Ayurveda: Indian Contributions to Medicine

This exhibit describes the ancient Indian knowledge and practices of ayurveda.

By National Council of Science Museums

Science City, Kolkata, and National Science Centre, New Delhi

Ayurvedic IngredientsNational Council of Science Museums

Āyurveda

Āyurveda, the ‘Science of Life’, originated in ancient India. Although the era in which Āyurveda originated still remains ambiguous, it is fairly certain that it is one of the earliest medical sciences to have evolved globally. 

Ayurvedic IngredientsNational Council of Science Museums

Āyurveda elaborately deals with measures for healthy living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Besides dealing with principles for maintenance of health, it has also developed a wide range of therapeutic measures to combat illness, which are related to physical, mental, social, and spiritual welfare of human beings.

Manuscript, 18th century, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Rigveda and Atharvaveda, the earliest documented ancient Indian knowledge (1500 years B.C.), have references on health and diseases. Āyurveda is a branch of Atharvaveda, the fourth book of Vedic literature.

The Susruta-Samhita or Sahottara-Tantra (A Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine), Unknown, Text: 12th-13th century; Images: 18th-19th century, From the collection of: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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Caraka Samhita, Susruta Samhita, Astanga Hrdaya are three major classics on Ayurveda which enumerate eight different branches of Ayurveda:
- surgery,
- ear, eye, nose & throat,
- mental and super natural diseases,
- therapeutics,
- paediatrics,
- toxicology,
- rejuvenation
- and vilification.

These texts are the most famous and are still consulted by medical practitioners today.

Process of Manufacturing Ayurvedic MedicinesNational Council of Science Museums

Āyurvedic medicines are made into various forms depending upon end uses. Examples are gutikā (pills), abaleha (concentrated decoction), lepa (paste for external application), taila (oil base), asava and arista (both fermented drinks).

Process of Manufacturing Ayurvedic MedicinesNational Council of Science Museums

Āyurvedic medicines in the form of chūrṇa (powder), rasa (juice), ghṛta (clarified butter base), kwatha (decoction) and modern medicines now come in the form of tablets.

Mortar and Pestles (c. 1937)National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Following these stipulations, Āyurvedic medicines are still prepared in India by classical methods. The medicines are quite popular among the people both rural and urban.

Ayurvedic IngredientsNational Council of Science Museums

Some Ayurvedic Ingredients

Ayurvedic ingredients are all naturally occurring. They may be used fresh, or dried. Plant forms may be roots, stems, leaves, bark, flowers, fruit, or seeds. Gold, silver or pearls may also be used in minuscule quantities.

Haldi or Turmeric, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Haldi, or Turmeric
or Curcuma longa

Externally used in treating wounds, bruises and leech bites; and internally administered in fever, cough, flatulence, dyspepsia.

Badi Pippali, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Badi Pippali or Long Pepper
or Piper longum

Powdered with honey, used to relieve cough, cold, asthma, hoarseness and hiccup. A compound preparation is a good appetizer useful in dyspepsia, cough, flatulence and enlarged spleen.

Badi Harad, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Badi Harad, or Myrobalan,
or Terminalia chebula

Fruits used as aperients in head affections, hepatic congestion, dyspepsia, abdominal complaints and biliousness.

Kalmegh, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Kalmegh, or Green Chiretta,
or Andrographis paniculata

Used in controlling irregular stools, loss of appetite, and convalescence after fevers, in chronic malaria and also used in viral hepatitis.

Mulethi, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Mulethi, or Liquorice root
or root of Glycyrrhiza glabra

Popular flavour sweetener, and helps with respiratory & digestive disorders, boosts immunity, controls cholesterol, treats skin disorders, reduces stress & depression, treats sore throat & cough, helps in weight management.

Shatavari, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Shatavari, a type of Asparagus
or Asparagus racemosus

Used mainly to increase milk secretion during lactation. Also used as a general tonic and as an aphrodisiac.

Kauncha, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Kauncha, or Cowhage
or Mucuna pruriens

Powdered seeds used in leucorrhoea, spermatorrhoea and in cases requiring an aphrodisiac action. Also used in Parkinson’s disease.

Ashwagandha, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Ashwagandha or Indian Ginseng
or Withania somnifera

Helps in stress relieving, lower blood sugar, boosts brain functioning.

Brahmi, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Brahmi, or Waterhyssop
or Bacopa monnieri

For respiratory benefits, boost immunity and power, improves skin health, reduces blood sugars.

Neem, From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Neem or Indian Lilac
or Azadirachta indica

Stem and bark of the tree is used internally and externally in leprosy, scrofula and other skin diseases. Also used in dental hygiene.

Amla (Dried), From the collection of: National Council of Science Museums
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Amla or Indian Gooseberry
or Phyllanthus emblica

Used as restorative tonic, useful in treatment of hemorrhage, diarrhea, dysentery, anemia, jaundice and dyspepsia. Triphala a combination of Amla with Harda and Beheda is used as a laxative.

Process of Manufacturing Ayurvedic MedicinesNational Council of Science Museums

In some cases, Āyurvedic medicines are prepared in modern pharmaceutical forms and by using machines for large scale production.

Credits: Story

This online exhibition has been curated by Science City, Kolkata, and National Science Centre, Delhi, both units of National Council of Science Museums

Photos of ingredients:
courtesy Ath Ayurdhamah

Other supporting images courtesy respective institutions.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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