The History and Traditions of Ayurveda
Updated: Jul 7
Ayurvedic principles have been followed for over 5000 years, and Ayurveda is one of the most renowned traditional systems of medicine that has survived and flourished through the ages. Ayurveda has become popular across the world and can help bring a balanced and a holistic view to health.
However it is essential to learn the history and traditions behind Ayurveda, especially considering the impact of the British colonisation of India.
The origins of early Ayurvedic Medicine to a modern lifestyle
The word Ayurveda translates from Sanskrit to mean the “science or study” (Ayur) of “life” (Veda). Ayurveda stems from the Vedic Culture and their oral traditions, which were handed down through generations, written down, and carefully studied in a similar way to Yoga. One of the core beliefs is that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
Veda's celebrate the elements of life, especially fire, wind, and water, as well as Mother Earth and the plants and animals. Many herbs, some now unknown and some still used in Ayurveda to this day, were originally described in the Vedas.
Ayurveda places reverence on ancient Indian knowledge, whilst nevertheless remains dynamic to new ideas, giving it credibility and proof of being a healthy and beneficial lifestyle choice. Ayurveda is perhaps one of the oldest examples of if it’s not broken, why fix it?
The effects of British colonisation and unawareness of Ayurveda: a rejection of tradition and heritage
The British first arrived in India in the 1600s and their influence and control grew over time. Officially the British Crown ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947, however prior to that the East India Company ruled, complete with its own army, its own territory, and a complete control on trade. Studies have stated that in two centuries under colonial rule, the wealth the British took from India was close to $45 trillion in today’s monetary value.
Over time, western medicine was positioned as superior to indigenous practices and therefore Ayurveda was supported less and less. Some Ayurvedic practitioners defended and promoted their systems, while others adopted the methods and ideas of Western medicine into their education and practice. As a result, many of the great Ayurvedic texts, teachers, and techniques were silenced. Throughout this time, Ayurveda continued to be practiced, albeit unofficially and often in houses, increasingly outside of cities.
Under British rule, Ayurvedic classes at the government Sanscrit College were ended in 1833. The British East India Company employed surgeons from Europe to work in India and although medical exams could be taken in India, Indian people were not allowed to fully practice, instead being hired as medical assistants. Similarly, western medical facilities were not initially available to Indian people until the late 18th Century when the first hospital was opened in Calcutta. This combined with the death of indigenous ruling classes and the upsurge of Western Medicine, practice of Ayurveda declined.
Indian Independence: The rise and restructuring of Ayurveda
After India declared independence from the British in 1947 it was decided that Ayurvedic practices would be studied within the collegiate system of western medicine - a huge shift away from the traditional teacher and single student educational system previously employed in Ayurveda. By the end of the 20th Century Ayurveda had become formally and legally integrated, which in turn led to its popularisation.
In 2014 the India government set up the The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) purposed with developing education and research of indigenous alternative medicine systems in India. Today Ayurvedic medicine is practiced in mainstream hospitals across India and 65% of the rural population uses Ayurveda and medicinal plants as a first step for healthcare.
Modern Ayurvedic practices and their place in the world
The Ayurvedic lifestyle also gained traction as it was inclusive and appealing to women. The first Ayurvedic cookbooks marketed towards Indian housewives, covered with images of healthy and happy children. What’s more, Ayurveda health or self-help books covered women’s health and wellbeing in an innovative way and gave women the opportunity to openly learn and discuss matters previously ignored.
Today, Ayurveda is massively popular across the globe, with Ayurveda centres and classes teaching the benefits of Ayurvedic medicine and diet, and undoubtedly improving the lives of many. That said, it is worth remembering the role Britain played in hindering the study of Ayurveda, as well as taking steps to be educated on the tradition of Ayurveda in order to practice it respectfully and considerately.
If you would like to read more about Modern Ayurveda, “Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms” edited by Dagmar Wujastyk and Frederick M. Smith is a great place to start.
Learning the principles and benefits of Ayurvedic medicine : How Turmeric and Curcumin can benefit you!
Ayurveda is an holistic lifestyle connecting the mind and body, and can benefit all facets of your life. With that in mind, Ayurvedic medicine is a great place to start learning about Ayurveda and with benefits such as glowing skin and hair, diminishing stress, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Ayurvedic medicine, Your Bodhi, and Curcumin
At Your Bodhi, we are always amazed by our product: turmeric benefits the lives of many, with curcumin tablets with its antioxidant properties protecting your body from free radicals, not to mention easing gastrointestinal conditions and reducing joint pain (find out more here!). Curcumin supplements are a major player in Ayurvedic medicine - the health benefits of turmeric are not to be underestimated.
Another great Ayurvedic medicine which you might already have in your cupboard is cumin, which is an amazing source of iron. Around 14% of women in the UK are thought to be iron deficient, so this is a great natural way to boost your iron levels! We love the fact that our turmeric supplements come from natural sources: an Ayurvedic lifestyle emphasises living in a simpler way with less processed foods and drinks, something we can all definitely learn from.
Cover photo: https://unsplash.com/@varuntandon,