Links between Hippocratic and Ayurvedic dietetics
Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Bruce Lee
Just like Hippocratic dietetics, Ayurvedic dietetics, too, has originated from a sophisticated medicine and not from a popular know-how. Both of these are based on a scientific medical doctrine that regards human body as a representation (a microcosm) of the universe. This theory is presently contested but Ayurvedic doctors have successfully developed an efficient medical practice based on experience. This explains why this medical system exists even today.
Indirect or direct contacts between Indian and western medicine took place in several eras. It seems that there were less or almost no direct contacts between Greek physicians of the Antiquity and Ayurvedic physicians. There are legends about this but there is no real proof. On the other hand, we have some facts: Indians were in contact with the Persians during Antiquity and Persians had many contacts with the Greeks. Later, with the arrival of Islam and development of Abbasid dynasty, there were many contacts between arabo-persian medicine (of Hippocratic origin) and Ayurvedic medicine. Later, western medicine, which rediscovered Hippocrates, Galen and the whole Hippocratic pharmacopoeia thanks to Arabic medicine, benefited indirectly from these contacts. All these contacts explain some resemblances between the Hippocratic medicine and Ayurvedic medicine and the presence of medicines of Arabic origin in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia and medicines of Indian origin in the Hippocratic pharmacopoeia.
Contacts between Persia and India
- During Antiquity, the famous Indus valley civilisation developed its relationships with Persia and Mesopotamia. We find medical terms that exist in both Indian Vedas (Atharva-Veda, end of 2 B.C.) and Persian Avesta (holy book, 6th century B.C.): Disease is called Yascka in ancient Persian and Yaxman in Sanskrit, medicine is called Bashazat in Avesta and Bhishaja in Sanskrit.
- Then Darius, king of Persians (522 - 486 B.C.) conquered Indus valley. He had a Greek physician (Democedes of Croton). These contacts would explain the resemblances between the theory of temperaments and why we find the Indian theories in the Hippocrates' treatise On airs, waters and places and in Plato's Timaeus.
- From the very beginning, Indian medical texts were translated in old Persian before the Islamisation of Persia (Susruta's Samhita and Charaka's Sutrasthana, the First part of Charak Samhita).
- In the 6th century, Nestorian Christians got together in Persia and created a big school of medicine called Academia Hippocratica in Gondichapour (or Gondishapur or Jondishapour; near the present-day town of Ahwaz in South-West Iran), where medicine of Greek world met Indian and Persian medical traditions. Nestorian physicians might have brought texts about Indian medicine from India and translated them. Between the 7th and 9th century, Nestorian physicians of Gondichapur were the main translators of Hippocrates' and Galen's texts to Arabic. Some of them later became authorized physicians of the caliphs of Baghdad.
Contacts between India and Arabs of Baghdad
- Between 750 and 1258, the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad managed a vast empire that spread between Indus and Spain. Greek and Indian cultures met in the famous "House of Wisdom" (Bait al-hikma) of Baghdad.
- In the 8th century, Indian physician Manikya was invited to the court of Haroun al-Rashid for translating Sushruta-Samhita in Arabic.
- In the 10th century, a Persian pharmacist, Abu Mansur Muwaffaq, wrote the Kitab'I Abniya an Haq'iq'l Adwiya (book of Fundamentals and Real Properties of Cures) on the basis of Greek and Indian sources.
Similarities between Hippocratic dietetics and Ayurvedic dietetics
- Human body is a microcosm of the universe. In the Hippocratic medicine, body is made of water, air, earth and fire. In the Ayurvedic medicine, body is made of water, air, earth, fire and vacuum.
- In the works of Hippocrates and in Ayurveda, seasons, habitat, type of life, the food that one eats favour either health or disease.
- In both the dietetics, digestion is explained as cooking of food with the help of body-fire.
- In both medicines, dietetic is an essential element for conserving health or for healing from diseases.
- In Hippocratic medicine, there are 4 basic temperaments: bilious (bile), sanguineous (blood), phlegmatic or lymphatic (phlegm) and atrabiliary (black bile). In Ayurvedic medicine, there are 3 basic temperaments: Vata (air), Pitta (bile) and Kapha (phlegm).
- In both dietetics, one must eat foodstuffs that are adapted to one's temperament or that will re-establish the balance that had been disturbed.
- In both the dietetics, there are complex categories concerning the nature of food-items.
- In both dietetics, there is mistrust for raw food-items.
- Ayurvedic medicine survived the arrival of western scientific medicine that swept away Hippocratic medicine. But in spite of their cultural differences, both these medicines can be considered as having very close basic principals.
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