The Sri Lankan Ayurvedic Tradition

Definition of Ayurveda

Ayurveda means Ayu (life) and Veda (knowledge). Hence it means the Science of life.

The main objective of Ayurveda according to Pandit Shiva Sharma is, "to maintain and promote physical, mental and spiritual health of the individual and the community". The other objective is, "to prevent disease and to treat, and to cure it when it appears" Even though the primary purpose of Ayurveda is to serve mankind, there are Ayurvedic texts that deal with the treatment of elephants, horses, cows and other animals (Salihotra Samhita), and also Vruksha Ayurveda that deals with the art of preservation and healing of plants. Even today in our villages there are unregistered physicians who treat cattle and dogs using herbal medicines learnt from their fore-fathers. They serve in addition to western-trained veterinary surgeons who are posted by government to the major towns. Ayurveda recognizes a fourfold categorization of disease, as

a) Adventitious (eg. cuts, bites, stings, infections etc.)
b) Physical (eg. endocrinological, nutritional, organic, functional etc.)
c) Mental (e.g. greed, avarice, jealousy, fear, anger etc.)
d) Natural (e.g. bondage of birth, death, old age, hunger, thirst, sleep etc.)

Roughly speaking, adventitious diseases are treated surgically, physical diseases medically, mental disease psycho-analytically, and natural disease spiritually (Pandit Shiva Sharma). Mental disease and mental hygiene in Ayurveda go far beyond the scope of their meanings in other systems of medicine. The development of the higher moral and cultural approach to life as described at length in Ayurveda as a specific preventive measure against a number of personal and mass evils, find exclusive mention only in Ayurveda. According to Charaka, "When leaders take to injustice in dealing with their public, then their camp followers aggravate to make injustice eclipse justice and thus the land becomes godforsaken".

Hence Ayurveda is a system of medicine that concerns itself not only with disease but also with the general welfare of mankind. Dr. R.T.Troll amply demonstrates this difference in the basic attitudes in the following comment. “There are two methods of treatment. One aims at curing the disease, the other at curing the patient. We profess to cure the disease, and we can do it, whatever happens to the patients." As Ayurveda follows a holistic approach and treats the patient by strengthening the immune system to cure disease, there are no significant side effects.

Ayurveda in Sri Lanka

The Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda) was a highly developed and universally accepted form of treatment when it was brought to Sri Lanka (SL) by Rev. Mahinda the son of King Asoka in the 3rd century B.C. At that time Sri Lanka too had a developed civilization. Rev. Mahinda was able to learn the language of this country and produce commentaries to the Buddhist scriptures in the Sinhala language and that was a massive undertaking. Sri Lanka had also a well-developed system of medicine called, "Desiya Vaidya Chikithsava"

(Traditional System of Medicine). However, as Ayurveda was the system of medicine of the most powerful country in the world of that time, it absorbed the native system of medicine and this resulted in a complementary mixture of both systems. However, even today there are time honoured and popular medicines used in Sri Lanka, which are not found in the Indian pharmacopoeia (e.g. Sitarama Vati, Jeevananda Vati, Desadun Kalka, Buddharaja Kalka, Navaratne Kalka, Siddhartha Oil and Seethodaka Oil etc.)

By P.L.N. de Silva - Former Chairman, Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation.

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