References Of Health And Ayurveda In Mahabharata

Article by Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Ramayana and Mahabharata are the greatest Indian Epics of Indian literature written in Sanskrit. It is an epic narrative of the Kurukshetra war including the battle between the Pandava and Kaurava princes. It is translated as ‘The great tale of the Bharata Dynasty’

Mahabharatha is not just a story, it also contains many philosophical preaching’s and devotional material including the 4 chief goals of life or Purusharthas.

Bhagavad Gita is one of the segments of Mahabharat which has been highly worshiped and valued. It comprises of philosophical preaching done by Lord Krishna to Arjuna, the Pandava Prince to enlighten him to take up the battle against bad and evil. It helps us to lead a moral way of living.

The story of Damayanti and abbreviated version of Ramayana and the Rishyasringa are other important parts of Mahabharata.

Vedavyasa is supposed to be the author of Mahabharata. The oldest preserved parts of the text are thought to be not much older than around 400 BCE, though the origins of the epic probably fall between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE.

The Mahabharat is the longest known epic poem. It is also described as ‘the longest poem ever written’. Its longest version consists of over 100,000 shlokas and long prose passages. It comprises of about 1.8 million words in total. It is roughly 10 times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined or about 4 times the length of the Ramayana.

W.J.Johnson has compared the importance of Mahabharath in the context of world civilization to that of the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the works of Homer, Greek drama or the Qur’an.

Different types of personalities and their psychology, socio-economic and political conditions of that period can be seen described in Mahabharata. It gives us the complete picture of the art and culture of that period and it can be called ‘Encyclopaedia of Bharata Khanda’.

Ayurveda in Mahabharatha
It is not surprising to find excerpts and references of Ayurveda, its branches, medicines and practice of medicine in Mahabharata, Ayurveda being a part of each milestone of evolution.

Subject materials related to Ayurveda and various types of medicinal and surgical methods explained in Ayurveda can be seen referred to in Mahabharata.

One can also find the reference and description of Ashtanga Ayurveda – 8 branches of Ayurveda in Mahabharata.
Read related: References Of Health And Ayurveda In Ramayana

Medicinal Practice
We can find a reference in Mahabharata wherein Sage Narada Maharshi enquires Yudhishtara (elder brother of Pandavas) about his health status and quizzes him as ‘Oh! Yudhistara, how is your health? Are you getting proper treatment or not? By adopting Satsanga (circle of good, like-minded and compatible people) and Sadachara (noble deeds), the psychological disorders can be prevented. By taking the wholesome diet, most of the disorders occurring to the body (somatic disorders) can be prevented. Whether the Royal physicians are well versed in Ashtangas or not?’

This reference shows that the medicinal practice already existed in those days. One can also see that Satsanga (explained as Sadvritta in Ayurveda), Sadachara and Ashtanga are mentioned in the above said context, which directly refers to Ayurveda.

References related to Visha Chikitsa or Toxicology
Kashyapa and Takshaka incident – Kashyapa was an expertise in toxicology. The discourse between Takshaka (king of serpants) and Kashyapa is a proof of Kashyapa’s brilliance in toxicology. Kashyapa is said to have revived the Banyan tree which was reduced to ashes by Takshaka.

Divine Toxicology – Practice of divine therapy in toxicology was also seen in Mahabharata.

Parikshit incident – Once, King Parikshit was affected by a snake bite. Later he had called upon the physicians who were experts in the field of toxicology to attend him.

Poisoning of Bhima – Once, Duryodhana, the elder Kaurava Prince administered poisonous food to Bhima, the middle brother of Pandavaas. When Bhima had become unconscious as a result of consuming the poisoned food, Duryodhana had him thrown into a river. Later, Bhima was survived and revived due to the bite of a serpent. This suggests that a Jangama Visha (animal poison) might have acted as an antidote to Sthavara Visha (plant poison).

Brahma and toxicology – In Mahabharata, various types of serpents have been described. It is stated that Lord Brahma, the creator himself, taught Toxicology to Kashyapa.

Mritasanjivani Vidya

One can find a story ‘Kacha-Devayani’ in Mahabharata. It tells that Brihaspati sent his son Kacha to Shukra, for learning ‘Mritasanjivana Vidya’, the treatment which can resuscitate those who are almost dead.

Diseases, Causative factors and Treatment
In the ‘Shantiparva’ section of Mahabharata, the psycho-somatic disorders and their clinical picture are described along with the influence of Trigunas (Satva, Raja and Tama) on the body and mind, in a similar way as found explained in Ayurveda.

Ashwins, the celestial-physician-duo treated the blindness of Upamanya, which was caused due to the consumption of Arka leaves (Caltrops)

Atriputra suffered from Rajayakshma (tuberculosis, wasting disease, phthisis), caused due to excessive copulation. He was later revived by proper administration of treatment.

References of Test Tube Baby

During her pregnancy, Gandhari, the queen of Hastinapura and mother of Kauravas, beat herself on her abdomen which resulted in abortion. The pieces were kept separately; each piece in a separate earthen pot containing ghee, for a period of ten months, as a result engendered one child from each preserved piece.

The zygotes formed in the uterus of Kadruva and Vinata were kept in an earthen pot containing ghee, gave birth to children. We can infer that the formation of test tube baby was already in practice from these available references.

Influence of Mother’s feelings on the baby

It is said that Ambika (mother of Dritharashtra, the blind king of Hastinapura and father of Kauravas) closed her eyes out of fear at the time of intercourse; she gave birth to Dritharashtra who was blind at birth. With this incidence one can infer that the feelings of the mother can reflect over the progeny. (We also have a different reference of this incident which tells that Ambika closed her eyes as she could not see the glow emitted by a sage and as a result, Dritharashtra was born blind).

Reference of Surgical Practice

When Bhishma, the commander-in-chief of Kauravas (grandfather to both Kauravas and Pandavas) was wounded and was lying on the bed of arrows during the Kurukshetra war, Duryodhana called experienced and skilled surgeons to treat Bhishma. But heroic Bhishma refused to take any treatment, as he wanted to die on the bed of arrows as a true Kshatriya (warrior). This suggests that military surgeons and practice of surgery also existed in those days.

Excessive use of Ghee in Yagna, Yagas (fire sacrifices) results in Ajirna (indigestion) to Agni Deva (fire God) and he was relieved only after the forest fire burnt various herbs and trees present in the Kandava Forest.

Summing up

Mahabharata is a religious ‘big epic’ of Indian soil and Ayurveda is the ‘mother of all medical sciences and pride of our soil’. The fact that Ayurveda was present and practiced in the Mahabharata days is a prestigious stand for this ancient medical science.


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