Ayurveda’s origins reach back to antiquity and the earliest Bronze Age civilization in the Indus Valley, an area comprising the Northwestern corner of the South Asian subcontinent. Among the earliest of farm crops, village medics and farmers focused on rice, mung beans, urad dal, ginger and turmeric. As the center of civilization shifted south towards the Ganges river basic, the highly educated “Arya” of the area began chronicling the knowledge of farmers and practitioners to compile the earliest ‘Vedas”. Composed between 500 and 1000 BCE, these forefathers of Ayurveda collected two-thousand years of accumulated (and often scattered) observation, weaving the wisdom together around a central theme celebrating life’s elements: Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, and Ether/Space.
This became the first codification of the Veda (or science) of Ayur (life)-- Ayurveda.
As the age of reason began, Ayurveda flourished, counting among its advocates the philosophers of ancient Greece (including practitioners Plato and Aristotle), Hebrew prophets in the Middle East, and the Buddha in Northern India. The logic and scientific method behind Ayurveda’s teachings triumphed over superstition in medical approaches, and by 320 CE became the world’s most respected and observed approach to human health management under India’s Gupta Empire (320 CE - 500 CE). Significant government investment, initiated by the earliest of Gupta leaders and lasting through India’s Golden Age, was undertaken as a means to improve health-care and maximize the productivity of its citizens.
Ayurveda continued to grow and thrive for centuries. Ghengis Khan and Mongols adopted its principles, as did the Kalyani Chalukya Empire in the twelth century, the Vijayanagar empire in the 14th to 16th centuries and the Mughals and Marath empires that continued to advance the science into the 18th century.
However the takeover of India by the British Crown brought the golden age of Ayurvedic knowledge to a sudden and harsh halt. Seeking to impose their version of civilization upon India, and force open a market for the East India Company’s pharmaceutical industry backers, the Crown founded the Indian Medical Service in 1763, aggressively silenced the most celebrated Ayurvedic teachers, and banned Ayurvedic texts and techniques. Ayurveda however continued along the edges of ‘society’, driven into the rurals area where traditional ways of life were allowed to carry on.
These setbacks for Ayurveda globally were devastating, however with independence from the crown in the mid-20th century, revival began. The newly independent Indian government quickly recognized the Ayurvedic approach again, and began investing in re-assembling the country’s Ayurvedic infrastructure. Within twenty years Ayurveda returned to being the world’s most widely recognized and practiced Healthcare system, however economic difficulties is the country and region kept the country’s production facilities small, local, and unfortunately for those years - largely unregulated.
This led to some quality issues that rose to prominence in the mid and late 2000’s and continued on and off through 2014. However, as affluence grew in India, production facilities modernized, and most importantly the government got involved, those problems have been addressed. Shortly after taking office in 2014 Prime Minister Mori spoke to how Ayurveda was the pride of India, and it was his mission to clean up the Industry and raise it again to global prominence. His ministry of AYUSH enjoyed unprecedented support and funding, and the speed and magnitude of their results are unassailable. Between 2014 and 2017 India saw its life expectancy surge almost a full year on average -- a 1.5% increase in only 3 years time! Compare that to declines in both the US (-0.3 years or -0.4%) and the UK (-0.2 years or 0.2%) over the same time period.
However until very recently adoption in the west remained slow, as the incumbent western Allopathic approach has dominated the health-care conversation. However, as the cost of wellness has surged, especially in the United States and over the last 5 years, a generation of Americans has begun to show interest in more natural and less expensive options. Fueled in part by the hard-earned but well documented return to quality of Indian Ayurveda, and in part by the rise of the Internet and access to both information and products, westerners are finally embracing Ayurveda at unprecedented rates.
The new Golden Age of Ayurveda is upon us. Healthcare needn’t be cryptic, laboratory generated, and unaffordable. Healthcare can be Ayurvedic. Healthcare can be VedaLife.