Ayurveda is a system of healing that originated in India thousands of years ago. The roots of Ayurveda are not fully traceable and somewhat fade into myth. Ancient scholars of Ayurveda believed that  Ayurveda is as old as life itself. Charaka Samhita states that Ayurveda is Saswat (eternal) which means history of Ayurveda is traceable to the beginning of life processes in this universe. However , for the practical purposes, history of Ayurveda can be covered under two major heads :

  • Mythological Perspective

  •  Historical Perspective


To this perspective, origin of Ayurveda is linked to Gods, dieties and heavens. According to Hindu belief, Lord Brahma is considered as creator of this universe. Creation of all forms of matter occurring in this universe, living or non-living is believed to be his handiwork. The Hindu system of medicine (Ayurveda) is also said to be originated by Brahma, the fountainhead of all learning. 

It is believed that Brahma propagated this knowledge through Daksha Prajapati who in turn taught this science to the Ashwini Kumars (the twin son of the Sun God). The Ashwinis imparted the science of Ayurveda to Indra. In Indian Mythology , a lot of work is credited to the legendary medical skills of Aswini Kumars-

They gave eyesight & walking power to Rishi Pravarak. 

Saved the life of Bhardwaj. 

Restored lost energy of Rishi Chyawan & rejuvenated his health. 

Gave power & rejuvenation to Rishi Vandan. 

Going by another legend, in ancient days, both Demons on earth and Gods in heaven were interested , to obtain ambrosia – the Amrit from Ocean of Milk – the Ksheera Sagar. Ambrosia was to make an individual immortal. However, it was not an easy task to obtain ambrosia from the ocean of milk individually for both of them. It was then decided that both the groups would share the task as well as the outcome. Accordingly, both the groups churned the Ksheer Sagar, using Meru Parvata (A large mountain) as the agitator and Adiseshu (A large and strong snake) as the rope. This churning brought out first a powerful Poison, which Lord Shiva swallowed, in the interest of universe. It later followed with outcome of Ambrosia. Dhanvantari emerged out of Ksheera Sagar, with a vessel of Amrita in one hand and a set of Herbs in another. 

Since then, Indian Mythology regards Dhanvantari as the God of Health and immortaility. 

The knowledge of Ayurveda was known only to celestial personalities till the time Lord Indra passed on the knowledge of Ayurveda, the Science Of Life, to Sages & Rishis (mortals), the first pupil being Bhardwaja. 

Descent of Ayurveda from Lord Brahma to earth can be put as under.


Lord Brahma 



Daksha Prajapati 



Ashwin Kumars 





Divodasa Dhanvantari
(School of Surgeon)


(School of Medicine)



Maharishi Atreya

(4th-5th BC)
Wrote first well accepted standard 
text for Ayurveda: Sushruta Samhita 



Revised Sushruta Samhita in 2nd AD 


Charak (1st AD)
Revised Agnivesha Samhita 



Vagbhata (7th AD)
Ashtang Hridaya: Commentary on Charak and Sushruta


Vedic Era,    Samhita Era,   Buddhist Era, Mediaeval EraModern Era

Vedic Era:

India is known as Land of Vedas. The word Veda refers to True Knowledge. A number of guiding principles for preservation of health are mentioned in Vedas. However in Atharva Veda, such guiding principles, medicinal effects of herbs etc. occur more abundantly. Thus, Atharva Veda forms the structural foundation for emergence of Ayurveda, as a separate branch of science or knowledge.

It would be an arduous task to determine the time of origin for Vedas. Based on an astrological calculation, B.G.Tilak opined that, Rigveda (the first of four Vedas) originated between 6,000 and 4,000 B.C.

Historical descent of Ayurveda upto Indra could be termed as Vedic Era. It is believed that Maharishi Bhardwaj ventured to reach the heavens and sought the knowledge of Ayurveda for the benefit of mankind. Thus it is apparent that Ayurveda was not within the reach of mankind before Bhardwaj. He, in turn, taught this subject to others including Atreya.

According to another mythological belief, Lord Indra favoured the blessed Lord Dhanvantari with knowledge in Ayurveda. Dhanvantari, in years to come, became a renowned teacher in the art of surgery & taught this subject to his disciples. He was considered the "Patron Saint Of Surgery" and later elevated to divinity of classical medical wisdom. 

However, during Vedic Period, Ayurveda was not a separate branch of science. It would be logical to state that, evolution of Ayurveda started with compilation of health care information scattered in Vedas. Such beginning would have given a much wider scope for its evolution into an inter-disciplinary science (as Up-Veda) for application purposes.

Samhita Era:

The word "Samhita" means "Compilation of Knowledge". Thus the period in which process of compiling treatises on Ayurveda began is known as Samhita Era. 

The length of this period between Atreya to Gautam Buddha is generally termed as Samhita Era, in the history of Ayurveda.Based on the available evidence, Atreya’s period was considered to be around 1000 B.C. Thus Samhita Era is the span between 1000-6000 B.C. During this span, Ayurveda was enriched by a series of treatises by different rishis (sages). 

To the available evidences, Maharishi Krishnatreya initiated process of spreading knowledge. He was said to have knowledge of Ayurveda from his teacher Maharishi Bhardwaja. Atreya spread his knowledge while moving from one place to other, through out the country. So Maharishi Krishnatreya has acquired another name, Charaka (Char means to move and the one who moves is, Charaka). The Six Disciples of Atreya, Who developed the School of Medicine namely Agnivesha, Bhela, Jatukarna, Parasara, Harita and Ksharapani wrote samhita of their own (Shatbhishak Samhita). Of these the Agnivesha Samhita was well accepted and was propagated as the backbone of Ayurvedic Samhita (Compendia). 

Similarly, the Divodasa Dhanvantari, who developed School Of Surgery, had its disciples-Aupadhenava, Vaitarana, Aurabhara, Poushakalvata, Gopurarakshita and Sushruta. The Sushruta Samhita was written by Sushruta. It deals with a complete systematic approach to Shalya Kriya (General Surgery) & Shalakya Tantra (eyes, ear, throat & nose) The period of Sushruta Samhita is considered to be around 500 B.C. just before Buddhist Period.

The other available samhita that belongs to more or less the same period are Kashyapa Samhita, Bhela Samhita and Harita Samhita. During this period, it is interesting to note that most of the knowledge about drugs was centred on plants. 

Apparently by this time, Ayurveda was developed into a School of Medicine having eight branches of medical specialties- 

Ashtangas of Ayurveda:

1. Kaya Chikitsa - Internal medicine 2. Balaroga Chikitsa - Paediatrics 3. Shalya Chikitsa - General surgery 4. Shalakya Chikitsa - Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat surgery 5. Agada Tantra - Toxicology 6. Rasayan Chikitsa - Science of Rejuvenation 7. Vajikarana Chikitsa - Study & development of sexual power & fertility 8. Bhoot Vidya - Psychiatry

Buddhist Era

Probably in the history of Ayurveda, Buddhist Era could be stated as golden period. During this era, every branch of Ayurveda was nourished due to the contributions of different scholars. The period of Gautam Buddha is more or less accepted to be around 600 B.C. From that time onwards, Buddhist Era for the purposes of Ayurveda is considered up to 5th A.D.

Development of Ayurveda during Buddhist periods was due to an unequivocal support of Gautam Buddha himself. Buddha naturally considered Ayurveda as one of the very effective methods to alleviate human suffering and this ability was much closer to his philosophy.

By this time, Ayurveda in India took a major leap, by introducing an 8 years long professional course at Takshashila University (presently in Pakistan), around 700 B.C. Soon, Nalanda University also followed the course. 

Important personalities & Compilations in Buddhist Era: 

Vriddha Jeevaka

He had an admirable authority not only in Ayurveda, but also in many areas of contemporary knowledge. For his tremendous power of analysis, he was referred as Jnanavriddha (aged person in knowledge). Thus Jeevaka became familiar as Vriddha Jeevaka. He compiled a treatise covering the teachings of his teacher Kashyap, in the name of Kashyap Samhita. The text is also known as Vriddha Jeevakeeya Tantra – to commemorate the author.

Kashyapa Samhita

The treatise compiled during Buddhist Era has specialized in Bala Chikitsa (Paediatrics). It contains 9 volumes (Sthans) and 200 chapters. 


Jeevaka was praised for his influential personality, generosity and spiritualism. Jeevaka was born to a prostitute near Patliputra (presently Patna) as an unwanted child and was thrown out as a neonate soon after his birth. The prince of that state by name Abhay brought him to the palace and ordered his maids to bring him up. Since the boy survived the rejection by his mother, he was named as Jeevaka. He studied Ayurveda under Bhikshu Atreya for 7 years, at Takshashila University. Jeevaka performed his career as a Surgeon. He treated Gautam Buddha for a chronic ailment by administering a purgation course. 


He was born in Amravati (presently in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh) during 113 AD. As the dynasty nurtured Buddhism, Nagarjuna also became an ardent Buddhist and lived as a Buddhist saint. He also became the 13th chief (Dharmadhyaksha) of Buddhist saints. Though, Nagarjuna had traveled widely, he spent most of his life in Amravati and a near by hilly area –Sriparvata and its adjacent valley. This Sriparvata is also known as Nagarjuna Konda (the hill of Nagarjuna) and its valley is totally merged in the reservoir of a multipurpose project on River Krishna, named as Nagarjuna Sagar.

However, Nagarjuna’s contribution for Ayurveda comes from a different angle. He has conducted extensive studies on health applications of Mercury & other heavy metals. These studies, have entailed in the emergence of a new branch of Ayurveda, viz. Rasa Shastra or Alchemy. Ayurveda, in later periods used Mercury as well as other toxic metals as important components of pharmaceutical formulations. 

Treatises compiled during Buddhist Era 

Kaya Chikitsa :-      Ashtanga Hridayam,  Ashtanga Sangraha

Shalya Tantra :-     Aupadheneva Tantra,  Aurabhra Tantra, Kapila Tantra, Paushkalavatatantra

Shalakya Tantra :- Videha Tantra, Nimi Tantra, Chakshusya Tantra, Katyayana Tantra

Kaumarabhritya :-  Kashayapa Samhita, Bandhaka Tantra, Hiranyakshat Tantra, Kumara Tantra

Agada Tantra:-        Sanaka Samhita, Ushana Samhita, Brihaspati Samhita, Garuda Samhita

Vajikarana :-           Kuchumara Tantra 

*Ashtanga Hridayam & Ashtanga Sangraha both are compiled during Buddhist Era. These treatises are the Encyclopedia of medicine covering all the branches of Ayurveda medical system.

The Mediaeval Era

For the purpose of Ayurveda history, mediaeval periods were spread through 8th century to 18th century A.D. During this span of 1000 years India, as a country passed through a series of sanguinary political upheavals, which were rather, unprecedented. On the other hand the scientific and cultural heritage of India also, was subjected to a closer and competitive impact.

Ayurveda as a science by that time was able to derive its conceptual and driving spirits from only Indian philosophy. There was hardly any scope to enrich itself, from the Trans-National approaches of health care, nor there is a clear evidence of its influence on any other upcoming system of medicine like, Chinese or Greek medicine. 

The Arabian Medicine, which had roots in Greece came into contact with Ayurveda only through invaders and emigrants to begin with, in 6th Century A.D. There were some Ayurvedic literatures translated by prominent scholars-

* Charak Samhita translated into Persian by Manka & later to Arabic by Abdulla-bin-Ali    as Sharaka..
* Sushruta Samhita translated into Arabic by Manka as Sushrud.
* Ashtanga Hridaya translated into Arabic by Ibun-Dhan as Astankar.
* Siddhayoga translated into Arabic by Ibun-Dhan as Sindhashtaq

Also in Firdausu’l Hikmat, authored by Ali-bin-Raban-al-Tabri (850 A.D.) gives a detailed account on Indian system of medicine towards the end of his work.

Around this time, the works of Avicenna (985-1040AD) enriched Greco-Arabic medicine. During later periods, his publication- The Cannon of Medicine (Spread in 5 volume) was taught in the medical institutions of many European countries and influenced the concept of medical sciences there.

Under difficult political situations, the scholars and practitioners of Ayurveda were unable to protect their valuable belongings- the Ayurvedic literature. They taught Ayurveda only to their sub lings and not to the really eligible students. These forced practices of Ayurvedic scholars, have set a new trend in motion, of Proprietary/Secret formulations, in the name of Anubhoot Yogas (formulations arrived at, -based on experience). 

By this time, the Hippocratic Medicine having spread into Europe in the name of Allopathy (To treat substance opposite the symptoms) made few important strides. In 1543, Andreas Versalis compiled a textbook on Human Anatomy. In 1590, Andreas Versalis compiled a textbook on Human Anatomy. In 1950, a Dutch Optician, Zacharias Janssen invented microscope. This instrument played an important role in later discoveries concerning Medicine. William Harvey made his discoveries on Blood Circulatory System were laying foundations to Systematic Physiology in 1628 A.D. A Dutch Naturalist, Anton Van Leevanhoek, carried out this observation.

In India, compared to the rule of Delhi Sultanate, Mughul administration was able to provide the country a much-desired political stability. Some of Moghul kings were favourable to Indian civilization; of them Akbar was highly compassionate to Indian values and was keen to rule the country, by winning the heart of Indian natives. Akbar’s main contribution for Ayurveda came from two corners. Firstly, he constructed a unique hospital where both Ayurvedic and Unani systems worked hand in hand. Secondly, his named remained in the history of Ayurveda immortal because of Todarmal – who was a scholar laureate in his court. 

Ayurvedic Texts During Mediaeval Periods

Coping up with all these negative influences, medical literature in India had attained a definite stride during mediaeval periods. Also the periods have witnessed a major level of enrichment of Ayurvedic literature prevailing at that time. This enrichment had two distinctly different directions -

Original Texts :- 

Various scholars through out the mediaeval periods authored a substantial number of new Ayurvedic books. Some of that are – 

1. Madhava Nidana written by Madhavakara in the field of Clinical Pathology.

2. Sarngadhar Samhita written by Sarngadhara in the field of Pharmaceutics.

3. Bhavaprakasha Nighantu written by Bhavamisra in field of Lexicon of Med. Plants

4. Kalyanakaraka written by Ugradityacharya in the field of General Text.

5. Siddhasara Samhita written by Ravi Gupta in the field of General Text.

6. Dravyaguna Sangraha written by chakrapani Datta in field of Lexicon of Med. Plants

7. Anjana Nidana written by Agnivesa in the field of Clinical Pathology.

8. Vangasena written by Vangasena in the field of Therapeutics.

9. Brindamadhava written by Brinda in the field of Internal Medicine.

10. Parahita Samhita written by Srinatha in the field of General Text.

From the above texts, three texts need a specific mention. Madhava Nidana (700 AD), Sarngadhara Samhita (13th Century) and Bhavaprakasha (16th Century) were distinctive in their nature as well as the contents. Thus, these three books are considered as Laghuttrayee (the minor triad).

Commentaries :-

Commentaries are referred to as " Vyakhya Vangmaya" . Commentaries were aimed to inherent brilliance of codified (sutra) language used in the ancient Ayurvedic literature. Every Sutra used in ancient Ayurvedic literature was designed precisely, to convey a distinct and elaborate information related to topic under discussion. Each of Sutra was strand like structure arranged in a coil design, which becomes obvious only, when the strands are separated and the coils are opened methodically.

Thus, commentaries on ancient Samhitas were an inevitable necessity. This literature was precisely aimed to segregate the strands and open-up coils of each Sutra, used in particular Samhita. More than 50 commentaries could be traced partially or fully, which were compiled during the mediaeval periods. Some of them are –

1. Nirantara Padavyakhya written by Jejjata on Charaka Samhita.

2. Kimvandanti written by Jejjata on Ashtangahridaya. 

3. Ayurveda Deepika written by Chakrapani Datta on Charaka Samhita.

4. Nibandha sangraha written by Dalhana on Sushruta Samhita.

5. Madhukosha Vyakhya written by Vijaya rakshita on Madhava Nidan.

6. Sarvanga Sundra written by Aruna data on Ashtangahridaya.

7.  Shashilekha Vyakhya written by Indu on Ashtanga Sangraha.

8. Ayurveda Rasayan written by Hemadri on Ashtangahridaya.

9.  Deepika written by Adhamalla on S’arangadhar Samhita.

10. Ratna Prabha written by Nischalkar on Chakra Datt


Modern Era: -

Under this head there are two categories: - 

1. Developmental Status Of Ayurveda

Mughul dynasty was in power, for a total span of about 150 years. By the end of 16th century, the Allopathic Doctors hailing from Portugal, Dutch (The Netherlands), France and England were spread in important cities.

Overpowering others, Britain established its rule by 1765 A.D. through its East India Company. By this time, a number of western scholars were attracted to the richness of Indian art, culture and sciences. They were actively persuading their Indian studies with high academic spirits. As a result of this enthusiasm, William Jones established Asiatic Society in Calcutta, in 1754. Indian & European scholars, who became members of Asiatic Society to attract the attention of western scholars towards Indian Culture, Civilization, Arts and Sciences. 

In 1822 Government started the National Medical Institution at Calcutta headed by Dr. Tytler. During 1824, a Sanskrit College was also started at Calcutta for imparting education in both Oriental & upcoming western systems concurrently. In 1827 a medical course was started in Sanskrit College and the curriculam had both Ayurveda & Allopathy system. Pandit Madhusudan headed the faculty of Ayurveda. 

Parallel to Allopathic Medical Colleges, Vernaculer Medical Colleges were also started from 1835 onwards. Qualified in these Vernacular Medical Institutes were referred to as Native Doctors. Over a period of time Vernacular Medical Institutes were also converted into Allopathic Medical Colleges. Ayurvedic education went back to Guru – Shishya Parampara.

In 1885 the Indian National Congress was started. A feeling of Nationalism started creeping into all walks of life. In 1908, the All India Ayurvedic Congress was started, with a view to preserve & propagates the values of the great scientific heritage of the Nation. The most important task, the congress took up was re-organize the Ayurvedic education which was taken-up & was ignored more on political considerations. The first Ayurvedic College to be started under the aegis of Congress at Ahmed Nagaer in 1916.

Meanwhile, another endeavour to integrate Allopathic Medicine with Ayurveda –in common cause of Public Health was taken up in 1910 by the effort of Dr. Pardie Leucas, Director of medical services in the Imperior Government. As a result of his effort, the Govt. School Of Indian Medicine came in existence in 1925. In this system a student of Ayurveda was bound to know the development of Allopathy to enrich his professional skills.

Research in Ayurveda also, had attained a new dimension –by the studies conducted by Dr. Dwarkanath, at faculty of Medicine, Hamburg University Germany in 1935-37. The study evaluated Ayurvedic Gold preparations in Tuberculosis. He was first to demonstrate that, Gold processed as prescribed by Ayurveda is absorbed and metabolized by the body.

Sulpha drugs began the history of human success over infecting micro-organisms. While Domagk was busy in screening Sulfur compounds to fight infections, it was a chance discovery by Alexander Fleming in 1928 the Penicillin came into picture. This wonder substance could see the light as a drug in 1940 due to the efforts of Florey, Chain & Abraham. 

2. Present Status Of Ayurveda

India acquired independence from British rule in 1947 and become a Democratic Republic in 1950. Developments of Ayurveda in India after independence need to focus on various aspects-

A. Ayurvedic Education

The integrated approach of Ayurvedic Education started by efforts of Dr. Leucas continued for about one more decade. The parallel Institutions started by All India Ayurvedic Congress were running concurrently. Apart from these two institutions of learning one more institution working silently, without any kind of hindrances was, the Guru Shishya Parampara. 

Based on experience of multifacetated pressure, it was decided to bring the Ayurvedic education under the preview of universities in Independent India. By 1969 all the colleges imparting education in Ayurveda or other Indigenous system of medicine –were affiliated to respective universities. In 1970, the Central Council Of Indian Medicine was constituted through an enactment in the Parliament. The council works for maintenance & up-gradation of standards of education in Ayurveda.

Besides Graduate and Post-Graduate courses, different levels of training are being imparted for Para-Medical staff, like Panchkarma Technicians, Ayurvedic Pharmacist etc. at different centers in India.

Now there are few institutions of national repute, which are conducting various programs in the field of Ayurveda, viz. Faculty of Ayurveda, Institute of medical Sciences Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Institute of Post Graduate Training & Research, Gujrat Ayurveda University, Jam Nagar, National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur & Rashtriya Ayurved Vidyapeetha, India.

B. Patient Care Services

A number of Hospitals, Dispensaries run by Government, Local Administration provide treatment to the needy, employing Ayurvedic methods. 

C. Research In Ayurveda

Research in Ayurveda with clearly defined objectives and well-designed protocols is the need of hour- if Ayurveda has to respond to emerging challenges of the global health care scenario. Realizing this need a number of organization were pressed into various aspects of these research needs. 

A deliberate effort to carry out integrated and coordinated research on medicinal plants selected after careful discussion and consultation with reputed Ayurvedic & Unani physicians was made for the first time in India by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 1964 through the Composite Drug Research Scheme (CDRS). In 1970, this scheme was transferred to the newly constituted Central Council For Research In Indian Medicine & Homeopathy (CCRIMH). Recently, two autonomous bodies, the Council For Research In Ayurveda And Siddha and Central Council For Research In Unani have been constituted after winding up the CCRIMH. 

The Institute of Medical Sciences at Banaras Hindu University and Gujrat Ayurved University has taken up interdisciplinary research in Ayurveda on a large scale, among both curricular and co-curricular programmes. 

Research efforts in Ayurveda have increased manifold during the last couple of decades. However, most of these efforts have revolved around the intention of discovering new drugs from plants. Many drugs obtained from plants, which have carved out an important place in modern medicine for themselves as- 

Serial No.


Plant Source



Papaver somniferum



Hyoscyamus niger



Hyoscyamus muticus



Digitalis purpurea



Datura metel



Pilocarpus jaborandi



Cinchona spp.



Cinchona spp.



Colchinum autmnale



Papaver spp.



Cephaelis spp.



Theobroma cacao



Ephedra spp.



Digitalis purpurea

D, Manufacturing of Ayurvedic Medicine

In 1964, manufacturing of Ayurvedic Medicine was brought under the scope of Drugs & Cosmetics Act, through an amendment enacted by the parliament. As a result, the government could exercise appropriated regulation over the manufacturing of Ayurvedic Medicine. This regulation helped the Industry of Ayurvedic Medicines to grow in a healthy environment. 

The GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certification also played an important role to provide, quality standard as per the norms of World Health Organization in the field of Ayurveda Industries. Recently Govt. of India has laid down separate GMP requirements for Ayurvedic manufactures & made it mandatory.

E. Cultivation of Medicinal Plants

Ayurveda advocated a harmonious interface of human beings with nature as; it recognizes him to be an integral part of Universe. Also, Ayurveda draws its therapeutic agents mainly, from Plant Kingdom. Thus, the forests have been the conventional sources of Ayurvedic Medicines. However, under threatened ecological balance and dwindling forest resources, Ayurveda as a whole-faces a major threat in near future.

So, more precise methods for propagation of Medicinal Plants should be devised through methodical research. Tropical Botanical Garden & Research Institute (TBGRI), and Centre for Indian Medical Heritage (CIMH) promoted by Ayurvedic Trust –are working in this direction besides many other agencies in the country.