The World Health Organisation recognises and accepts traditional medicinal systems for the treatment of diseases and maintenance of health. Ayurveda is an age-old system of medicine dating back to almost 5000 years and is still practised in the Indian subcontinent. It has also spread far and wide over the last few decades with a large number of foreign nationals adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle. It is also to be noted that there is a large section of the world population that relies on complementary and alternative medicines for their health needs.
Having said that, acceptance of Ayurveda as a valid medical system is still lacking. A couple of years ago, at a seminar, a young boy raised a question at the Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology. He asked them their view on the “allegedly dubious” systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Yoga. Now this might elicit strong reactions amongst those who are pro-Ayurveda. However, we need to address this question in the mind of that youngster.
Ayurveda is one among the many traditional medicinal systems in the world. Many nations such as Japan (Kampo), Vietnam (thuoc nam and thuoc bac) and Nepal (Amchi) have their own traditional systems and have integrated them with modern medicine. Integration of Ayurveda with modern medicine has only just begun in India with the help of the Ministry of AYUSH, who are bringing to light the many principles and practices of Ayurveda. But these efforts need to be applied in bucketloads.
The Institute of Medical Science in Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi has been mandated to bring about this integration. Tibbia College in Delhi is supposed to be in charge of bringing together Unani and Ayurveda but no one is really aware as it does not come up in popular narratives and discussions. Dr Alex Hankey in Integrative Biology for Integrative Medicine says, “Well directed R&D will make India the world leader in healthcare for coming generations”
The perception of Ayurveda in the minds of many is still one of ridicule. There are many who respect Ayurveda as a medicinal system but not for the wealth of knowledge it holds. At a conference last year, Mr Prashant Singh, Director, Centre for Innovation in Governance, Rashtram School of Leadership, pointed out the large repositories of knowledge systems India has. These include not only Ayurveda but also Yogic practices and Vedic knowledge systems which express the basis of life-force principles.
The University of Pune of Ayugenomics hypothesised a connection between genomics and the doshas. Dr Hankey impressed upon the need for modern biology to be set in the context of Ayurveda for the above to be made possible. He added, “The concept to be held primary in any organism must be what keeps it functioning as a living entity, i.e. its ‘Life Force’, known in Ayurveda as Ayus, the Life Principle.” From the smallest organism on Earth to human beings, this is the primary concept that needs to be well understood.
“Call it unscientific, but showcase many of our manuscripts in British museums. We Indians don’t even have access to these treasures”, says Dr Mala Kapadia, Professor, Rashtram SoL. However, we cannot blame only the British for the decline in progress of traditional medicine. Medieval rulers who set up their kingdoms here shared no cultural heritage with India and hence did everything in their power to neglect Ayurveda.
During the national freedom movement, advocates of Ayurveda initiated its revival with a view to restore and promote indigenous medical systems. Many experts were of the view that integration between Ayurveda and modern medicine would benefit mankind, but the view was ousted by the physicians who saw Ayurveda as a threat. Evidence-based thinking of modern medicine was widely accepted by many. This has eventually led to many traditional medicinal systems to provide evidence for their mechanism and efficacy of drug action. But it is to be noted here that Ayurveda is not just medicine. Ayuh means life and Veda is science. There is reluctance when it comes to the understanding of the principles of Ayurveda.
This is where education needs to play an important role. Unfortunately, students who desire to pursue medicine prefer an MBBS degree rather than BAMS degree. It is only when they are denied an MBBS seat, they pick Ayurveda. Reluctantly, I must add. “However this can be changed”, says Dr Madan Thangavelu, General Secretary & Research Director, European Ayurveda Association. According to Dr Thangavelu, India needs elite schools like the IIMs, IITS, and AIIMS that change the thinking of health.
He added, “We are led to believe that as long as we have men in white coats, we don’t have to worry about our health. Until then, we have the freedom to do whatever we wish to do.” This kind of thinking has manipulated the way we think of healthcare.
The current education system is as commercialised as healthcare and has elements of weaponization against Ayurveda. During the Renaissance, modern medical education moved away from the Church. Education was limited at the layer of rationality and reason. Anything above it was not considered in the domain of education. The separation of education from the forces or principles of life has created a conflict between modern and traditional medicinal systems. This makes it imperative to not only make tweaks in the education system but also create a platform that helps to understand the life forces. Just as Mr Singh pointed out, India’s biggest wealth is its knowledge systems.
It must also be kept in mind that Ayurveda is not a subject of mythology. We as Indians must take pride in our roots whence these knowledge systems have come. The Ministry of AYUSH must make efforts to include mentions of Charaka, Sushrutha and Vagbhatta along with Newton and Hippocrates right from primary education.
The present pandemic had many heads turned to Ayurveda to not only boost immunity, but also to cope with post-COVID symptoms. Ayurveda has an entire chapter dedicated to pandemic in the Vimana Sthana of Charaka Samhita. It says a pandemic happens when there is a change in climate. Climate change is due to the greed of humans. This greed of humans arises from the Adharmic way of living. Acharya Charaka has always stressed on following and practicing Dharma.
Ayurveda is not a system that believes in one-size-fits-all. Personalised medicine that most health scientists across the globe are trying to achieve was already achieved by India centuries back and it continues to do so even now. Practising Ayurveda will not deteriorate the quality of healthcare services in the country. Ayurveda deserves a place along with modern medicine in mainstream healthcare.
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.