A treatise on the ancient medicine of India


By Dr. Irengbam Mohendra Singh

[This is the first part of the lecture the author gave as the first Asian President of the British Medical Association of the city of Bradford and Airdale, 20 years ago in 1991. It took him 6 months of research, visiting locations in Delhi, Bangalore, Coimbatore and London]

Dr. Irengbam Mohendra Singh as president of the BMA (British Medical Association), Bradford and Airdale city in 1991.

I am going to talk of India that existed before the partition in 1947. I come from the northeast of India, Manipur, bordering on Burma. The westernmost state is Bombay. To the north is Kashmir and to the south is Madras. Though there was a great diversity in the erstwhile India, there was a sense of unity among them as “Indians”.

India is also known as Hindustan or Bharat – an old Sanskrit name after its mythical founder of Bharatbarsha. Indian civilisation is as old as that of Egypt, Persia and Mesopotamia, according to Sir John Marshall, the author of the Indus valley civilisation, who was responsible for the excavations of the cities of Mohenjo-Daro in the Sind province and Harappa in west Punjab.

These two places are 590 km apart. Harappa was discovered purely by chance by a British Army engineer deserter, James Lewis in 1826.  Mohenjo-daro was discovered in 1922 by R. D. Banerji, an officer of the Archaeological Survey of India, two years after major excavations had begun at Harappa,

The Indus valley civilisation is estimated to be five or six thousand years old. As Harappa was first discovered, Harappans are the name given to any ancient people belonging to the Indus valley civilisation.

Nobody knows who these people of the Indus Valley civilisation were and where they came from. It is quite possible that their culture was an indigenous one. From the artefacts found in the excavations such as “shiv lingam”, some scholars find an essential similarity between these people and the Dravidian races. For all practical purposes they are treated as indigenous inhabitants of India.

Gordon Childe, an archaeology professor, who specialised in European prehistory, thought that there was a sudden end to the Indus valley civilisation due to an unexplained catastrophe. The River Indus is well known for its severe floods washing away cities and villages.

While there is a definite sense of continuity between Indus valley civilisation and later periods, there were also certain breaks not only in the point of time but also in the kind of civilisation that came next, which was more agricultural to begin with. This later civilisation was brought by the ARYANS who poured into India in successive waves from the northwest.

The word Aryan (English), Arya in Sanskrit might possibly have derived from the Avestan word meaning ‘noble’. Iran is perhaps a cognate of Arya. The Aryan migration is supposed to have taken place about a thousand years after the Indus valley civilisation. Gradually, over a
matter of years these Aryan tribes became assimilated in India. From the synthesis of these foreign Aryans and indigenous Dravidians who were probably the representatives of the Indus valley civilisation grew the Indian races and Indian culture.

In the ages that followed, there came many other races to India such as Iranians, Greeks, Huns, Turks (before Islam), early Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. They came and made a difference and were absorbed in India in turn.

The word “Hindu” does not occur at all in the ancient Indian literature. The first reference to it is in an Indian book – a ‘Tantric’ work in the 8th century BCE, where Hindu means people and not the followers of a particular religion. The word is very old and was used for a thousand years or more by people of central and western Asia, for India, or rather for the people living on the other side of the Indus River.

The word Hindu is derived from “Sindhu” – the Indian name for Indus. The use of the word Hindu in connection with Hindu Religion is of a very late occurrence.

The all inclusive term for religion in India was Arya dharma (Aryan religion). The word dharma means more than a religion. It is from a root Sanskrit word – ‘dhar’, which means ‘to hold together’. It is an ethical concept that includes the moral code, the righteousness and a whole range of man’s duties and responsibilities.

The expression ‘Vedic dharma’ was also used in the same context, but more particularly for those who acknowledged the general authority of the Vedas. The words ‘sanatan dharma’ is also used by certain orthodox sections of Hindus who claim to follow the ancient faith. When I was a little boy I used to hear my father talk about sanatan dharma.

Before the discovery of the Indus valley civilisation the Vedas were regarded as the earliest records of Indian culture. Professor Winternitz put down the beginnings of Vedic literature as far back as 2,000- 2,500 BCE. This brings it to very near the Mohenjo-Daro period.

The Vedas were outpourings of the Aryans as they streamed to India (Pundit Nehru). Max Muller called it – the first words spoken by Aryan men. They brought their idea with them from that common stock, out of which grew Avesta (Zoroastrian religion and scripture), and elaborated it in the soil of India. Even the language of Avesta bears a striking resemblance to that of the Sanskrit.

To Hindus, the Vedas are revealed scripture like the Bible or the Quran. The Vedas (from the root word ‘vid’ = to know; vidya = knowledge) are simply a recollection of the existing knowledge of the day. They are a jumble of many things such as hymns, prayers, rituals for sacrifice, magic poetry, mythology and medicinal practice.

There were no temples of gods or idols. The early Vedic Aryans had no idea of the soul though they vaguely believed in some kind of existence after death, like all primitive people. Gradually the conception of God grew in the course of hundreds of years. Towards the end of the Veda or Vedanta in 800 BCE, the Vedic philosophy or Upanishads appeared.

The Rig Veda, the first of the Vedas (five of them) is probably the earliest book that humanity possesses. The last Veda, Upanishad deals with a ‘search for the truth’. The earlier Vedas were treated in a spirit of gentle irony though with respect. The emphasis of the Upanishad philosophy is essentially on self-realisation, the knowledge of the individual – self. The objective external world is real – an aspect of the inner reality. There is nothing higher than the person.

The Upanishad asks the question: what is this universe (samsar)? Where does it come from and where does it end? The curious answer is: “in freedom it rests and into freedom it melts away”. Though the answer is vague, there was this quest for knowledge of the universe, as we are having today.

Upanishad discusses about God and soul; the triumph of mind over environment – “My body will be reduced to ashes and my breath will join the restless and deathless air, but not I and my deeds.” In early Upanishads there were elaborate attempts to disapprove materialism as materialistic philosophy as exists now in the West, was professed in India for centuries.

These books were originally written on palm leaves or bhurja patra (inner bark of the Himalayan birch tree) and later on paper. Many were lost but 50-60 thousand manuscripts and their variations have been found.

The Upanishads, later Bhagavad-Gita or Gita contain such god-like fullness of wisdom and mystic elements, which moulded the Indian rational mind and character. All the important Hindu thoughts are enshrined in the Upanishads (Bloomfield).

The Vedas were written by rishis (munis) or seers. A rishi was like a sadhu (holy man). His life was devoted to silence and an inner life (meditation). A Rishi is one who sees, and a muni is one who keeps silent. They spent their life searching for knowledge.

When I was a little boy, my two elder sisters used to keep ‘muni’ one particular morning every year. I being naughty, often tried to break their silence for which I used to have scolding from my father.

Rishis observed that reality begins ‘in here, self’, with our consciousness and awareness, and ‘not out there’ in the environment. According to them there are three states of awareness: waking, sleeping and dreaming.

Rishis looked further – ‘para’ (beyond), transcending time and space – a sort of “transcendental meditation” as coined by Maharishi Yogi, and noticed a gap between the states of awareness. For example: there is a brief gap before falling asleep as the mind gradually leaves the waking state – consciousness. This realisation opened the possibility for them to leave the boundaries of five senses by diving through the gap.

The rishis were very keen for direct experience or observation of the cosmos. So they devised an approach known as YOGA – the Sanskrit word for union. They were looking for an approach to be able to unite with nature. From their subjective viewpoint, the only way the unified field could exist is in another state of consciousness – pure consciousness, as the basis of higher stages of development to locate a unified field of cognitive and affective processes.

This is a bit beyond my cognitive functions. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the great founder of Transcendental meditation did a lot to explain it in 1969- 70s, but no one was any wiser. He always talked in riddles.

The writer is based in the UK
Email: imsingh(at)onetel.com
Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk

Published: March 16, 2012

“Through Transcendental “Through Transcendental Meditation, the human brain can experience that level of intelligence which is an ocean of all knowledge, energy, intelligence, and bliss.” —Maharishi

Meditation, the human brain can experience that level of intelligence which is an ocean of all knowledge, energy, intelligence, and bliss.” —Maharishi


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here