Medical Science was one area were surprising advances
had been made in ancient times in India. Specifically
these advances were in the areas of plastic surgery, extraction
of catracts, dental surgery, etc., These are not just
tall claims. There is documentary evidence to prove the
existence of these practices.
An artist's impression of an operation being performed
in ancient India. In spite of the absence of anathesia,
complex operations were performed.
ART OF SURGERY The practice of surgery has been recorded
in India around 800 B.C. This need not come as a surprise
because surgery (Shastrakarma) is one of the eight branches
of Ayurveda the ancient Indian system of medicine. The
oldest treatise dealing with surgery is the Shushruta-Samahita
(Shushruta's compendium). Shusruta who lived in Kasi was
one of the many Indian medical practitioners who included
Atraya and Charaka.
was one of the first to study the human anatomy. In the
ShusrutaSamahita he has described in detail the study
of anatomy with the aid of a dead body. Shusruta's forte
was rhinoplasty (Plastic surgery) and ophthalmialogy (ejection
of cataracts). Shushruta has described surgery under eight
heads Chedya (excision), Lekhya (scarification), Vedhya
(puncturing), Esya (exploration), Ahrya (extraction),
Vsraya (evacuation) and Sivya (Suturing).
SURGERY: Shushruta specialised in ophthalmic surgery
(extraction of Cataracts). A typically operation per formed
by Shushruta for removing cataracts is desired below.
"It was a bright morning. The surgeon sat on a bench which
was as high as his knees. The patient sat opposite on
the ground so that the doctor was at a comfortable height
for doing the operation on the patient's eye. After having
taken bath and food, that patient had been tied so that
he could not move during the operation."
doctor warmed the patient's eye with the breath of his
mouth. He rubbed the closed eye of the patient with his
thumb and then asked the patient to look at his knees.
The patient's head was held firmly. The doctor held the
lancet between his fore-finger, middle-finger and thumb
and introduced it into the patient's eye towards the pupil,
half a finger's breadth from the black of the eye and
a quarter of a finger's breadth from the outer corner
of the eye. He moved the lancet gracefully back and forth
and upward. There was a small sound and a drop of water
doctor spoke a few words to comfort the patient and moistened
the eye with milk. He scratched the pupil with the tip
or the lancet, without hurting, and then drove the 'slime'
towards the nose. The patient got rid of the 'slime' by
drawing it into his nose. It was a matter of joy for the
patient that the could see objects through his operated
eye and the doctor drew the lancet out slowly. He then
laid cotton soaked in fat on the wound and the patient
lay still with the operated eye bandaged. It was the patient's
left eye and the doctor used his right hand for the operation.
this not sound like the detailed procedure and steps of
a cataract operation by an ophthalmic surgeon? But this
operation was performed around the 8th Century B.C. by
Shushruta was not only one of the earliest pioneers in
surgery in the world but also one of the earliest ones
to study the human anatomy. In his Samahita, he described
in detail the study of anatomy with the use of a dead
has described the following in his Samahita, "For these
purposes, a perfectly preserved body must be used. It
should be the body of a person who is not very old and
did not die of poison or severe disease.After
the intestine have been cleaned, the body must be wrapped
in bast (the inner bark of trees), grass or
hemp and placed in cage (for pro tection against animals).
The cage should be placed in a carefully concealed spot
in a river with fairly gentle current, and the body left
seven days the body is to be removed from the water and
with a brush of grassroots, hair and bamboo it should
be brushed off a layer at a time when this is done the
eye can observe every large or small outer or inner part
of the body, begining with the skin as each part is laid
bare by the brushing.
SURGERY: Perhaps the greatest contribution of Shushruta
was the operation of rhinoplasty (restoration of a mutilated
nose by plastic surgery). The detailed description of
the rhinoplasty operation in the Shushruta Samahita is
amazingly meticulous and comprehensive. There is evidence
to show that his success in this kind of surgery was very
high, which attracted people from all over the country
and perhaps even from outside. Cutting off of the nose
and ears was one of the common modes of punishment in
the early Indian kingdoms.
Shushruta moved by his intense humane approach to life
and equipped with superb surgical skills, did the operation
of rhinoplasty with remarkable skill, grace and success.
The details of the steps of this operation, as recorded
in the Shushruta Samahita, are amazingly similar to the
steps that are followed even to-day in such advanced plastic
Indian medical tradition also goes back to Vedic times
when the Ashwinikumars, who were practitioners of medicine
were given a divine status,. We also have a God of Medicine
historic times the earliest recorded treatise on medicine in India viz., the Shushruta
Samahita is dated around the 8th century B.C. Plastic surgery dentistry operation
of cataracts, were pioneering advances, in the field of medicine.