and Mundaka are contributions of Atharva .Veda. During the course of evolution of mankind in India, yanjaas became an integral part of the vedic era or vedic religion. For the smooth functioning and performance of yanjaas, four important posts like, Brahman, Hota, Adhwaryu, Udgatha was created, and Atharvan or Atharvangiras came to be identified as Brabman. Otherwise to be the supreme director of yanjaas he should not only be an atharva vedist but should be a scholar in other vedas too. The importance of Atharvan or Atharvangiras gradually was lost because of the scarcity of scholars well versed in all the four vedas especially in Atharva Veda. During the course of time scholars with good knowledge of the Rg, Yajur and Sama proclaimed that they could go ahead with a yagna even without Atharvans. Another significant aspect of Atharva Veda is that this branch had a separate Gayatri known as Atharva Gayathri. Considering the above aspects, it is arguable that the Atharva Veda was held in high esteem before gradually losing its primacy.
Now a word about the structure of this book itself. It has been my endeavor to collate all mantras in Atharva Veda, which have a basic relationship with diseases and ailments, symptoms and signs, medicines and herbs or hygiene and healthcare. These mantras have then been categorized under suitable heads, with transliterations and translations in all cases, interpretations in some cases and explanatory notes in a few instances. It is possible that the content aspect of certain mantras may appear to overlap but their exclusion would have bunkered the reader’s vision to a significant extent. As for the groupings in which mantras have been categorized, the headings are in the modern context, for the sake of the 2Pt century reader. In a parallel volume meant for the other readers, translations have been provided in Malayalam, in place of English. These two books taken together would hopefully provide a panoramic view of the Atharvan medical scene for the discerning reader delving into Vedic lore.
Before I conclude, may I be permitted to insert a word of caution on the authenticity of the Atharvan medical knowledge. It has been my earnest endeavor to view the diseases, treatments and medicines mentioned in the Atharva Veda through the prism of the 2Pt century western medicine. While doing so, attempts at correlation between two systems of medicine set apart by centuries have been carried out with care, so that one does not step out of the bounds of reason. Hence some of the modern interpretations have not been accepted in toto but amended suitably to prevent erroneous deductions, as I thought it prudent to err on the side of caution.
Lastly, left me place on record my deep sense of gratitude to Dr. M. S. Valiyathan, who so graciously accepted my request to furnish a preface to this book.
It would be appropriate at this juncture to acknowledge M.R. Rajesh’s help in codifying the interpretation of vedie verses.
It is my good fortune that Colonel M P Gopinath Calicut, a good friend of mine perused the whole manuscript and made necessary amendments.
Though many doctors are also writers, Only a few can compare with Dr. C.K.RAMACHANDRAN for his balanced, authoritative and brilliant studies in the field of medical science.
He dedicates his latest effort to the relationship between Ayurveda and Allopathy; a scholarly look at a serious subject. In this pioneering study, Dr. C.K.RAMACHANDRAN gives the general reader a penetrating insight into the connection between Atharvaveda and the western system of medicine. His magic is in convincing us that the verve and value of modern medicine comes from the great Indian tradition of Vedas.
Dr. C.K.RAMACHANDRAN’S total immersion in the subject makes this luminous, well researched study a wondrous journey into the astonishing world of medical science.
Born in 1926 in a family where Ayurvedic System of Medicine was practiced for five generations. Drawing inspiration from the family tradition, firstly he graduated in Ayurveda and later in modern medicine. Dr. C.K.R. as he is popularly known among his innumerable students and friends, retired from Calicut Medical College as a senior Professor in 1981. Well-versed in both the systems of medicine. Dr. C.K.R. is a enlightening presence in Malayalee society. He has written several authentic articles on medicine, philosophy and literature. Dr. Ramachandran’s prominent published books are Vydya Samskarm, Vydyasasthram Noottandukalilude, Aadhyatmikaanweshanam, Oru Rogavum Kure Samsayangalum, Nenju Vedana, A Doctor’s Mindscape, Atharvaveda Bhaishajyam. Dr. C.K.R’s wife Chithra Ramachandran, who left for heavenly abode few years ago, was a fountain of inspiration to him in all his endeavours. His daughters are Sulekha, Sethalakshmi, Dr. Sindu and Sheela. Addresss: Changanezhath, V.R. Menon Road, Kochi-16.
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