Sushruta, himself a practical surgeon, was the first to advocate dissection of dead bodies as indispensable for a successful student of Surgery. The Paruschittas of ancient Egypt perhaps learnt their art from the Purusachettas (Dissector) of ancient India. With a candour less common among western scholars Dr. Wise observes that, "the Hindu philosophers undoubtedly deserve the credit of having, though opposed by strong prejudice entertained sound and philosophical views respecting the uses of the dead to the living, and were the first scientific and successful cultivators of the most important and essential of all the departments of medical knowledge, practical anatomy". A bungling surgeon is a public danger and Sushruta says that, "theory without practice is like a one-winged bird that is incapable of flight".
To give efficiency in surgical operations, the pupils of Dhanvantari (Sushruta etc.) were asked to try their knives repeatedly first on natural and artificial objects resembling the diseased parts of the body before undertaking an actual operation. Incision, for example, was practised on Pushpafala (cucerbeta maxima), Alavu (Longenaris Vulgaris) or Trapusha (cucmis pubescuas), evacuating on leather bags full of water and on the urinary bladders of dead animals, scarification on the hides of animals on which the hair was allowed to remain. Venesection was practised on the vessels of dead animals and on the stalks of the water-lily; the art of stuffing and probing on bamboo reeds etc.: extraction of solid bodies on Panasa (Artocarpus Integrifolia) and such like fruit, scraping on wax spread on a Shalmali (Bombox Malabaricum) plank, and suturing on pieces of cloth, skin or hide. Ligaturing and bandaging were practised on dummies, cauterisation (both actual and potential ) on pieces of flesh, and cathe-terisation on unbaked earthen vessels filled with water. It is almost with a feeling of wonder we hear him talk of extirpation of uterine excrescences and discourse on the necessity of observing caution in surgically operating upon uterine tumours (Raktarvuda). These facts should be borne in mind as they would help us a good deal in accounting for the numerous anomalies that are to be found in the anatomical portions of the Samhita.
We have stated before that the quartered sacrificial animals afforded excellent materials for the framing of comparative anatomy. The Aitareya Brahmana contains special injunction for the quartering of such animals (1) and we are told that the preceptors availed themselves of the religious meetings to demonstrate the lessons on practical anatomy. We come across such terms as the heart, stomach, brain, intestines, anus, liver, spleen, uterus etc, in the Rigveda, and the Aitareya Brahmana (I). There is an entire hymn (Rik) devoted, to the subject and treatment of Phthisis (Raja Yakshma) which becomes utterly unintelligible in the absence of an accurate knowledge about the structure of lungs, and mechanism of the human heart. The Vedic Arya fully understood the resultant nature of the human organism. The Rik Mantra, which to this day is recited on the occasion of a funeral ceremony, amply testifies to the fact that he used to look upon his mortal frame as the product of the combination of the five physical elements (2). He understood the effects of different drugs upon digestion and the office which the tendons, muscles, flesh and nerves, etc. respectively serve in the economy. It is in the Sushruta Samhita that we find a systematic attempt at arranging together the facts of anatomical observation. The age of Sushruta, the Acharyic age of the Ayurveda, was a period of scientific investigation. The sturdy Aryan colonists exchanged their simple mode of living for luxury and ease. The number of general diseases was great. In vain did the holy Narada (1) preach the gospel of plain living and high thinking, and exhort them, like Cato, to return to their simple mode of life. The long peace brought opulence in its train and wealth begot indolence and disease. Men like Bharadvaja, Angira, Yamadagni, Atreya, Gautama, Agastya, Vamadeva, Kapisthala, Asa-marthya, Bhargava, Kusnika, Kapya, Kashyapa, Sharkara-ksha, Shaunaka, Manmathayani, Agnivesha, Charaka, Sushruta, Narada, Pulastya, Asita, Chyavana, Paingi and Dhaumya etc. began to write Samhitas. Each hermitage was a College of Ayurveda, and the empirical method of investigation was introduced into each department of the science of cure.
(1) The Aitareya Brahmana describes a particular way of dividing the organs and viscera of the sacrificial animals which was kept secret among the priests. Aitareya Brahmana VIII. I.
Rik Samhita V. VII, I,23,538.
Ibid. B. Vide also Aitareya Brahmana I 2. II 12. III 37.
(2) The nature of the human body as the resulting effect of the com binalion of the five elementals have been clearly described in the verse.
Rik Samhita X M. 16 S. 3.