The Ayurveda Tradition in Kerala
BY: P. VISALAKSHY
May 24, INDIA (SUN) Study of Ayurveda benefits from work of National Mission for Manuscripts.
The etymology of the word ‘Ayurveda’, derived as it is from ayuso vedah, proclaims it as the science of health. This discipline is not confined to the health problems and their treatments concerning just human beings but also includes all other living beings such as birds, animals, plants and trees. In short, all issues concerned with health related to veterinary and agricultural sciences are also part of this medical science.
Ayurveda has a hoary past and its roots can be traced back to pre-historic times. The remnants obtained from Harappa and Mohenjodaro include Ayurvedic medicines like Krishnagola (Shilajatu) and Harinashringa which reveal that even at the time of Indus Valley civilization (4-3 millennium B.C.) Ayurvedic medicines were in use. References to Ayurveda may also be observed in the Vedas and the Puranas. Among the Vedas it is the Atharvaveda, which gives an exhaustive treatment of Ayurveda. Early inscriptions like those of Ashoka (3rd century B.C.) too indicate the popularity of this medicinal system.
The earliest Ayurveda manuscripts, which are available now, are the Bower manuscripts (3rd century A.D.). Bower manuscripts were traced in 1890 by the British Lieutenant Bower from Kuchiar in Chinese Turkistan. These manuscripts may be classified in five distinct groups and the first among them is Ayurveda.
The Tradition in Kerala Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine, has been extremely popular in the southern Indian Sate of Kerala for a very long time. Practitioners of Ayurveda in Kerala continue to be familiar with all its eight main branches-Shalya (surgery), Shalakya (cure of diseases of the eyes, ears, etc. by using shalakas or sharp instruments), Kayachikitsa (cure of diseases affecting the whole body), Bhutavidya (psychotherapy), Kaumarabhritya (pediatrics), Agadatantra (science of antidotes to poisons), Rasayanatantra (preparation and application of elixirs) and Vajikaranatantra (the science of aphrodisiacs). In contemporary Kerala too, all these branches of Ayurveda continue to be popularly employed and the advent of allopathic medicines has not really diminished the popularity of Ayurvedic treatment.
Traditionally, Ayurvedic knowledge was passed on within families, and therefore, succeeding generations of practitioners may be found in various parts of Kerala. It is worth noting that, historically, the practice of Ayurveda in Kerala did not have any caste or religious restrictions, i.e. practitioners are found among all communities.
Folios from Laksanamritam, a manuscript on Ayurveda preserved at the Oriental Research Institute, Tirupati
Ayurveda Manuscripts in Kerala Due to the popularity of Ayurveda in the region, many manuscripts related with this discipline are preserved in Kerala. Such manuscripts may be found in almost each village in Kerala, the majority of them belonging to private custodians. Though not exhaustive, a survey of the ‘Science Texts in Manuscript Repositories of Kerala and Tamil Nadu’ was carried out by the late Dr. K.V. Sarma and he identified 1,286 Ayurveda manuscripts in Kerala. Among these, 586 are independent works and the rest are commentaries. Following are some of the major repositories of Kerala in which Ayurveda manuscripts are kept:
- Government Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram
- Sanskrit College, Trippunithura
- Shree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kelady
- Malayalam Department, Calicut University
- Shree Neelakantha Government Sanskrit College, Pattambi
- Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library, Thiruvananthapuram
- Sukrteendra Oriental Research Institute, Thammanam
- Chinmaya International Foundation, Veliyanad
However, it is worth noting that the total number of Ayurvedic manuscripts may be larger still in private repositories, especially in the custody of the practising families. Since their work depends on the knowledge contained in these manuscripts, the private owners of Ayurvedic manuscripts are reluctant to part with them and hence these are seldom donated to manuscript libraries. While many such private repositories are known, information is yet to be obtained about many more. Though no firm statistics are available about the collections in private libraries, it appears that manuscripts dealing with Vishacikitsa are quite popular. A few manuscripts on Mrigacikitsa may also be available.
The languages employed in most manuscripts in Kerala are Sanskrit and Malayalam, although a few in the southern region of the State are also written in Tamil. The same holds true of Ayurveda manuscripts. Of these, the Malayalam and Tamil manuscripts are in their respective language scripts. A few Ayurveda manuscripts in Malayalam are found in Vattezhuttu, an ancient script used for Tamil and Malayalam. Sanskrit manuscripts in Kerala are usually in the following scripts-Grantha, Devanagari, Nandinagari, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, etc. Some of the Ayurveda manuscripts comprise Jyotisha portions also. Among the Tamil manuscripts a considerable number of manuscripts deal with the Siddha system of medicine.
The numbers of Ayurveda manuscripts in the major repositories are as follows:
- Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library, Thiruvananthapuram - 2,118 manuscripts
- Government Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram: 53 manuscripts
- Government Sanskrit College, Trippunithura: 135 manuscripts
- Shree Neelakantha Government Sanskrit College, Pattambi: 21 manuscripts
- Malayalam Department, Calicut University: 225 manuscripts (survey is in progress)
- Chinmaya International Foundation, Veliyanad: 7 manuscripts
- Shree Sankaracarya University of Sanskrit, Kelady: 8 manuscripts
- Sukriteendra Oriental Research Institute, Thammanam: 133 manuscripts
Among the known Ayurvedic manuscripts found in Kerala, a few deserve special mention. We may begin by noting the significance of the Pathya commentary by an anonymous author, the Vakyapradipika by Alattur Paramesvaran Nambi, Kairali commentary for the Uttarasthana by Planthol Moosad, Ashtangahridayavyakhya by Govinda Pisharoti and the Malayalam commentary Prakashika by Raghavan Thirumulpad. The Sararthadarpana commentary by Kaikkulangara Ramavariyar, the Sutikamritam and Arunodayam commentaries by Kayikkara Govindan Vaidyar, the Vasudeviya commentary by C.K. Vasudeva Sarma, Malayalam translation of the Sutrasthana by Kesavan Embranthiri, the Sarabodhini commentary by Kochusankaran Vaidyan, and the Ashtangahridayakosa by K.M. Vaidyar which provides technical terms of Ashtangahridaya, are also extremely valuable works.
In addition to these texts, many commentaries of the Ashtangahridaya, in different languages, are popular in Kerala, such as Kairali, Nidanachintamani, Balabodhini, Vyakhyasara, Hridaya, Uddhyota, Pathya, Sanketamanjari, Vagbhatakhandanamandanam, Vaiduryakabhasyam, Vijneyarthaprakasika, Lalita and Panchika. The Lilaplava commentary by Vasudevan Moosad, Bhaskara commentary by Uppottu Kannan and Alpabuddhiprabodhana, a Malayalam commentary by Shreekantha are some other valuable commentaries of the Ashtangahridaya. The Malayalam commentary of Ashtangahriaya, called Ashtangahridayam Bhasa is a work that deserves special mention.
There were many other independent works and commentaries that were composed in Kerala and that are worth noting. The Vishanarayaniya by Narayana, a 16th century work on Toxicology is one such authoritative text. The Hridayapriya by Vaikkattu Paccumoottatu is a major work that was composed in 1865 and published under the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series, No. 111. The Sukhasadhaka, written by the same author in 1881, consists of twelve khandas and is an abridged version of the Hridayapriya.
Vadakkeppattu Narayanan Nair’s Anugrahamimamsa deals with Bacteriology. P.S. Variyar’s Ashtangasharirika, which is based on Ashtangahridaya, was published in 1925 along with a Tippani called Gudarthabodhini. Another work by the same author, the Brihaccharirika, deals with human anatomy and physiology and represents an amalgam of Indian and Western systems of medicine. The Sadacharanivrittivarttana, written by Aryasarman, discusses both Ayurveda and Vedanta in seventeen chapters. The Sarvagaralapramochana, written by Kuttamattu Ramakurup, deals with the treatment of poison. Vasudeva’s Yogasarasangraha explains different kinds of medicinal preparations. The Kochunni Thampuran with his own commentary, is also a noteworthy publication. The Rasatantra and the Rasamanjari, by A.R. Rajaraja Varma and Thaikkat Narayanan Moosad respectively, deal with the Rasayanatantra branch of Ayurveda.
Apart from surveying and documenting these manuscripts, some of the institutions mentioned earlier, for instance the Government Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram, and Oriental Research Institute & Manuscripts Library, Thiruvananthapuram have shown a keen interest in the publication of Ayurveda manuscripts. Kottakkal Aryavaidyasala has also brought out some Ayurveda works. The Ayurveda manuscripts published by the Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library, Thiruvananthapuram are listed below:
In addition, a few other works were published through the Pracheenakairali and the Journal of Manuscript Studies, the Department Journals. The surveying and cataloguing of the manuscripts, an ongoing process, will be able to furnish still more details about the total number of Ayurveda manuscripts in the Kerala region.
P. Vishalakshy is Director, Oriental Research Instituute, Tirupati and Co-ordinator, Oriental Research Institute MRC, Tirupati.