The ancient Science of Life, Ayurveda, encompasses the sum total of the experience and knowledge of great sages and physicians, going back almost 5000 years. When speaking of the main proponents of Ayurveda during ancient times, three names instantly spring to the mind. They are Sushruta, one the earliest surgeons, Caraka, a medical genius, and Vagbhata. Together they are considered to be ‘The Trinity” of Ayurvedic knowledge, with Vagbhata coming after the other two. According to some scholars, Vagbhata lived in Sindh around the sixth century. Not much is known about him personally, except that he was most likely to have been a Buddhist, as he makes a reference to Lord Buddha in his writings, and his sons, grandsons, and disciples were all Buddhists. It is also believed that he was taught Ayurvedic medicine by his father and a Buddhist monk, named Avalokita.
Classics of Ayurveda
Vagbhata is most famous for the two classics on Ayurveda that he wrote- the Ashta Hrudaya and Ashta Samgraha. They contained the essence of the treatises by Charaka and Sushrutha, as well as Vagbhata’s own perceptions on Ayurveda. Ashta Hrudaya is written in poetic language and is a work of art for the beauty of its verses, clarity of its descriptions and the logical arrangement of topics. The treatise is written in 7120 easily understood verses that embody the essence of Ayurvedic knowledge. Ashtanga in Sanskrit means ‘eight limbs’ to indicate the eight sections of Ayurveda. These sections include Internal Medicine, Surgery, Gynaecology and Pediatrics, Rejuvenation therapy Aphrodisiac therapy, Toxicology, and Psychiatry or Spiritual Healing as well as therapy for above the neck diseases. Vagbhata’s primary focus was on Kayachikitsa or Internal Medicine, but details of surgical treatments are also dealt with extensively. There are sections on longevity, personal hygiene, the causes of illness, the influence of season and time on the human organism, types and classifications of medicine, the significance of the sense of taste, pregnancy and possible complications during birth, Prakriti, individual constitutions and various aids for establishing a prognosis. There is also detailed information on Panchakarma therapies including therapeutically induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, enemas, complications that might occur during such therapies and the necessary medications. Vagbhata combined the surgical brilliance of Sushruta with the medical authority of Caraka to come up with two of Ayurveda’s greatest classics.
Vagbhata is also believed to have written Neminirvanam which depicts the stories of a great Jain monk, Neminatha, and Vaagbhataalankaram, which is on the extinct language of Prakrit. There are two more works credited to him – Ashtanga Nighandu and Ashtangaavathaaram
Vagbhata and Kerala
It is believed that Vagbhata travelled extensively in Kerala, a state in South India, during his final years. He came in search of the medicinal plants and herbs that abound in Kerala’s lush landscape. Vagbhata is said to be the founding force behind the tradition of Ashtavaidyas. These are selected families of physicians in Kerala who are skilled practitioners of all the eight branches of Ayurveda. The term is derived from ‘astangavaidayan’… ‘ashta’ means eight, ‘anga’ means branch and ‘vaidya’ means physician. The ashtavaidyas of Kerala were inspired by Vagbhata to develop novel treatments for the treatment of arthritis and neurological diseases. They handed down their knowledge from father to son, from generation to generation, to establish an unbroken tradition of Ayurveda in its purest form, for which Kerala is renowned.