A BRIEF HISTORY OF MEDICINE IN INDIA
Medical care in India has a very long history. Some of the earliest evidences of medical practice are found in the ATHARVA VEDA and a later work ATREYA SAMHITA which was written by the sage named ATREYA. He compiled the scattered medical details into a comprehensive compendium. Another tract called AGNIVESHA SAMHITA documents the Art of healing in a textbook comprising of nearly 12000 verses. Later works like CHARAKA SAMHITA and SUSRUTA SAMHITA contained material relating to surgery. The SUSRUTA SAMHITA particularly describes nearly hundreds of surgical instruments needed for medical care. These works contained copious materials on epidemics and surgical procedures. However it was King Asoka who established many hospitals and academies for teaching medicine. The icons, friezes and frescoes found in the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora bear testimony to this. Similar evidences are also found in Buddhist stupas in Amaravathi and Nagarjunakonda. Though ayurveda had developed extensively in India and had a symbiotic relationship with Arabic medicine, it gradually gave way to other systems of medicine. This was on account of successive invasions of the Indian subcontinent which resulted in the decline of indigenous medicine.
One system of indigenous medicine which co-exists with Ayurveda is SIDDHA. This was a system which originated in ancient Tamil nadu in south India. Its originator was the well known sage SIDDHANAR who had compiled a treatise consisting of nearly 70000 verses. In subsequent years, many others too like TIRUMOOLAR, KARAVURAL, and BHOGAR contributed to this system of medicine. The manuscripts which are all in Tamil contained details about 25 types of salts, 64 rare stones, 9 metals, 120 metallic salts and nearly 1008 varieties of herbs. Some of the later works by sages like AGASTYAR, PULASTYAR and NANDESHWARA were in Sanskrit.
The first major competition to Ayurveda was the introduction of unani system of medicine by Muslim rulers during the 13th century. Places like Delhi, Aligarh, Lucknow and Hyderabad which were centers of Islamic culture, became nodal points of UNANI system of medicine. The Hakims who practiced this were however willing to utilize some of the effective drugs in the ayurveda system.
This however changed with the coming of Europeans in the 16th century. It was the Portuguese Albuquerque in 1510 who introduced Allopathic medicine in India by establishing the Royal hospital in Goa. This later became a Jesuit institution in 1591. With the emergence of East India Company as a political power in India they setup in 1740, a medical department. This comprised entirely of British military surgeons who were assisted by the local people. In 1833, a committee setup by Lord William Bentinck drafted a medical curriculum. This led to the establishment of Madras Military Medical School in 1835 followed by another one in Calcutta. By 1845, another college was setup by Sir Robert Grant in Bombay. A similar attempt in introducing allopathic medicine was done by the French in 1823. They called the institution Ecole de Pondicherry.
Another system of medicine which found a foothold in India was homeopathy. Homeopathy which was propounded by Samuel Hahnemann was based on natural laws of cure. It was quite unlike allopathy and gained a lot of followers and critics.
During the entire British period, the indigenous system of medicine which comprised of Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani languished. It was only after independence, indigenous system of medicine got its due recognition.