Ayurveda (Sanskrit: Āyurveda, “the complete knowledge for long life”; /ˌaɪ.ərˈveɪdə/) or ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to India and a form of alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, words āyus, meaning “longevity”, and veda, meaning “knowledge” or “science”. The earliest literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India, i.e., in the mid-second millennium BCE. The Suśruta Saṃhitā and the Caraka Saṃhitā are encyclopedias of medicine compiled from various sources from the mid-first millennium BCE to about 500 CE. They are among the foundational works of Ayurveda. Over the following centuries, ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments.
Current practices derived from Ayurvedic medicine are regarded as part of complementary and alternative medicine.
At an early period, Ayurveda adopted the physics of the “five elements” (Devanāgarī; Pṛthvī (earth), Jala(water), Agni (fire), Vāyu (air) and Ākāśa (Sky)) — that compose the universe, including the human body. Chyle or plasma (called rasa dhātu), blood (rakta dhātu), flesh (māṃsa dhātu), fat (medha dhātu), bone (asthi dhātu), marrow (majja dhātu), and semen or female reproductive tissue (śukra dhātu) are held to be the seven primary constituent elements – saptadhātu (Devanāgarī: of the body. Ayurvedic literature deals elaborately with measures of healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Ayurveda stresses a balance of three elemental energies or humors: Vāyu vāta (air & space – “wind”), pitta (fire & water – “bile”) and kapha (water & earth – “phlegm”). According to ayurvedic medical theory, these three substances — doṣas (literally that which deteriorates – Devanāgarī: are important for health, because when they exist in equal quantities, the body will be healthy, and when they are not in equal amounts, the body will be unhealthy in various ways. One ayurvedic theory asserts that each human possesses a unique combination of doṣas that define that person’s temperament and characteristics. Another view, also present in the ancient literature, asserts that humoral equality is identical to health, and that persons with preponderances of humours are proportionately unhealthy, and that this is not their natural temperament. In ayurveda, unlike the Sāṅkhya philosophical system, there are 20 fundamental qualities, guṇa (Devanāgarī: meaning qualities) inherent in all substances. Surgery and surgical instruments were employed from a very early period, Ayurvedic theory asserts that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality. Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, and meditation.
The practice of panchakarma (Devanāgarī is a therapeutic regime of eliminating toxic elements from the body.
As early as the Mahābhārata, ayurveda was called “the science of eight components” (Skt. aṣṭāṅga, Devanāgarī: a classification that became canonical for ayurveda. They are:
Up to 80% of people in India use either Ayurveda or other traditional medicines.
In 1970, the Indian Medical Central Council Act, which aims to standardize qualifications for ayurveda and provide, accredited institutions for its study and research was passed by the Parliament of India. In India, over 100 colleges offer degrees in traditional ayurvedic medicine. The Indian government supports research and teaching in ayurveda through many channels at both the national and state levels, and helps institutionalize traditional medicine so that it can be studied in major towns and cities. The state-sponsored Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) has been set up to research the subject. To fight biopiracy and unethical patents, the Government of India, in 2001, set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library as repository of 1200 formulations of various systems of Indian medicine, such as ayurveda, unani and siddha. The library also has 50 traditional ayurveda books digitized and available online.