Medical Ritual in the Veda and Ayurveda (MT 14)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Prof. Shrikant Bahulkar
Date: November 27, 2014
Time: 2:00pm-3:00pm

Shivdasani Seminar

It is well-known that the medicine in the Atharvaveda is predominantly a pre-scientific medicine and is considered to be the forerunner of the Indian system of scientific medicine, known as the Āyurveda ‘science of longevity’. Scholars have attempted to find roots of the Āyurveda in the medical charms of the Atharvaveda and the remedies against various diseases prescribed in the ritual texts in the tradition of that Veda. These charms and practices of the Atharvaveda were subsequently replaced by the therapeutics of Āyurveda. However, the magic practices for the cure of diseases continued despite the growth of scientific medicine. The classical Āyurvedic texts give due recognition to the medical charms and the practices mentioned in the tradition of the Atharvaveda. This kind of treatment is called daivavyapāśraya ‘(the treatment based on) the recourse to the divine’ and is prescribed for the cure of varieties of certain diseases that are supposed to have been caused by sinful deeds, curse of enemies, witchcraft or possession by demons. It involves recitation of mantras and certain acts that are similar to those found in the tradition of the Atharvaveda. The Āyurvedic texts also prescribe mantras that are to be recited during the preparation of certain drugs. This tradition survived not only in India, but spread to other countries, particularly to Tibet along with the Āyurveda and is still followed by the practitioners of Tibetan medicine (sowa-rigpa). It is possible to infer however that some of the notions found in the so-called ‘scientific’ medicine were caused by beliefs and superstitions. A survey of this material points to the fact that while the Āyurvedic texts prescribe medical charms and practices, they do not necessarily prescribe the mantras of the Atharvaveda. On the contrary, the mantras and the practices mentioned in the Āyurveda are similar to those prescribed in the Atharvavedic texts, but are not Atharvavedic. It appears that the tradition of the medical charms and the rites, elaborated in the Atharvaveda tradition, was replaced by post-Vedic religious traditions that influenced the Āyurvedic texts. Even in the tradition of the Atharvaveda, we do not find the prayogas or priestly manuals for the medical ritual mentioned in the Kauśika-Sūtra, a major ritualistic manual of the Atharvaveda and elaborated in the commentaries on that text. The tradition of the Atharvavedic medical ritual must have been disappeared long ago; what we find in the later texts is the post-Vedic mantra material mostly influenced by local traditions.

Professor S. S. Bahulkar has been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Sanskrit for more than 30 years, during which time he has been engaged in a wide variety of research projects. Both his research and teaching focus on Vedic Studies, Buddhist Studies, Ayurveda and Classical Sanskrit Literature. He has guided 14 students for their M. Phil. and Ph. D. Degrees. He has edited and written ten books and about sixty articles in English, Marathi and Sanskrit. After having done his M. A. and Ph. D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pune (1972 & 1977), he conducted his post graduate research at the Nagoya University, Japan. He worked in the Deccan College, Pune (1979-81), the Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (1981-1993; 1995-2006; 2009) and the Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath (1993-95; 2006-2009; 2010-2012). He has visited a number of foreign countries in connection with teaching, research and conferences. He has also worked as Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada (1993), Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany (1998-99) and Harvard University, Cambridge, U. S. A. (2010). He was instrumental in recording as many as six Veda Śākhās in India, for a research project funded by the Danish Government (1983-84). He has participated in the organization of a number of regional, national and international seminars and conferences, including the 5th International Vedic Workshop, held in September 2011 in Bucharest, Romania and the 6th held at Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala in January 2014. Presently he is Adjunct Professor at the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Pune and the K. J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies, Mumbai. He is Chairman, Executive Board, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute and Editor of the Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.