History of Ayurveda – Part 2 – Medieval Times to Current Day

Note: This is a continuation of my previous article on this subject. Click here to read that article: “History of Ayurveda – Part 1”

There are two types of arguments we hear these days.

  1. First category: Those who believe that every invention that’s worthy of any mention, necessarily originated in India and then it spread to other countries, as though the other geographies did not have any people with brains.

  2. Second category: Then there are people who argue the other way round. Whatever the Vedic knowledge that we see in India today does not belong to India, but it came from outside. Is that possible? Are Indians genetically not capable of coming up with any science of their own despite having such great geography and climate and people living in this part of the world for more than tens of thousands of years?

The fact is somewhere in between. There is a great deal of science and philosophy that’s indigenous to India that’s spread to other parts.  At the same time, there is a good amount of knowledge that came from other parts of the world to India. And some of the very important knowledge continues to survive in India till today despite the multiple invasions.

Back to Ayurveda History

Img courtesy: Dhanvantari By HPNadig (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As we discussed, Ayurveda survived despite Takshasila destruction as very important books on Ayurveda were already copied and some parts were rewritten in 7th century CE.

Influence of Ayurveda on Islamic Medicine – Medieval Times (8th-13th CE)

During the 8th and 9th century, i.e during the golden age of Islam (that lasted till 14th CE), Ayurveda books were translated into Arabic by Persian authors. These were the days when people from different countries/geographies respected each other’s knowledge. These centuries, unfortunately, were later followed by invasions and destructions in India and also in the Islamic world putting the development of the medicine back by a few hundred or by a thousand years, we’ll never know.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_in_the_medieval_Islamic_world#Indian_medical_literature

Part of the Wikipedia article that is relevant to our discussion is reproduced below.

“In the history of medicine, Islamic medicine is the science of medicine developed in the Islamic Golden Age and written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. During the post-classical era, Islamic medicine was the most advanced in the world, integrating concepts of the ancient Greek, Roman, Persian as well as the ancient Indian traditions of Ayurveda. “

Indian medical literature in Islamic Countries especially Baghdad

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_in_the_medieval_Islamic_world#Indian_medical_literature

“Indian scientific works, e.g. on Astronomy were already translated by Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭāriq and Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Fazārī during the times of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur. Under Harun al-Rashid, at latest, the first translations were performed of Indian works about medicine and pharmacology.

at-Tabarī devotes the last 36 chapters of his Firdaus al-Hikmah to describe the Indian medicine, citing Sushruta, Charaka, and the Ashtanga Hridaya(Sanskrit: अष्टांग हृदय, aṣṭāṇga hṛdaya; “The eightfold Heart”), one of the most important books on Ayurveda, translated between 773 and 808 by Ibn-Dhan.

The Arabic works derived from the Ayurvedic texts eventually also reached Europe by the 12th century.[146][147]

Side Note: Medicine during the Golden Age of Islam

The golden age of Islam traditionally thought to have lasted from 8th CE to 14th CE during which time the Islamic world was ruled by various caliphates and science and the economy flourished. Interestingly this was a little after the Golden Age of Guptas  (320-550 CE) in India.  Golden Age of Guptas in India produced scholars like Aryabhatta, Kalidasa, and Vatsayana. Aryabhata’s works later made it to the Islamic world during the Golden Age of Islam. Also part of the golden age of Islam period coincided with the Tang Dynasty time in China, which is regarded as the high point in Chinese civilization. Ideas and knowledge flowed across geographies during this period and contributed to the development of many fields.  Due credit should be given to the Islamic world, who acted as a bridge between Ancient Greek knowledge, India, China, and Western Europe. It’s the Islamic nations that transmitted the knowledge from East to West in addition to contributing their own expertise. One example is Hindu numerals including ‘zero’ and Hindu ‘decimal’ system that was popularized by Arabs in Western Europe.

Evolution of Ayurveda: Influence of Ayurveda on Unani and Vice-Versa. 11th CE – 19th CE


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delhi_Sultanate, and


Islamic rule of India can be primarily divided into two periods: Delhi Sultanate ( 1206–1526) and Mughal Empire (1526-1857). Neither ruled the current day India completely. The size of these empires varied throughout this period as Indian kingdoms continued to fight back. During this period, India witnessed a larger cultural and economic integration with the Islamic world. However, this period also saw the brutal destruction of the Indian temples, Indian universities and many atrocities on Indian people. It was a mixed period for India. Economic and scientific development and integration of knowledge base like Ayurveda and Astronomy (which is part of Jyotish)  with the Islamic world continued on one side, and on the other side, the atrocities and destruction of Indian monuments and the knowledge bases took place.

Interesting tidbit:

Did you know? (from Wikipedia) The Mughal emperors had roots in the Turco-Mongol Timurid dynasty of Central Asia, claiming direct descent from both Genghis Khan(founder of the Mongol Empire, through his son Chagatai Khan) and Timur (Turco-Mongol conqueror who founded the Timurid Empire). BTW, the term ‘Mughal” is the Persian word for “Mongol”.

This is the same Mongol Empire that’s formed by Genghis Khan that destroyed Baghdad along with ‘The House of Wisdom” (a very big library and education institute of science and philosophy). Historians usually consider this destruction as one of the very important events that ended the Golden Age of Islam. So as I mentioned in my introductory article of Vedic Sciences, Nalanda University was not the only university that was destroyed by the invaders. Same fate fell upon the ancient ‘Library of Alexandria of Egypt” and the Medieval “House of Wisdom of Baghdad” as well not to mention the recent destruction of Iraq and Syrian cultural and knowledge bases including Iraq’s Seed Bank.

Back to Evolution of Ayurveda During Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire

The primary contribution of the Islamic rulers to the evolution of medicine in India occurred in 2 ways: a) Introduction of Unani medicine in India, and b) the construction of Hospitals in India cities.

Unani Medicine in India

Unani medicine is still practiced in India. Unani was developed in Islamic countries, which itself is an amalgamation of Greek, Islamic, Chinese and Indian knowledge. Part of Ayurvedic knowledge that went from India to Persian and Arabic countries got mixed with Greek, Islamic systems as Unani and came back to India completing the circle.

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yunani_medicine“Yunani or Unani medicine (Urdu: طب یونانی tibb yūnānī[1]) is the term for Perso-Arabic traditional medicineas practiced in Mughal India and in Muslim culture in South Asia and modern day Central Asia. The term Yūnānī means “Greek”,[2][3] as the Perso-Arabic system of medicine was based on the teachings of the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen.[4]

Alauddin Khalji (d. 1316) had several eminent physicians (Hakims) at his royal courts.[11] This royal patronage meant the development of Unani practice in India, but also of Unani literature with the aid of Indian Ayurvedic physicians.[12][13]”

While India’s Mulsim rulers tended to support Unani, Ayurveda also evolved during that period but slowly as Ayurveda was also practiced along side Unani.

Hospitals in India

Reference: The Islamic Roots of the Modern Medicine


Image courtesy:


A place to care for the sick, an asylum or hospice kind of places did exist in many parts of the world for a long time. However,  hospital, the way we use in modern times is an invention of the Muslims during medieval periods that spread to India during Islamic rule. Contrary to medieval Europe that believed that the source of the disease is supernatural, Muslim physicians guided by Prophet Muhammad’s words (hadith) like “God never inflicts a disease unless He makes a cure for it,” designed the hospitals to care for the patients and cure the diseases. So unlike their European counterparts which were usually dim, damp (due to their climate as well), hospitals in Islam ruled world including those constructed in Delhi (India) province were spacious and allowed light and air.

Side Note:

Along with the Islamic medicine and Hospitals, Ayurveda continued to evolve although slowly during the Mughal empire by assimilating the various systems. Ayurveda’s way of assimilating knowledge from various sources is to observe the system thoroughly first,  then test it in the field and keep that part that passed the tests and leave out the rest. Using this method, Ayurveda assimilated not only Islamic methods but also tribal knowledge into its practice, not blindly but only after thorough examination.

British India – Decline of Ayurveda and Subsequent Rejuvenation (18th CE- 20th CE)

During the colonial period, Lord McCauley ordered that English Medicine should be exclusively encouraged in all areas governed by the East India Company, and the Eastern Systems were actively discouraged. This was a blow to Ayurveda. However, again rural India continued to use Ayurveda as British Medicine was primarily concentrated in urban India.

But at the same time, Ayurvedic methods reached Britain.

From Wikipedia:Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda#Further_development_and_spread

“British physicians traveled to India to observe rhinoplasty being performed using native methods, and reports on Indian rhinoplasty were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1794.[148] Instruments described in the Sushruta Samhita were further modified in Europe.[149] Joseph Constantine Carpue studied plastic surgery methods in India for 20 years and, in 1815, was able to perform the first major rhinoplasty surgery in the western world, using the “Indian” method of nose reconstruction.[150] In 1840 Brett published an article about this technique.[151]

Ayurveda in 20th and 21st Century – The Republic of India- AYUSH

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda#Further_development_and_spread

“ During the period of colonial British rule of India, the practice of Ayurveda was neglected by the British Indian Government, in favor of modern medicine. After Indian independence, there was more focus on Ayurveda and other traditional medical systems. Ayurveda became a part of the Indian National health care system, with state hospitals for Ayurveda established across the country. However, the treatments of traditional medicines were not always integrated with others.[152]

Reference: http://ayush.gov.in/about-us/about-the-ministry

From the above website:


“ The Ministry of AYUSH was formed on 9th November 2014 to ensure the optimal development and propagation of AYUSH systems of health care. Earlier it was known as the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM&H) which was created in March 1995 and renamed as Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) in November 2003, with focused attention for development of Education and Research in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy.”


As we’ve seen, Ayurveda went through numerous cycles of comparative stagnation and rapid progress. It may have slowed down now and then, but the system continued to evolve and assimilated various sources of knowledge including the tribal medicine, Islamic medicine, where appropriate. It is not possible to cover the entire history of Ayurveda in a couple of articles. These articles are meant to give a generally high-level view of the evolution of Ayurveda. There are many books, websites, and organizations dedicated to discussing the development of Ayurveda. Links to a few of such knowledge bases are covered in the References section of this article.

Looking at the healthcare crisis that’s the world is facing today, that’s primarily related to

  1. The irresponsible mechanization of farming not to mention the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified vegetables and fruits, and

  2. The sedentary and stressful lifestyle of the modern world due to many factors

maybe its time for the second conference of Himalayas?


n addition to the references that were included throughout the article, here’re a few more that I used:

  1. Journey of Ayurveda:https://youtu.be/1y5VhRDM6QU

  2. Art of Being : https://youtu.be/feTiygXQyq0

  3. Science of Medicine and Hospitals in India during the Delhi Sultanate Period: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273372344_Science_of_Medicine_and_Hospitals_in_India_during_the_Delhi_Sultanate_Period

  4. Assimilation of Indian Knowledge During Mughal Rule: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00584749/file/Speziale_Paper_2.pdf

  5. Medicine in India: http://medind.nic.in/jab/t12/i1/jabt12i1p91.pdf

  6. Ayurveda Psychology: http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Ayurveda

  7. Medicine in Medieval India: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/61943/10/10_chapter%202.pdf

  8. The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Golden Age: https://youtu.be/FFfXDZvvmrg

  9. Golden age of Islam | World History | Khan Academy: https://youtu.be/K5XKjk0-hCo

  10. Trends and Developments of Ayurveda: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/55659/9/09_chapter%202.pdf

  11. Book: Medicine and Medical Policies in India: Social and Historical Perspectives By Poonam Bala