The Ashtavaidyans Of Kerala – A Rare Breed Of Physicians
Ayurveda which means the science of life is 5000 year old holistic system of medicine of India. The light branches of this indigenous medicine are -
- Kaya Chikitsa – General Medicine
- Kaumarabhrtya – Pediatrics
- Shalya Chikitsa – Major Surgery
- Salakya Tantra – Minor surgery as in ENT cases
- Bhoot Vidya – Psychiatry
- Agada Tantra – Toxicology
- Rasayana Tantra – Geriatrics
- Vajikarana Tantra – Therapy for sexual disorders
In Kerala ayurvedic physicians of olden times who had proficiency in all the light specialized branches were known as ashtavaidyans.
Nature has blessed Kerala with an abundance of varied species of rare medicinal plants and herbs. Right mix fertile soil and favorable climate while fostering the land’s flora also helped the stem of medicine to flourish. History says that there prevailed a healing system unique to this land even before Sanskrit made inroads to Kerala.
When Vagbhata, the renowned physician and the author of the great work, Ashtagahrudayam, from Sindh came here, it marked an epoch in the history of ayurveda in Kerala. The period of Vagbhata was between 6th and 7th century AD. Physicians belonged to different families and of different communities of Kerala had ever since adopted Ashtangahrudayam as the authoritative text. Ashtagabrudayam, which means the kernel of octo-branched ayurveda, occupies third place among the classics. The first and second are by Charakan and Sushruthan.
With their deep knowledge of the eight branches of Ayurveda as described in Ashtangahrdayam, these healers later came to be known as the Ashtavaidyans of Kerala.
According to tradition, in the outset, only members of eighteen upper caste families of Kerala were designed as Ashtavaidyans, who were the descendants of the disciples of Vagbhata. Each ashtavaidya family developed their own therapeutic specialties which they kept as family secrets. But on a later stage in history, students from other families or even other communities were being accepted which led to the dissemination of knowledge beyond the family lineage.
Those days when the gurukula system prevailed in the field of education, students had to undergo intense study and apprenticeship under accomplished masters for prolonged periods. Students of ayurveda, during their course of study were made to learn by heart all verses in the Ashtagahrudayam.
For a system that has lived on for more than 5000 years, its only the true dedication and esteemed medical ethics of Ashtavaidyans that has deemed this possible. Being dependent on nature for all treatments, they used even the most ordinary of substances to heal body, mind and soul. The pride of Ayurveda, Ashatavaidyans are a rare community with a tradition that has evolved over centuries and revolutionized the medical world.
Image Source - Vagbhata