Vedic India, like Ancient Egypt, recognised the principle of the division of labour among the followers of the healing art. There were Shalya Vaidyas (surgeons), Bhisaks (physicians) and Bhisag-atharvans (magic doctors), and we find that at the time of the Mahabharatam, which nearly approaches the age of our author, the number of the sects had increased to five which were named as Rogaharas (physicians) Shalyaharas (surgeons), Vishaharas (poison curers), . Krityaharas (demon-doctors) and Bhisag-Atharvans (2).
In the Vedic age (before the age of Sushruta) physicians had to go out into the open streets, calling out for patients (3). They lived in houses surrounded by gardens of medicinal herbs. The Rigveda mentions the names of a thousand and one medicinal drugs (4). Verses eulogising the virtues of water as an all-healer, and of certain trees and herbs as purifiers of the atmosphere are not uncommon in the Vedas. Indeed the rudiments of Embryology, Midwifery, child management (pediatrics) and sanitation were formulated in the age of the Vedas and Brahmanas, and we shall presently see how from these scanty and confused materials Sushruta created a science and a Samhita which invite the admiration of the world even after thousands of years of human progress.
Rik Samhita I M. 116-16. (2)Mahabharatam. Shantiparva. Rajadharmanushashan Parvadhyaya.
Rigveda. IX M. 112.
In India, as in all other countries, curative spells and healing mantras preceded medicine (1); and the first man of medicine in India was a priest, a Bhisag Atharvan, who held a superior position to a surgeon in society. The first Aryan settlements in the Punjab were often assailed by the dark aborigines of the country, and in the wars that ensued surgeons had fre-quently to attend to the Aryaa chiefs and soldiery. So in the Rigveda (2) we find that legs were amputated and replaced by iron substitutes, injured eyes were plucked out, and arrow shafts were extracted from the limbs of the Aryan warriors. Nay we have reasons to believe that many difficult surgical operations were successfully performed, though some of them sound almost incredible. But although the aid of surgery was constantly sought for, surgeons were not often allowed to mix in the Brahmanic society of Vedic India. This is hinted at by our author when he says that it was during the wars be tween the gods and demons that the Ashvins, the surgeons of heaven, did not become entitled to any sacrificial oblation till they had made themselves eligible for it by uniting the head of the god of sacrifice to his decapitated body. The story of the progress of Ayurvedic surgery is long and interesting, but it must suffice here to mention that with the return of peace, the small Aryan settlements grew in number and prosperity. And the rich Aryan nobles now travelled in stately carriages, and as there were constant accidents there arose a class of surgeons who exclusively devoted themselves to the treatment of injured animals. The surgeons, now no longer required in camps and on battle fields, had to attend on the rich ladies at baronial castles during parturition, the magic doctor (Bhisag Atharvan) who could assuage fever and concoct Io\e potions (I) being held as the greatest of them all. But the Vedic Aryans had a regular armoury against pain and suffering, which is in no way inferior to our present day Materia Medica. But of that we shall speak later on in connection with the therapeutics of Sushruta.
(1) Bedroe's Origin of the Healing Art, and Sir John Lubbock's Prehistoric times.
Rik Samhita I A. 8 Ad. 186 S. 116. 5.