(By: Uma Silvestre)
At that time (6,000 to 5,000 BC), in India, a physician was regarded as an important member in the community. His job was to prevent sickness, not merely to cure it. Sage Dhanawantar and his wife Dhanawantri made considerable contributions to advancing the system of medicine and surgery in that ancient era.
As karkarta (elected supreme leader of the clan), Nandan provided generous assistance to physicians, particularly to Sage Dhanawantar. The sage gave his disciples the following two main guiding principles:
“The health of your patients and their recovery is of paramount importance, even at the cost of your own health. You do not choose patients. Their pain and agony calls to you. Do not pass it by—be he a master, servant or slave, rich or poor, man or animal
“By all means, pray for and with your patients, if you wish. And surely, if your prayers have no effect on your patients, they are at least good for your mental health and to guard your soul.“
Sage Dhanawantar described six ‘winds’ which cause bodily functions—udana, from the throat responsible for speech; prana from the heart for breathing; somana, fanning a cooking fire in the stomach to separate digestible food; vyana that caused bloodflow to and from the heart; ojas, a diffused wind throughout the body producing energy for bodily functions; and apana that produced semen for sex and procreation.
The sage explained how food is digested and how blood, bone marrow and semen are formed. He listed the functions of the spinal cord, and located eighteen centres in the brain which were the seats of learning, memory, nervous system, psychic energy and other impulses. Dhanawantar’s views on the relationship between the brain and heart were, later, criticized. For instance, he speculated that there was another diffused ‘wind’—the ‘inner voice’—which measured, weighed and assessed all that the brain wanted to do, and sometimes, it encouraged or even opposed what the brain contemplated, though the brain was the commander and could reject or accept what the inner voice whispered. Many found his views on the adverse effect on the individual’s health as a result of the brain rejecting the advice of ‘inner voice’ unacceptable. They simply believed that the brain considered all options and finally selected, unopposed, the course that appealed to it.
The sage’s wife, Dhanawantri, was also criticized for some of her theories. She conceived three main stages of the functioning of the human brain. In its first stage, the brain received and interpreted outside signals (such as by eyesight, sounds, the sensation of touch or smell). In the second stage, processes took place to analyze those signals and to evolve a plan of action, and in the third stage, the brain issued commands to the body for movement, speech, or any other action or inaction. None objected to these views or to her view of the two organisms of the brain—Stream of the Conscious’ and the ‘Stream of the Unconscious’. But she was criticized much when she went far afield to speculate that the ‘Stream of the Unconscious’ had another current, which possibly arose before one was born and remained after one died and that much of its content came from one’s past lives and would go forward to next series of lives, ‘enriched or seasoned by experience of our sojourn in the present’. This hidden, undying ‘current’, according to her, could be tapped by the wise, for its knowledge of the ‘infinite unknown’ and ‘the memory of what happened before one was born and possibly a preconception of what may happen after one died’. She gave the instance of infants finding music and lullaby soothing, even before they could understand anything else, for it was the familiar sound heard by them for countless past generations.
Their critics complained that the sage and his wife often forgot the line between scientific study and philosophy, but Dhanawantar always held that one led to the other. and cheerfully accepted any criticism. To his students, he said: ‘If only my ignorance equaled my knowledge, I would know a trillion times more. So be sure, dear students, to question all that I say and investigate everything yourselves.’
Priests disliked Sage Dhanawantar—except when they were sick themselves and needed his attention—as he was suspected of performing dissections on dead bodies. They held that the body served as temple of the soul and had to be respected even after death. It was entitled to prayers and cremation, and had to be kept whole. Some asked the sage if he had actually dissected bodies, but his reply was, ‘A physician never betrays a patient’s secret; is he not to guard his own secret!’ Dhanawantar always declined to confirm or deny any questions about his personal life or even his charities and when pressed, he would say, ‘God and my wife know all my secrets. Let that be.’ Since he refused to deny the charge, many assumed that he had performed dissections, especially when they saw his drawings and descriptions of the functioning of the human body; such intimate knowledge wasimpossible to come by without dissection.
A furor arose when the hermit Dhrona ‘willed’ that after his death, his body be given to Sage Dhanawantar for dissection. Dhrona had become a hermit at the age of twenty-eight He was healthy, strong and as he was expected to outlive Dhanawantar, no one took his will seriously. But Dhrona died after a brief illness at the age of forty-four. Purohits approached Nandan, saying that Dhrona’s will was unlawful. ‘Ashes to ashes, let it be, and neither desecrate nor abominate what once was the dwelling of God’s soul,’ they argued. Fortunately for Nandan, Dhrona’s family quickly rushed to cremate the body, assisted by several purohits who were paid handsomely for performing the last rites at such short notice.
After Sage Dhanawantar’s death, his wife Dhanawantri went to Avagana—modern-day Afghanistan— (then a part of Bharat Varsha and far beyond beyond to Lake Namaskar in Iran – now known as Lake Namaksar where several Hindu Hermits regularly congrgated) where she remained with Vaid, a physician from the Sindhu region who had been nominated by Karkarta Dhru as headman and chief administrator of Avagana but had since retired as a hermit. It was believed that Dhanawantri and Vaid got married. It was in Avagana that Dhanawantri developed a comprehensive system of surgery. The taboo on dissecting dead bodies had not found its way into Avagana; battlefields there gave her opportunity to improve surgical training of students, who became experts in plastic surgery, far beyond anything known at that time; they could repair fingers, noses, ears and lips injured and lost in battle.
(From pg. 152, “March of the Aryans” by Bhagwan S. Gidwani, published by Penguin Books, India – ISBN 978- 0- 143- 41898-6 )
Kindly note that Bhagwan S.Gidwani’s book, “March of the Aryans” has a far larger scope and span. It takes us to the dawn of civilization to recreate the drama of the birth & beginning of the roots of Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma) in 8,000 BC and presents a fascinating account of how in 5,000 BC ,the Aryans originated in India, and traveled to far-distant countries , now known as, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Lithuania, Finland, France, Norway, Denmark, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Germany and indeed many others . The author unfolds their adventures & exploits, their failures & triumphs in those foreign lands- and finally, their return to the home-town and heritage of India.
To tell the Aryan story, the book unfolds the drama of Indian civilization back to its roots prior to 8,000 BC; and presents glimpses of art, culture, music, abstract thought, philosophical leanings, and spiritual values of pre-history India. The work covers a vast panorama to reveal dramatic stories behind the origins of Om, Namaste, Swastika, Gayatri Mantra, and Soma Wines. It tells how Tamil and Sanskrit developed, and how they influenced world-languages; also it has tales of discovery and disappearance of Saraswati River, and founding of Ganga, Dravidian, & Sindhu-Saraswati civilizations; the battles and blood-shed that led to fall and rise of many cities.
Besides, Gidwani sheds light on pre-history establishment of Hindu Parliament; legal & constitutional systems; development of ships & harbours; gold-mining; chariots; Yoga; mathematics; astronomy; medicine; surgery; music, dance, drama, art & architecture; and material advancement of the pre-ancient India.
The book speaks of ideals that took shape in those early times, to become the foundation of Sanatana Dharma – and among those ideals were: recognition of spiritual nature of man wherever he is from; acceptance of every culture as an expression of eternal values; and man’s obligation to respect and protect environment, and all creatures, tame and wild.