Book Review: Ayurveda Revisited

Ayurveda Revisited
by Sharadini Rahanukar & Urmilla Thatte
Popular Prakashan Publishers Ltd. (1993)

Indians have always been rightfully proud of their rich heritage, a vast legacy of medical knowledge in Ayurveda, our traditional medicinal system. Today, however, Ayurveda in India does not enjoy the same status in the scientific world as it did during the years of Sushruta and Charaka. There are several reasons for this: the canonical language in which it was written (Sanskrit), the fact that certain claims made and teachings enunciated by Ayurveda are not backed by experimental proofs which are essential in today’s science, and the fact that Ayurvedic therapies are considered by many if not most Allopathic Physicians to be alternative medicine to which the conditions that modern medicine has failed to treat are relegated.

Paradoxically, one finds that Ayurvedic drugs and treatments are widely prescribed in India and her neighboring countries today, indicating that Ayurveda has never been uprooted and still enjoys wide popularity. It has been very difficult to get a contemporary view of Ayurveda because Indian doctors, most of whom are trained in Allopathy, are so westernized in their approach to medicine that they have lost touch with the deeper meaning of Ayurveda. At the same time, most contemporary commentaries on ancient Ayurvedic texts have been written by Ayurvedic physician-scholars who, with a few notable exceptions, have little training outside of their discipline and whose works have the disadvantage of being written by people closely involved in the subject, thus lacking a degree of “arms-length” detachment and objectivity.

Both of the authors of Ayurveda Revisited are students and practitioners of modern (i.e., Western) medicine, who began their study of Ayurveda only as an avocation to broaden our perspective. That study of Ayurveda, in its original form, however, proved to be a tremendous stimulus to their further reading and interpreting the writings of Charaka, Sushruta and Vagbhata, as well as later commentators, evoked a deep excitement and enthusiasm as deeper and more sophisticated layers of Ayurveda’s teaching and practice were revealed to them, discovering in that process a huge source of medical knowledge which had remained shrouded in an aura of mystery.

This book is the result of their scientific pursuit of Ayurveda’s “deeper truths.” They have expertly reviewed the basic principles of Ayurveda and explored the possibility of explaining those principles within a contemporary scientific conceptual framework.

The authors feel that “Ayurveda needs to be put back on the world map of medicine. It needs to be practiced as a first line of treatment; at least in some diseases in which Ayurvedic remedies will be effective where modern medicines have failed.”

Ayurveda is a science shrouded in mystery today. It is much misunderstood, being glorified to unrealistic heights by the romantic revivalists and discarded out of hand as unsubstantiated gibberish by the hardcore west-oriented scientists. The authors of Ayurveda Revisited believe that a bridge needs to be built between these two extreme ends. This book is an attempt to explore the possibilities of explaining hitherto elusive concepts of Ayurveda in terms of modern scientific thought.

This is an excellent, very worthwhile work that I recommend to all involved in Ayurveda or who wish to broaden their knowledge of the subject.

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