Religion and Medicine in Ancient India
A Different Discourse Based on Caraka Saṃhitᾱ
Keywords:Ayurveda, Caraka Samhita, holistic, alternative medice, globalisation, religion, science
This study of Ayurveda and the treatise Caraka Samhita (ca. 200 BCE) illustrates what the introductory essay defines as the ‘systemic’ nature of globalisation. Ayurveda was practiced within the Indian Vedic religious system by specific experts, and intended exclusively for kings and priests. The Caraka Samhita describes a holistic system where the Vedic deities, the cosmos, and the human organs are interconnected. Alongside ontological schemes and prescriptions of religious practices, the Caraka Samhita describes the human anatomy and treatments based on empirical medical practice. It is argued here that the blending of religious and medical practices is not random or un-reflected. As opposed to early modern medicine where health was seen as the absence of disease but in line with the WHO’s more holistic definition of health, the Caraka Samhita combines ontology, religion, social rules and medicine. However, in post-colonial India and in the global economy, Ayurveda has become a commercial brand of ‘alternative medicine’ products, free for purchase by anyone but detached from the holistic system of the Caraka Samhita. The study implies that the globalised function systems limit Ayurveda to ‘health’, and that the detachment from its previous religious and social dimensions has deprived it of its holistic therapeutic usefulness.
This paper is one of a collection that originated in the IAHR Special Conference “Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change”, held at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology on March 1–2, 2012. For an overall introduction see the article by Ulrika Mårtensson, also published here.
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