It’s World Health Day in half of the World right now and Lunar New Year Day in the other half. Wish you all Health, Joy and Prosperity on this day! Today I won’t write anything technical, but tell a small folktale that I heard as a kid about Vagbhat, the supposedly 6th century BCE scholar who is considered one of greatest experts in Ayurveda.
Interestingly, despite writing one of the most comprehensive treatises on medicine, Vagbhat was not a physician at all in the beginning! How it happened so, is told in this mythical but charming tale. So it goes like this,
Once upon a time, ….
Oh No no no, it reminds me of my kindergarten English teacher .
One day, the good Lord thought, that medical science (Ayurveda) is getting rotten into obsolence and negligence. So an eligible physician should be assigned the task of compiling, updating and reorganising the complete known medical knowledge into a new single treatise. Now to choose one, he devised a small test.
The first and foremost quality that a good physician ought to possess is a keen observation skill – the ability to identify and pick up even the tiniest signs and symptoms that give clues to diagnosis and cure. The Lord decided to test it to select his assignee. He took the form of a weird stork-like bird and started going to each physician’s house and make a croaking sound “Ko…ruk…. Ko…ruk…” . Now it happens that “Ko…ruk?” is short for “Kaha Aruk?”, that means “Who is the one who never falls ill?” in Sanskrit. Still none of the dull physicians of that time picked up the clue, and annoyed by the irritative croaking, either shooed the bird off or neglected it.
The Lord went on from one place to other, until he had exhausted all the physicians of the time, to no avail. Depressed, he flew down and perched on the garden fence of a house to rest, and croaked once more, just to vent his anger. Now this happened to be the house of Vagbhat, the grammarian in the local King’s court. Hearing the sound and intrigued by its hidden meaning, Vagbhat came out to find the source of that “Ko…ruk.. “. He saw the bird, and immediately recognised it to be no ordinary being. So he stood at his doorstep, and declared in an audible voice, “Hit-bhuk, Mit-bhuk, So…ruk!” ( “He who eats the right quality of food [in terms of nutrition and timing], he who eats the proportionate quantity of food [with regards to his digestive capacity and dietary requirement], HE is the one who never falls ill!”).
On hearing this answer, the Lord was overwhelmed with joy; and transformed into his original form to bless the wise man. He then gave the assignment to Vagbhat, who completed it with all his heart, and went on to become a distinguished physician himself.
Myths and tales apart, the treatise written by Vagbhat is today known as the third, last and highly illustrated treatise in the ‘Brihat-trayee‘ (literally meaning “Big Trio”) treatises of Ayurveda. It draws heavily from the earlier two in the trio, and also adds its own unique topics to reorganise into a comprehensive Ayurveda treatise. Though it covers all the branches sufficiently, it focuses primarily on internal medicine; and is a staple reference book for Ayurvedic physicians even today. Having been edited several times across the millennia, its two versions are prevalent today – Ashtang Sangraha (The elaborate prose encyclopedia of medicine) and Ashtang Hridaya (The abridged core knowledge of medicine in poetry form).
Today’s day is celebrated as ‘Gudhi-paadwa’, the Lunar New Year Day in my native state of Maharashtra. There is a tradition of eating a combination of the following five ingredients for good health round the year –
Jaggery, Cumin seeds, Coriander seeds, tamarind fruit peel and the Inflorescence of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Rooted in Ayurveda, this combination is actually an excellent seasonal detox remedy, meaning which, if you happen to live in the northern hemisphere, you can try it out right now and right away!
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About the Author – Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a practitioner of Integrative medicine, focusing on integrating Ayurvedic and modern medicine into holistic treatment regimens for serious illnesses. He takes a keen interest in tracing down ancient texts to their origins and understanding the esoteric aspects of the knowledge, to better enable him in treating his patients using Ayurveda.