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Panchamahabhuta | Ayurvedic Remedies  | Significance

In India and the surrounding regions, Ayurvedic medicine is the dominant herbal tradition.  It is thought to be the oldest system of healing in the world, pre-dating even Chinese medicine. Today, it is actively promoted by the government as an alternative to conventional western medicine. 

The name Ayurveda derives from two Indian words: ayur, meaning life and veda, meaning knowledge. It is a way of life encompassing science, religion and philosophy that enhances well being, increases longevity and ultimately brings self-realization. It aims to bring about a union of physical, emotional and spiritual health, known as swasthya. This state enables the individual to enter into a harmonious relationship with cosmic consciousness.

In about 800 BC Punarvasu Atreya founded the first Ayurvedic medical school. He and his pupils recorded medical knowledge in treatises that would in turn influence Charaka, a scholar who lived and taught around 700 BC. His writings, the Charaka Samhita, describe 1,500 plants, identifying 350 as valuable medicines. This major work was the Suzutan Samhita, written a century later, which forms the basis of modern surgery and is still consulted today.

Other systems of medicine such as the Chinese, Tibetan and Islamic (Unani Tibb) traditions have their roots in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is a unique holistic system, based on the interaction of body, mind and spirit. In Ayurveda, the origin of all aspects of existence is pure intellect or consciousness. Energy and matter are one. Energy is manifested into Panchamahbhuta ( Five elements)-ether, air, fire, water and earth-which together form the basis of all matter. 

In the body, ether is present in the cavities of the mouth, abdomen, digestive tract, thorax and lungs. Air is manifested in the movements of the muscles, pulsations and contraction of the lungs, and the working of the digestive system, metabolism, body temperature, vision and intelligence. Water is present in the digestive juices, salivary glands, mucous membranes, blood and cytoplasm. Earth exists in the nails, skin and hair, as well as in the elements that hold the body together: bones, cartilage, muscles and tendons.

Ayurvedic Remedies

Herbal remedies include warming spices such as ginger (Zingiber officinal), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), as well as turmeric (Curcuma longa) and aloevera (Aloevera). The specific choice of herbal remedy depends on its "energy", which Ayurveda determines according to twenty attributes (vimshati guna) such as hot, cold, wet, dry, heavy or light. 

Ayurveda also classifies remedies according to six tastes-sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Sweet, sour and salty substances increase water (kappa) and decrease air (vata); bitter, pungent and astringent remedies increase air and decrease water; and sour, salty and pungent herbs increase fire (pitta).


The importance of Ayurveda has been proved in its maintenance of its tradition for thousands of eons. In the 16th century, the dominance of Islamic medicine, Unani Tibb, led to the partial repression of Ayurveda in India. In the 19th century, the British dismissed it as nothing more than native superstition and in 1833 they closed all Ayurvedic schools and banned the practice. Great centers thus fell apart, and Ayurvedic knowledge retreated to villages and temples. 

At the turn of the century, however, some Indian physicians and enlightened Englishmen began to re-evaluate Ayurveda, and by the time India became independent in 1947 it had regained its reputation as a valid medical system. Today, Ayurveda flourishes side by side with Unani Tibb and Western conventional medicine and is actively encouraged by the Indian government as an inexpensive alternative to Western drugs.

In recent years, Ayurveda has attracted increasing attention from medical scientists in the West and in Japan, and the World Health Organization has resolved to promote its practice in developing countries.



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