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About Ayurveda

Comparison of Medical Systems


YogiAyurvedic Medicine is also called Ayurveda.  It is a system of medicine that originated in India several thousand years ago.  The term Ayurveda combines two Sanskrit words: ayur, which means life, and veda, which means science or knowledge.  Ayurveda means "the science of life."

Ayurveda is a whole medical system which integrates and balances the body, mind, and spirit (thus, it is considered "holistic").  This balance is necessary for contentment and good health.  Ayurveda also proposes treatments for specific health problems.  A primary aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease.  This helps re-establish the harmony and balance necessary for optimal health.

Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care in India.  About 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas; about two-thirds of rural people use Ayurveda and medicinal plants to meet their primary health care needs.  In addition, most major cities have an Ayurvedic college and hospital.  There are 587,536 registered traditional medical practitioners, 2,860 hospitals providing Ayurvedic treatment, and 22,100 dispensaries for traditional medicine in India.  This allows over 500 million people in India to rely solely on Ayurveda today.

Ayurveda and variations of it have also been practiced for centuries in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.  The professional practice of Ayurveda in the United States began to grow and became more visible in the late 20th century.


Professional Accreditation

Practitioners of Ayurveda have various types of training.  Some are trained in the Western medical tradition (such as medical or nursing school) and then study Ayurveda.  Others may have training in naturopathic medicine, a whole medical system, either before or after their Ayurvedic training.  Many study in India, where there are more than 150 undergraduate and more than 30 postgraduate colleges for Ayurveda.  This training can take up to 5 years.


Reliance on Herbs

HerbsAccording to World Health Organization report, over 80% of the world population relies on plant-based traditional medicine for their primary healthcare needs.

In Ayurveda, the distinction between food and medicine is not as clear as in Western medicine.  Food and diet are important components of Ayurvedic practice, and so there is a heavy reliance on treatments based on herbs and plants, oils (such as sesame oil), common spices (such as turmeric), and other naturally occurring substances.

Currently, some 5,000 products are included in the "pharmacy" of Ayurvedic treatments.  Historically, plant compounds have been grouped into categories according to their effects.  For example, some compounds are thought to heal, promote vitality, or relieve pain.  The compounds are described in many texts prepared through national medical agencies in India.  The following are examples of commonly used herbs:

  • The spice turmeric has been used for various diseases and conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and wound healing.
  • An extract from the resin from a tropical shrub (Commiphora mukul, or guggul) has been used for a variety of illnesses.  In recent years, there has been research interest in its use to lower cholesterol.
  • The essential oil extracted from Holy Basil is used as counteract depression and mental stress.


India has 16 agro-climatic zones, 45,000 different plant species, and 15,000 medicinal plants.  The Indian Systems of Medicine have identified 1,500 medicinal plants, of which 500 species are mostly used in the preparation of drugs.  These medicinal plants contribute to 80% of the raw materials used in the preparation of Ayurvedic Medicine.


Regulatory Situation

Ayurveda and Yoga are recognized by the Government of India.  The first step in granting this recognition was the creation of the Central Council of Indian Medicine Act of 1970.  The main mandates of the Central Council are as follows:

  • to standardize training by prescribing minimum standards of education in traditional medicine, although not all traditional practitioners and homeopaths need to be institutionally trained to practice;
  • to advise the central Government in matters relating to recognition / withdrawal of medical qualifications in traditional medicine in India;
  • to maintain the central register of Indian medicine, revise the register from time to time, prescribe standards of professional conduct and etiquette, and develop a code of ethics to be observed by practitioners of traditional medicine in India.  All traditional medicine practitioners and homeopaths must be registered to practice.

The Indian Government seeks the active and positive use of traditional medicine in national health programmes, family welfare programmes, and primary health care.


Milestones in the Development of Ayurveda

Source: Department of Ayurveda, Government of India

  • Divine origin of Ayurveda from Lord Brahma - Dates back to origin of human race
  • Mention of various references on Health, Diseases and Medicinal Plants in Rig-veda and Atharv-veda - 5000 BC
  • Origin of Attreya and Dhanwantari School of Ayurveda -1000 BC
  • Documentation of Charaka Samhita - 600 BC
  • Documentation of Sushruta Samhita-  500 BC
  • Advent of Muslim Rulers and start of the Decline of Ayurveda - 1100 to 1800
  • Resurrection of Ayurvedic system of Medicine under the rule of Peshwas. - 1800 AD
  • Classes in Ayurvedic medicine opened in Government Sanskrit College, Calcutta - 1827
  • Discontinuation of classes in Government Sanskrit College by British - 1833
  • Dr. Komar Commission (one-man commission) to make investigation in indigenous system of medicine - 1917
  • Indian National Congress Convention at Nagpur recommended acceptance of Ayurvedic  system of medicine as India's National Health Care System - 1920
  • Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College in Delhi - 1921
  • Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya established Ayurveda college in B. H.U., Varanasi - 1927
  • Enforcement of Drugs and Cosmetics Act for Ayurvedic/Siddha/Unani medicines - 1940
  • Bhora Committee or Health Survey and Development Committee recognised past services of indigenous medicines but failed to recommend for its further development. - 1943
  • Chopra Committee recommended systems of old and modern systems of medicines to evolve a common system of medicine. - 1946
  • Pharmaceutical Enquiry Committee headed by Dr. Bhatia, for intensive research in indigenous drugs of Ayurveda. - 1953
  • Recommendation of Dave Committee for uniform standards of Ayurveda education - 1955
  • Establishment of Institute of Post-Graduate Training and Research in Gujarat Ayurvedic University, Jamnagar, Gujarat - 1956 to 1957
  • Udupa Committee set up. It recommended that there is a need for integrated system of medicine and a training course in Siddha and Ayurveda - 1958
  • Establishment of Post Graduate Institute of Ayurveda at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh - 1963 to 1964
  • Amendment of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 for Indian systems of medicines/drugs - 1964
  • Establishment of Central Board of Siddha and Ayurvedic Education - 1964 to 1965
  • Setting up of an apex Research Body for Indian medicine & Homoeopathy, 'Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homoeopathy (CCRIMH)' - 1969
  • Establishment of Pharmacopoeia Laboratory for Indian medicine, Ghaziabad, U.P. - 1970
  • Constitution of Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) under IMCC Act - 1970
  • Establishment of National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur, Rajasthan - 1972 to 1973
  • Publication of Part-I of Ayurvedic formulary containing 444 preparations - 1976
  • Establishment of Central Council of Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS) - 1978
  • Passing of Amended Drugs and Cosmetics Act regulating import/export of Indian Systems of Medicine - 1982
  • Setting up of Indian Medicine Pharmaceutical Corporation Ltd. in Mohan, Almora Distt., Uttaranchal. - 1983
  • Silver Jubilee function of Jawaharlal Nehru Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants Garden and Harbarium, Pune. Inaugurated by Shri R. Venkataraman, Vice-president of India . - 1986
  • Second World Conference on Yoga & Ayurveda held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh - 1986
  • Foundation stone of Jawaharlal Nehru Anusandhan Bhawan, Institutional Area, Janakpuri, New Delhi by Hon'ble Vice President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma - 1988
  • Establishment of National Academy of Ayurveda (Rashtriya Ayurveda Vidyapeeth) - 1989
  • Creation of separate Department of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homoeopathy in Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India - 1995
  • Introduction of Extra mural Research Programme for accredited organizations with central assistance - 1996
  • Implementation of Central Scheme in 33 organizations for development of agro-techniques of important medicinal plants - 1997
  • Maiden participation of Ayurveda alongwith other systems in India International Trade Fair - 1998
  • Implementation of Central Scheme in 32 laboratories for developing pharmacopoeial standards of Medicinal Plants/ ISM Formualations - 1998
  • Establishment of specialty clinic of Ayurveda in Central Govt. Hospital (Safdarjung Hospital) New Delhi - 1998
  • Implementation of IEC( Information, Education & Communication) Scheme for NGOs for propagation and popularization of Ayurveda & other systems - 1998 to 1999
  • Participation in Mystique India ( Exhibition cum fair on Indian Traditions) - 1997 to 1999
  • Introduction of Vanaspati Van Scheme for large scale cultivation of Medicinal Plants - 1999
  • Inauguration of Ayurveda conference at Newyork, USA by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India Sh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee - 2000
  • Gazette Notification for constitution of Medicinal Plant Board under the Deptt. of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homoeopathy - 2000
  • Publication of 2nd volume of Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia - 2000
  • Introduction 7 of Ayurvedic Medicines in RCH Programme - 2000
  • Constitution of Advisory group for research in Ayurveda - 2000
  • Policy Decision on mainstreaming of Ayurveda in RCH programme as per National Population Policy - 2000
  • Implementation of Central Scheme of assistance for strengthening of State Drug Testing Laborites and Pharmacies - 2000 to 2001
  • Publication of 3rd volume of Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia - 2001
  • Publication of English edition of 2nd volume of Ayurvedic Formulary of India - 2001
  • Maiden participation of ISM tableau on Republic Day - 2001
  • Exhibition and presentation of Ayurveda during World Health Assembly, Geneva - 2001
  • Presentation on evidence based support by Deptt. of ISM&H before House of Lords, U.K. against Sir Walton Committee's Report on status and nomenclature of Ayurveda among Complementary and Alternative systems of Medicine - 2001
  • Participation of Dept. in "Made in India" exhibition organized by CII in South Africa - 2001