Ayurvedic medicine originated in South Asia more than 3000 years ago. “Ayurveda” means “knowledge of longevity”. With the passage of time, Ayurveda’s medical practices and inner concepts have been spread all over the world, and as a result, changes and alienation have taken place. Nowadays, a lifestyle blogger in California and a health industry practitioner in Kerala, who inherited the family heritage, both use Ayurveda’s concept of internal balance in the body, but there are subtle differences.
For more than 5,000 years, Ayurveda has been used in countless traditional Indian families, and its influence has spread to almost all medical systems in the northern and southern hemispheres. Therefore, Ayurveda in India is known as the “Mother of Medicine.” Maintaining the balance of the three vital energy in the human body through diet, exercises, herbs, massage and meditation is the basis of Ayurvedic medicine.
Speaking of the spread of Ayurveda in the West, I have to mention the medical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome. Henry Wellcome, who was born in the United States, came to England in 1884 to start his own business. He pioneered the way of selling pills. Before that, drugs were sold in powder or liquid form. He also conducts marketing by giving doctors trial drugs. With the great commercial success, Henry Wellcome became increasingly interested in collecting. He is keen to buy medicine-related art, and has collected strange models, paintings, decorations, furniture and medical equipment from all over the world. He is also keen on archaeological excavations and once hired 4000 people to conduct archaeological excavations in Sudan.
In 1911, Henry Wellcome sent a doctor and linguist Pera Mauer to India to search for medical-related drawings and manuscripts and explore the local medical art and science. Henry Wellcome told his employees not to return to the UK until they “have thoroughly ransacked documents and interesting objects related to ancient Indian medicine as far as possible.”
After Pella Mauer came to India, he kept writing to the UK to discuss the price of the cultural relics he bought, telling Henry Wellcome that he had seen herbal preparations that seemed very useful, and asked how to bring them to London, Whether it is made into a tablet form. In the end, Pella returned with a full load, and the Wellcome Museum in London also has a rich collection of Indian medicine.
The basis of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory of equilibrium, which believes that human health is achieved by the balance of earth, water, fire, air and space. The loss of balance leads to disease. There is a surgical treatment part in Ayurvedic medicine. In ancient medicine, surgery is the most developed in India. Surgery has developed 121 kinds of surgical instruments.
“Ayurveda”, created with pen and watercolor, depicts the internal organs and body outline of a person. It was created by a Nepalese artist in the 18th century.
This painting depicts a meditating person, focusing on depicting the seven chakras (the seven main energy gathering points in the human meridian system) and the spiritual energy (an important part of the human body’s spirituality, which is inherently hidden in each person. There is a triangle in the pelvis at the bottom of the midrib called the sacral cavity, which is a kind of curling energy).
After Ayurveda came to the West, it changed to adapt to the modern medical system. In India, what is drunk as tea is turned into tablets, which you can buy in pharmacies. By the end of the 19th century, during the British colonial rule, Ayurvedic medicine began to get rid of many ritual and folklore things and compete with Western biomedicine.
Today, India has to fight to protect its medical intellectual property rights. For example, the use of turmeric to heal burns and cuts is clearly documented in Ayurveda. In 1999, an American company wanted to apply for a patent for the medical use of turmeric. The Indian government took it to court and won the lawsuit on the grounds that Indian traditional medicine cannot be looted in this way.
Indian painter Raja Ravi Wama (1848-1906) created the work “Sacred Cow World Mother” at the end of the 19th century. This painting shows that in India, the cow is a symbol of health and abundance. Ayurvedic medicine also emphasizes that milk is one of the purest foods.
This picture is from the 1812 catalog of medicinal plants and depicts turmeric root, which is traditionally used in Indian medicine to treat cuts and burns.
A 19th-century painting in the style of Ragaligoth, depicting a huge eggplant and a woman trying to shake the eggplant. Eggplant is widely used in indigenous medicine in India to treat diseases ranging from inflammation, asthma, neuralgia to heart problems, ulcers and cholera.
In order to get American multinational companies to revoke patent applications for turmeric, India paid more than $1 million in legal fees, travel expenses and other expenses. Based on these painful lessons, the Indian government decided to establish a traditional knowledge digital library, covering more than 200,000 traditional medicines. When multinational companies and individuals apply for patents, national patent offices will refer to this database.
The Indian Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has successfully frustrated two patent applications involving traditional medicines. One of them is a patent for a medicine that can treat hair loss that Pangaea, a famous European medical laboratory, is trying to apply for, because it contains turmeric and pine bark. Traditional Indian medicine ingredients such as green tea were objected by the library and prevented. In addition, India has also successfully blocked a mouthwash patent application by the American Colgate-Palmolive Company because the mouthwash contains an extract of the herbal medicine (nutmeg) used to treat oral diseases in the Indian traditional medical system.
Recently, an exhibition called “Ayurveda People” was on display at the Wellcome Museum. Let us take a look at the representative exhibits and think about who should own the medical heritage.