Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

The Medical Science of Gandhara

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

The Medical Science of Gandhara

Article excerpt


The paper discusses the medical history of Gandhära since the Vedic Period (1500 BCE) with a special reference to the University Centre of Taxila1 (7th-8th century to Alexander's invasion in 3rd century BCE). The medical system was well developed in Taxila before Alexander's invasion. It provides literary, epigraphical and archaeological evidence for Gandhära medical scriptures and their continuous development in the area. A large number of classical references and modern researches establish the fact that Caraka Samhita, Bhela and Susruta Samhita were a continuation of Atreya's teachings; a teacher of the famous Jivaka of the University Centre of Taxila. Yogesaka of Nägarjüna is also a furtherance of the medical principles of Caraka Samhita, Bhela and Susruta Samhita. Other Gandhära scriptures, i.e., Nagasena's Milindapañha, Prajna texts of Nägarjüna, and Vissuddhi magga provide a detailed knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, surgery and other diseases. Furthermore, a considerable part of Mülasarvästiväda Vinaya of the Gilgit manuscript was also devoted to the medical knowledge.

The Pre-Buddhist Medical Development in Gandhära

The Buddhist philosophy and practice were strongly involved in medical theory and practice, since its inception (Ratanakul, 2004: 2). However, the roots of Buddhist medical sciences probably go back to the Vedic period2 along the Indus Basin. The Vedic treatises rank medicines as UpaVeda or 'later revelations from Heavens'. Ayurveda is probably the oldest medical system in the world. Atreya Samhita, one of Ayurveda's books, probably survives from the Taxila University (Agarwal and Lalit, n.d.). The Panini AshtadiyàyP also throws light on a developed medical system of its time (Dar, 1998:9; Vassiliades, 2000: 14).

Ayurveda was based on observations of the effects of medicinal value of certain herbs and procedures. The Ayurvedic medicine encompasses aroma therapy, herbal medicines, massage, and Vedic astrology. Nonetheless Ayurveda focuses special attention to the metabolic functions, particularly the digestion. According to the Ayurvedic philosophy occasional fasting is thought to promote health (White 2004: 21). Some Indian formulae that sharpened memory beyond imagination are also described in this literature (Agarwal and Lalit, n.d.).

Archaeologically, the surgical instruments from the pre-partition Marshall's excavation of the city of Taxila reveal the medical practice in the 3rd century BCE, even before the invasion of Alexander in Taxila (see PI. la). The instruments were made of pure copper. Taxila Museum is the only place in the Indian Subcontinent where surgical instruments consisted of decapitators, probes and spatula, are exhibited (Naqvi, 2003: 91). The decapitators were used in the obstetric operations, to cut through the neck of the üead foetus during severely obstructed labour. Out of the total six decapitators, two were excavated from Bhir Mound (3rd century BCE). Susruta Samhita devotes a full chapter to the management of obstructed labour, and describes about one hundred and twenty one blunt and sharp instruments. The decapitators were used in obstetrics in Asia and Europe till the mid of 20th century CE., revealing that they remained unchanged for about two thousand years. The pointed probes, all found from Sirkap, were used for several surgical uses. Marshall catalogues three needles under surgical instruments, possibly used for suturing wounds (Chaturvedi, 1985: 86).

The medical knowledge was further developed after the Sässänid and Macedonian invasions in Gandhära. Burzoy, the physician and vizier of Khusraw Anüshirvän is said to have took with him the Ayurvedic medical texts and translated them into Pahlavi (Agarwal and Lalit, n.d.; Nagamia, 2003:26; Vassiliades, 2000: 22).

The Greek chronicles refer to the developed medicines in Gandhära. Nearchus,4 as reported by Arrian narrated that Alexander collected around him the vaidya (doctors) who were most skilled in the art of healing, especially the snake bites and several kinds of body pains. …

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