Hindu Medicine

A complex medical system, known as Ayurveda, "the science of (living to a ripe old) age," developed in India over the first millennium b.c.e. The theory of health and disease according to Ayurveda refers to a humoral physiology based on the balance of three substances (dosas): wind (vata), bile (pitta), and phlegm (kapha). They are recognizable indirectly by their impact on health and illness. The excess of one or another and their locus in the body or among bodily elements (dhatu) determines the nature of specific physical and mental diseases, their manifestations, and subtypes.

Although karma, demons, and deities may also play a role in producing ill health, it is a relatively minor role in the medical texts and more of a concern in other settings. The role of a physician practicing Ayurveda is to restore the harmony of humoral balance with medicines, purification, massage, diet, and directives for appropriate lifestyle. Experience with an exceptionally wide pharmacopoeia and careful observations of the symptomatology, clinical course, and treatment response of various diseases—especially chronic conditions for which Western medicine does not provide a clearly superior alternative—have enabled practitioners of the system to maintain the respect of a large number of South Asians who continue to use it.

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