Ayurveda was discovered and developed by ancient Indian holy men known as “rishis”. Due to their relationship (connectedness) to both, the spiritual and physical worlds, they were able to discern a basic nature of the universe, and man’s place in it. They developed an oral tradition of knowledge that was fluid and allowed for growth. Ayurveda was built upon as new therapies and herbs were discovered, and trade brought new information from other cultures.
These practitioners were scientists who made huge advances in the fields of surgery, herbal medicine, the medicinal effects of minerals and metals, exercise, physiology, human anatomy and psychology. Over a very long period of time, this information was recorded. As written language developed, first came the Rig Veda (4500 years ago), followed by the Atharva Veda (3200 years ago) and others.
As Ayurveda spread into other civilizations, its versatile adaptability was recognized and it was often integrated into local forms of medicine. Ayurveda had a profound effect on the medicine of Tibet, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Indonesia. Ayurvedic medicine was suppressed in India during British colonial rule. In 1833, the East India Company closed and banned all Ayurvedic colleges. For almost 100 years, Ayurveda was known as “the poor man’s medicine”, practiced only in rural areas where “western medicine was too expensive or unavailable”.
With the independence of India, Ayurveda has re-emerged to gain equal footing with western medicine. Currently, 70% of India’s population is treated ayurvedically. In 1978, at a conference on “Third World Medicine” sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations, it was concluded that Ayurveda would be the best system for undeveloped countries. Its low cost, use of local herbs and remedies, adaptability to any climate, and reduced dependence on pharmaceutical products are favorable aspects for the world’s population. There is hope that a global medicine will be created with Ayurveda as its base, and Western, Chinese and traditional native medicines appropriately –blended in each locale.