History of Healthcare in India – The Golden Age of Medicine

India is a country of rich heritage and culture. With its vast geographical expanse, varied climatic conditions, and environment, India has been home to many ancient civilizations and many a ways of life. From different religions, languages, cuisines, climates to societies, India has been amassing and evolving rich diversity and cultural ethos that are unparalleled in other regions and countries.

Where there was man, there was a need for medicine. Since India has been cradle to ancient civilizations and early organized settlements; Medicine, as it is today, is but the cumulative knowledge gathered since centuries, along with the evolution of man.

Health is defined as the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing of an individual. Based on this definition, it is but obvious that health and healthcare were present since the time of man. Historical texts are replete with citings and references of healthcare practices since time immemorial.

World renowned medical historian, Henry Siegerist stated that:

every culture had developed a system of medicine and that medical history is but one of the aspects of history of culture.

Given the ancient knowledge and practices, India initiated its system of healthcare on firm ground, involving not just the physical ailment of the patient but also the environment and other elements in its system. Matters of health and illness were interpreted as anthropological or cosmological balances, imbalances and disturbances.

The illness and disease was not a micro ailment but phenomena that involved the person’s physical, mental, spiritual, and supernatural essence. Illness and diseases were considered to be acts of evil or result of evil deeds; the panacea for which was witchcraft, worship, meditation, and other supernatural and paranormal practices.

Unlike modern medicine, the ancient medicine dealt with plants, minerals, spirits, stars, voodoo, energy, appeasing to gods, and more. There were priests, herbalists, magicians, sorcerers, and heads who spread their intuitive arms around the patient(s) to diagnose, cure and heal.

Also when compared to other systems of medicine, the Indian system of medicine was comprehensive and involved aspects such as plants, minerals, environment, spirit, climate, body composition and more.

The Indian system of medicine was not about illness and standalone treatment. It has combined many concepts such as diet, climate, beliefs, supernatural, empirical, and culture into treatment of the person. Fashioned on these multi-dimensional approaches was the Indian system of healthcare.

Provision of healthcare was just not about a bed-facility on which the sick person was treated. Traditional healthcare involved the physician and his patient completely and the physician was aware of all aspects of his patient’s life and lifestyle before arriving at any diagnosis or treatment plan.

While healthcare and medical advancements were prevalent all over the world, India has been developing and updating its ancient systems of medicine. Indian system of healthcare and medicine gradually updated and enhanced its repertoire with concepts borrowed from other systems of medicine. Indian history deals with cross country trade practices, invasion of foreign rulers and evolution of ancient India in many ways. These changes brought with it their unique systems of healing and treating that were as beneficial yet as limited as the local medicine. It is through the open exchange of knowledge and cross cultural interaction that India now boasts of two truly unique Indigenous systems of medicine that do not micro-manage the illnesses, namely the Ayurveda  and the Siddha.

Read more on Ayurvedic System of Medicine

Read more on the Unani System of Medicine

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