Indigenous Healthcare Systems in India

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Indigenous Healthcare Systems in India
In most ancient civilisations, healing practices were inextricably woven into religious practices of the geographic regions. Pre-scientific healing practices before
Hippocrates adopted deities from Greek mythology and Ayurveda from Hindu
mythologies and Vedic practices. These date back to 2000 BC. With the advent of
Christianity, the ancient religions as practised across the world were pejoratively
labelled pagan or heathen religions. The first dramatic shift from archaic religious
medicine occurred at the time of Hippocrates (460–377 BC), who completely
discarded religious practices. He is considered to be the father of modern medicine
in Europe and the Middle East. However, the real break from religion came in the
nineteenth century with the discovery of anaesthesia and microorganisms as causes
of diseases. There were many other advances leading to a further shift from the
humoral theories of Hippocratean medicine. Medical practice across the world was
strongly influenced by missionary endeavours and colonisation, often replacing
indigenous healing and religious practices with European medicine. This led to the
rapid spread of modern medicine outside of Europe. It is interesting to note that
Unani is the fore- runner of modern medicine as it combined the Arabic and the
Hippocratean sys- tems. Hence, Unani has no religious underpinning. On the other
hand, Ayurveda, Siddha and Tibetan medicine continue to be influenced by the
original religious leanings and practices. The blend is most prominent in Tibetan
medicine, followed by the Siddha system and then Ayurdeva. For example, the
origins of the three sys- tems are attributed to divinity. They were Brahma for
Ayurveda, Shiva for Siddha (see footnote 2) and The Buddha for Tibetan medicine.
Medicine in India can be traced back to the four Vedas (the Rigveda, Yajurveda,
Samaveda and Atharva veda). Vedic medicine was a combination of religious,
magical and empirical medicine. Indian philosophy and early medical schools
probably emerged around the seventh century BC, starting with the Upanishads.1
Around the sixth century, religious reform movements such as Buddhism and
Jainism reinforced the notion of karma, which found expression in medical doctrines as well. Thus, the early history of medicine was inseparable from the practice of religion. On the other hand, modern Western psychology, drawing mainly
from philoso- phy, has always been anchored to the Cartesian dualism of the body
and the mind. Scientific parsimony and specialisation are considered essential for
scientific advancement. In contrast, the ancient Indian approach is holistic. It
proposes that the universe and man within it function as an interactive and a
dynamic system. In the contemporary world, three major areas of psychology have
indicated the coming of age in adopting holistic approach in psychology. These are
develop- mental psychology, health psychology and positive psychology. These
three newer trends are embedded in the Ayurveda system of healing in the Indian
tradition from antiquity.

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