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Ayurveda - Etymology and Definition

Introduction to Ayurveda

Ayurveda (आयुर्वेदः) is a traditional Indian system of Health Science, which originated in India thousands of years ago alongside the practice of Yoga.

Maharshi Patanjali, the systemiser of Yoga in the famous Yogasutras is attributed with writing Charakpratisamskrit, the commentary on oldest text of Ayurveda, the Charaka Samhita. 

He wrote three major texts for benefit of those on the path of Yoga. 
Mahabhashya - text on Panini's grammar - for purification of Speech.
Charakpratisamskrit - text on Ayurveda - for purification of the Body.
Yogasutras - text on Yoga - for purification of the Mind.      

योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां । मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन ।
योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां । पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ॥

yogena cittasya padena vācāṃ । malaṃ śarīrasya ca vaidyakena ॥yo’pākarottaṃ pravaraṃ munīnāṃ । patañjaliṃ prāñjalirānato’smi

“I respectfully bow down with folded hands and offer my salutations to Sage Patanjali, the highest among the Munis (sages), who has presented the remedies for removing the impurities of the body through his treatise on Ayurveda, of language through his treatise on grammar and the impurities of the Chitta (mind field) through his treatise on Yoga


Not only is Ayurveda a theory of medical science but is a philosophy of life and lifestyle. It literally means ‘the Science of Life’. The word Ayurveda can be split into two words; āyu (आयु) and veda (वेद), which translates as life and knowledge respectively.

Grammatically, the word is tatpuruṣa compound, in which the second constitute is highlighted. The dissolution of the word is आयुषो वेदः आयुर्वेदः । (āyuṣo vedaḥ āyurvedaḥ |). In the tatpuruṣa type of compound the second word is important and it indicates the relationship with first. Hence here word veda (knowledge system) shows the relationship with first word āyu i. e. life. Both constitute together give the meaning of compounded word as ‘knowledge system of life’ of India.

Etymologies of Ayurveda

The explanation of the word Ayurveda will be clearer with the etymology of the word. There are several etymologies of the word Ayurveda given in various Sanskrit treatises.

आयुः वेदयति बोधयति इति आयुर्वेदः ।
Āyuḥ vedayati iti āyurvedaḥ |

First and foremost etymology is given by Yāska in Nirukta. The one which gives knowledge of life is known as Ayurveda. Vedayati is the form of √vid which is used in terms of giving knowledge.

 

आयुर्विद्यते ज्ञायतेsनेनेति आयुर्वेदः ।
Āyurvidyate  ñāyate neneti āyurvedaḥ |

Present etymology of the word Ayurveda is given by Dalhaṇa, a commentator on Suśruta saṁhitā. He has used the meaning of √vid in the shade of getting knowledge. Ayurveda is the one by which knowledge of life is known or obtained is the translation of ḍalhaṇa’s etymology.

 

आयुर्विद्यते विचार्यतेsनेन वेत्यायुर्वेदः ।
Āyurvidyate vicāryate nena vetyāyurvedaḥ |

In this etymology √vid is used for vicāryate which means discussions. Hence Ayurveda is such knowledge system where discussions about life have been done. By current etymology it is suggested that Ayurveda is the outcome of the discussions among many scholars in the field.

 

आयुरस्मिन् विद्यते अनेन वाssयुर्विन्दतीत्यायुर्वेदः । सु. सू. १.१५
Āyurasmin vidyate anena vā yurvindatītyāyurvedaḥ | Sushrut 1.1.15

This etymology emphasises on the gaining of life hence explaining of √vid is given in etymology as, the science by which life is gained is known as Ayurveda.

 

यस्मिन् शास्त्रे आयुर्विद्यते येन वा आयुर्विन्दति स आयुर्वेदः
Yasmin śāstre āyurvidyate yena vā āyurvindati sa āyurvedaḥ |

In addition to the etymology of gaining of life is highlighted this translation is, “The science in which the life is present and from which life is gained is known as Ayurveda”.


Definition of Ayurveda

हिताहितं सुखं दुःखं आयुस्तस्य हिताहितम् ।
मानं च तच्च यत्रोक्तं आयुर्वेदः स उच्यते ॥

hitāhitam sukham duḥkham āyustasya hitāhitam |
mānam ca tacca yatroktam āyurvedaḥ sa ucyate ||

The very famous definition of Ayurveda is given by Charaka, one of the Ayurvedic sages who composed Charaka Saṁhitā, the oldest and the most authentic treatise on Ayurveda. He has focused more on the life in this definition.

According to him, life can be
hitāyu - beneficial,
ahitāyu - unbeneficial,
sukhāyu - abode of happiness or
duḥkhayu - a dwelling of sorrow.  

Ayurveda is where all the parameters which lead to such a life is discussed.  

आयर्हिताहितं व्याधेर्निदानं शमनं तथा ।
विद्यते यत्र विव्दभ्दिरायुर्वेदः स उच्यते ॥
अनेन पुरुषो यस्मादायुर्विन्दति वेत्ति च ।
तस्मान्मुनिवरैरेष आयुर्वेद इति स्मृतः ॥

- भावप्रकाश

Books Referred :

  • Acharya Rajkumar Jain. 1978. Ayurveda Parichaya. Itarasi. Anekant Sahitya Shodha Samsthan
  • Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1964. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. II. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.