Once upon a time, when the holy Dhanvantari, the greatest of the mighty celestials, incarnated in the form of Divodasa, the king of Kasi, was blissfully seated, in his hermitage, surrounded by a concourse of holy Rishis; Aupadhenava, Vaitarana, Aurabhra, Paush-kalavata, Karavirya, Gopura-rakshita, Sushruta and others addressed him as follows: - "O Sire, it grieves us much to find men, though otherwise well befriended by their kin and relations, falling a prey to diseases, mental, physical, traumatic, or natural, and piteously wailing in agony like utterly friendless creatures on earth; and we supplicate thee, O Lord, to illumine our minds with the truths of the Eternal Ayurveda (Medical Science) so that we may faithfully discharge the duties allotted to us in life, and alleviate the sufferings of humanity at large. Bliss in this life and hereafter, is in the gift of this eternal Ayurveda, and for this, O Lord, we have made bold to approach thee as thy humble disciples." To them, thus replied the holy Dhanvantari: - "Welcome to all of you to this blissful hermitage. All of you are worthy of the honour of true pupilship or tutelage."
* The present work which originally formed the subject of a discourse by the holy sage Dhanvantari to his disciple Sushruta, has been compiled in its present form by the venerable Nagarjuna, and is accordingly designated as the Sushruta Samhita.
The Ayurveda (which forms the subject of our present discourse), originally formed one of the subsections of the Atharva Veda; and even before the creation of mankind, the self-begotten Brahma strung-it together into a hundred thousand couplets (Shlokas), divided into a thousand chapters. But then he thought of the small duration of human life on earth, and the failing character of human memory, and found it prudent to divide the whole of the Ayurveda into eight different branches such as, the Salya-Tantram, the Salakya-Tantram, the Kaya-Chikitsa, the Bhuta-Vidya, the Kaumar-Bhritya, the Agada-Tantram, the Rasayana-Tantram and the Vajeekarana-Tantram.
The Salya-Tantram * - The scope of this branch of Medical Science is to remove from an ulcer any extraneous substance such as, fragments of hay, particles of stone, dust, iron or bone; splinters, nails, hair, clotted blood, or condensed pus (as the case may be, or to draw out of the uterus a dead foetus, or to bring about safe parturitions in cases of false presentation, and to deal with the principle and mode of using and handling surgical instruments in general, and with the application of fire (cautery) and alkaline (caustic) substances, together with the diagnosis and treatment of ulcers.
The Shalakya-Tantram † - embraces as its object the treatment of those diseases which are restricted to the upward (lit: - region above the clavicles) fissures or cavities of the body, such as the ears, the eyes, the cavity of the mouth, the nostrils, etc.
The Ka'ya-Chikitsa' General diseases ‡ - treats of diseases, which, instead of being simply restricted to any specific organ, or to any particular part of the body, affect the entire system, as Fever, Dysentery, Haemoptysis, Insanity, Hysteria, Leprosy, unnatural discharges from the urethra, etc.
* Any foreign mailer, lodged in a human organism and proving painful to it, is called a Shalya.
† The name is derived from ihe Sanskrit term Shalaka, a probe or a rod, ihe use and application of the instrument being primarily included within the scope of this branch of the Ayurveda.
‡ The term Kaya literally signifies the vital heat or fire which runs through the entire .system, and hence the Kaya-chikitsa deals with diseases which may gradually invade the root-principles of a living human organism.
The Bhuta-Vidya' Demoniacal diseases) - lays down incantations and modes of exorcising evil spirits and making offerings to the gods, demons, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Rakshas, etc. for cures of diseases originating from their malignant influences.
The Kaumara-Bhritya Management of children) - deals with the nursing and healthy bringing up of infants, with purification and bettering of mothers' milk, found deficient in any of its characteristic traits, and also with cures for diseases peculiar to infant life and due to the use of vitiated mother's milk or to the influences of malignant stars and spirits.
The Agada-Tantram Toxicology - deals with bites from snakes, spiders and venomous worms, and their characteristic symptoms and antidotes. It has also for its object the elimination of poison whether animal, vegetable, or chemical (resulting from incompatible combinations) from the system of a man, overwhelmed with its effects.
The Rasaryana-Tantram (Science of Rejuvenation) - has for its specific object the prolongation of human life, and the invigoration of memory and the vital organs of man. It deals with recipes which enable a man to retain his manhood or youthful vigour up to a good old age, and which generally serve to make the human system invulnerable to disease and decay.
The Vajeekarana-Tantram (Science of Aphrodisiacs) - treats of measures by which the semen of a man naturally scanty or deficient in quality becomes shorn of its defects; or is purified, if deranged by the vitiated humours of the body (such as wind, etc.; or is invigorated and increased in quantity (if pure and healthy); or acquires its healthy and normal consistence (if thinned and enfeebled by indiscretions of youth;. [In short, it deals with things which increase the pleasures of youth and make a man doubly endearing to a woman].
Thus the entire science of the Ayurveda is classified into the eight preceding branches. Now tell me, which of them is to be taught and to which of you ? Said the disciples: - "Instruct us all, O Lord, in the science of surgery (Shalya ) and let that be the chief subject of our study." To which replied the holy Dhan-vantari: - "Be it so." Then the disciples again said: - "We are all of one mind in the matter, O Lord, that Sushruta shall be our spokesman and ask you questions conformably to the general trend of our purpose. All of us will attentively hear what you will be pleased to discourse to Sushruta, [and that will save you the trouble of teaching us individually]". To which replied the venerable sage - "Be it so. Now listen, Sushruta, my dear child. The object or utility of the science which forms the subject of our present discussion, may be grouped under two distinct sub-heads such as (1) the cure of diseased persons, and (2) the preservation of health in those who are not afflicted with any sort of bodily distempers."
The etymological meaning of the term "Ayurveda" may be interpreted to denote either a science in the knowledge of which life exists, or which helps a man to enjoy a longer duration of life.
The primary position of surgery: surgical operations, external applications of alkalis, cauterisation, etc., and secondly inasmuch as it contains all that can be found in the other branches of the science of medicine as well, with the superior advantage of producing instantaneous effects by means of surgical instruments and appliances. Hence it is the highest in value of all the medical Tantras. It is eternal and a source of infinite piety, imparts fame and opens the gates of Heaven to its votaries, prolongs the duration of human existence on earth, and helps men in successfully fulfilling their missions, and earning a decent competence, in life.
[As regards time and importance among the other allied branches of the Science of Medicine]. Hear me discourse on the Science of Surgery (Shalya-Tantram) which is the oldest of all the other branches of the Science of Medicine (Ayurveda) and is further corroborated by the four classes of testimonies, viz., Perception, Inference, Analogy and Scriptural Truths (Agamas). The primary position of this branch of the Ayurveda, (as regards its time or origin), may be inferred from the fact that Surgery lends her aid materially towards the healing up of traumatic ulcers. * The second reason for such an inference may be deduced from the replacement of the severed head of Yajna. It is told that the god Rudra, severed the head of the God of Sacrifice (Yajna). Whereupon the gods approached the celestial Ashvins, and addressed them as follows: - "You twins, O lords, who are to be the greatest of us all, connect the head of Yajna with his decapitated trunk." To them, replied the divine Ashvins: - "We shall do, O lords, as you command us to do." Then the celestials propitiated the god Indra in order that a portion of the oblations offered in the course of a sacrifice, might be allotted to those heavenly twins. The Ashvins reunited the severed head of Yajna to his body as prayed for. [Hence this branch of the Ayurveda (Shalyanga) is the oldest of all its subdivisions].