The Indian sub-continent abounds as it were in a variety and diversity of health traditions. It is perhaps the longest unbroken health tradition which has not only a stream of practitioners but also a textual and theoretical backing in terms of the Ayurvedic and other herbal healing systems. They have made their presence felt even outside India such as China, Thailand, Caombodia and Indonesia. The most remarkable thing about Indian medical tradition is that it prevails at two different levels, namely the classical system and the folk system. Classical system refers to the codified systems such as Ayurveda, Sidha and Unani traditions. They are characterized by institutionally trained practitioners, a body of texts and highly developed theories to support their practices. Folk system refers to an oral tradition passed on from father to son or mother to daughter or from guru to sishya in tens and thousands of our villages through the ages.
Origin of Ayurveda
Ayurveda evolved in the foot hills of The Himalayas some 5000 years back. Because this knowledge is believed to have emerged into human consciousness from the Infinite Field of Being which is the common reality of all souls, it is said that it was taught to people by the Gods. The ‘rshis’ or scholars codified their observations and experimentation and the first known text book were called Charaka Samhitha. [Charaka is the name of the compiler and ‘Samhitha means the collected information] This is considered as the best available knowledge to treat general disease conditions. Another branch of experimental knowledge was codified by Acharya Susrutha and it is called Susrutha Samhitha. This compilation contains details of surgical practices and procedures. That is why Acharya Susrutha is considered Father of Surgery by many people.
Ashtavaidya families[ eight families who practice Ayurvedia as an oral tradition] play a key role in maintaining Kerala’s status as the most authentic Ayurvedic practice with scientific Panchakarma [five fold cleansing therapy] practice and Kerala special therapies such as pizichil[oil bath] Njavarakkizhi[rice pudding therapy], Sirodhara[oil dripping for the head] .
Ayurvedic practice which is popular in Kerala is based on one text called Ashtanga Hridayam by Vagbhata. Acharya Vagbhata redacted the whole system of Ayurveda revising the entire Ayurvedic literature in a single text , first as Ashtanga Sangraha, which was condensed with some revision as Ashtanga Hridayam.[ Ashtanga- eight branches, Hridayam means heart or the essence]. Eight families practice this knowledge as an oral tradition with their expertise in each of the eight branches. Those eight families are Pulamanthol, Alathiyoor, Kuttanchery, Thrissur thaikkattu, and Elayidathu thaikkattu, Chiratamon, Vayaskara and Vellodu. Kerala Ayurveda is considered the best Ayurvedic practice with its detailed description of ‘poorva karma’ [pre treatment measures lik! e oil bath, steam bath, njavarakkizhi, sirodhara etc] and ‘panchakarma’ [five fold cleansing therapy].
Eight branches [or Ashtangas] of ayurveda
Kerala is popular for its authentic practice of both these classical and folk systems. Classical practice dates back to the time of Maharaja Chithira Thirunnal who took the initiative to open up an Ayurvedic school in Trivandrum. Now Ayurvedic studies are organized by all of our universities[Kerala, Mahathmagandhi,Calicut and Kannur universities] under the guidance of Central Committee for Indian Medical Systems.
Ayurvedic practice mainly includes:
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