Origins of Ayurveda


Dhanvantri the divinity for good health holds the Amrita Kalasa, the nectar of life in one hand. In Greek language this Amrita is expressed as Ambrosia.  Dhanvantri is depicted as stepping out of the waters.

 Dhanvantri stepping out of water

For good health, what is essential, is the balance of waters not just in this body, but on the whole earth as well. The name Dhanvantri has the syllable Dhan in it meaning wealth. Traditionally, it has been good health which has been looked upto as being the real wealth.

The knowledge of this good health is Ayurveda.

With this background, let us see how this field of Ayurveda and its propagation came to be.

In the word Ayurveda, Ayur means “life” and Veda, “knowledge”. The word Veda comes from the root word Vid meaning “knowledge”.


The texts of Ayurveda trace their origin, knowledge to Shiva. The word “Shiva” here while it does mean the divinity of Shiva, it means so in the context of Shiva  meaning, “life”.


Life is auspicious, mangalam. Opposite of Shiva is Shava meaning “motionless, lifeless”. From this word “Shava” we get Shavasana, an asana where one lies down motionless.



So, Shiva is a life giving potential. The knowledge of life which Ayurveda is, emanates from understanding this potential, i.e. Shiva, Shiva tattva. More on the understanding of Shiva is discussed in our book “Understanding Shiva”, which is a part of the Bharath Gyan series.


This knowledge of life then was transmitted onto Brahma. The word “Brahma” starts with Brh, which means “to grow big, huge”. Life in this world, this universe has grown beyond one’s grasp since this creation. Life is an ever growing feature. The knowledge about life and how it manifests itself, is also an ever growing feature. It is this ever growing nature of life and its knowledge which is symbolically represented as Brahma.



This knowledge then gets transmitted to Indra.

The word Indra means “senses, the sensory knowledge”.


The knowledge that comes to us from our sensory perceptions of life and its well being is Ayurveda. Hence it is regarded as being transmitted through Indra.

Ashwini twins

From thereon, it is passed to the Ashwini twins who are the divinities for health.


Ashwini twins

The definition for Ashwini twins in Ayurveda text is,

Hitha Ahara Mitha Ayasa

Mitha Ahara Hitha Ayasa

It translates as,

Affordable food, appropriate exercise

Affordable exercise, appropriate food

This is the twinning key to good health.


From the Ashwini twins, this knowledge of Ayurveda was passed on to Maharishi Bharadwaja. The word “Bharadwaja” itself has an interesting connotation in this context here.

The word Bharadwaja can be seen as comprising of two parts – Bharan, “to fill” and Dwaja, “two sides”.

Bharadwaja thus stands for the step when the knowledge of Ayurveda crosses over from the sublime principles of the understanding of health, to the care of the physical body. Bharadwaja is the one who bridges the two sides – the sublime knowledge and the physical body.

Maharishi Bharadwaja

From Bharadwaja, the various branches of Ayurveda were farmed out to various Rishi such as

  • Athreya – for medicine, whose student was Charaka
  • Dhanvantri – for surgery, whose student was Sushruta
  • Palakapya – for Hastayurveda, medicine for elephants, Hasta
  • Gotamafor Gavayurveda, medicine for cows, Go
  • Salihotrafor Ashvayurveda, medicine for horses, Ashva

Wholistic Healthcare

From the above, it dawns on us that the knowledge of Ayurveda is not just medicine for cure, but is wholistic understanding of health, both physical and mental. Maintaining the equilibrium of these along with waters in the body and waters in Nature is the primary facet of good health.

With this understanding let us look at Ayurveda anew, for the wholistic approach that it stands for.

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