What are the Branches of Ayurveda?

branches of ayurveda

Introduction

All traditional healing systems, including Ayurveda, are generally viewed as folk medicine or pseudoscience. But, can you imagine that Ayurveda has an entire branch dedicated to surgery? Ayurveda has eight main branches and numerous subspecializations for dealing with different health requirements. Let’s take a plunge into this ocean of Ayurvedic wisdom.

The branches are referred to as Tantra. The word tantra denotes a system, science, or body of knowledge.

Ayurvedic specializations are similar to the present medical specializations. They are –

  1. Kaya Chikitsa – Ayurvedic General Medicine
  2. Kaumarbritya – A combination of Ayurvedic Paediatrics, Gynecology, and Obstetrics
  3. Bhoot Vidya – Ayurvedic Psychiatry
  4. Shalakya Tantra – (urdhvangcikitsa: Ophthalmology & ENT)
  5. Shalya – Ayurvedic Surgery
  6. Agad Tantra – Ayurvedic Toxicology
  7. Rasayana – Ayurvedic Rejuvenating and Anti-aging Therapies
  8. Vajikaran – Ayurvedic Reproductive and Aphrodisiac Science

Summary:

Ayurveda is a complex healthcare system, with eight distinct specializations like general medicine, surgery, paediatrics, toxicology etc.

Let us explore the depth of these Ayurveda branches –

Kaya Chikitsa

Kaya Chikitsa deals with general medicine in Ayurveda. The word “Kaya” means the body. A deeper meaning of Kaya signifies the process of metabolism (anabolism or the building up process and catabolism or the breaking down process).

According to the definition of Kaya chikitsa, this is the branch that deals with diseases that are spread all over the body or have roots in the general metabolism of the body. Therefore, Kaya chikitsa is the medicine that treats the entire system and not any specific part.

Kaya chikitsa is applicable for most diseases with generalized impact, like –

  • All kinds of blood disorders
  • All kinds of skin disorders
  • All kinds of joint disorders
  • Nervous system disorder

Lifestyle Disorders

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Hypothyroid
  • Hyper cholesterol etc.

Kaya chikitsa is so extensively practiced that it is almost synonymous with Ayurveda. This branch focuses mainly on medicines, therapies, and dietary changes. It makes extensive use of herbs, oils, minerals, and metal calx in its treatment. Body cleansing therapies like panchkarma and ayurvedic massage are all covered in this branch of Ayurveda. Kaya chikitsa is the most important branch of Ayurveda according to the Charak proponents of Ayurveda.

Summary:

Kaya chikitsa is the general medicine of Ayurveda. It aims to treat diseases related to the immunity, or diseases with a generalized presence in the body.

Kaumarbhratya

Kaumarbhratya is the branch of Ayurveda which deals with pediatrics. The word Kaumarbhratya is derived from the Sanskrit word “kumar” which means child and “bhratya” which is close to “nourishment/development”. It is the branch that specifically deals with nourishment, diseases, and the treatment of children. Kaumarbhratya also defines vitiated

breast milk, diseases caused by it, and their remedies.

Interestingly, kaumarbhratya is a combination of Ayurvedic gynaecology, obstetric, and pediatrics. All these three specializations have a deep overlap and hence they are condensed to form a common branch. They exist as sub-branches of kaumarbratya

  • Yoni vyapada (gynaecology)
  • Nav-mans chikitsa (Obestritics)

Summary:

Kaumarbhratya is a combination of Ayurveda gynaecology, obstetric, and paediatrics. It covers everything about fertilization, pregnancy, delivery, childcare, and children’s disorders.

Bhuta Vidya

Bhuta vidya is Ayurvedic psychiatry. The word “Bhuta” is derived from the Sanskrit root “bhu” which means “to be”. The word bhuta means the one who has an entity or manifestation.

According to Ayurveda, many mental disorders are caused by an imbalance of dosha in the body, for example, Apasmara (Epilepsy), or Unmanda (Mania). However, the diseases caused by the imbalance in the dosha can be appropriately treated by Kaya chikitsa or general medicine. Still, many disorders cannot be answered by general medicine. Here is where a specialized branch called Bhuta vidya comes into the picture.

Bhuta vidya is intended to treat ailments with an unknown cause. It is very close to occult sciences. It contains a lot of esoteric rituals to cure a mental patient. It does not rely much on medicines but might include shock therapy or psychodrama to cure the patient. Unfortunately, authentic evidence-based information is missing in this branch.

Apart from Bhuta vidya, there is a milder form of psychotherapy called Ashvasana Chikitsa. The word “Ashwasana” means “to console”. It can be compared to modern counseling and psychotherapy. Another form of mental treatment is calledSatvavjaya. The term Satvavjaya means victory over the mind. It includes many types of treatments like counseling, meditation, yoga, dance therapy, music therapy, and expressive arts. However, these 2 parts are used with all kinds of specialized treatments.

Summary:

Bhuta Vidya is a combination of Ayurvedic psychiatry, energy medicine, and psychotherapy. It deals with complex psychological disorders like mania, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, etc.

Shalakya Tantra

This is the Ayurvedic equivalent of Acupressure and acupuncture. It is believed that ShalakyaTantra traveled to China along with the Buddhist monks and developed Acupressure there. The name of this branch is derived from the word “Shalakya” from the Sanskrit word “Shalaka”(needle). ShalakyaTantra uses needles for the treatment, hence the name of the branch – Shalakya. However, this branch was mainly used for the treatment of diseases in the upper clavicular region or diseases of the neck and head region. This is the region that contains a very high number of important nerves and blood vessels. This region is also very close to the brain. Thus, Shalya or surgery is not the first option for this part of the body, and Kaya chikitsa might take a long time to show the effects. Therefore, ShalakyaTantra is the first choice of treatment in this part of the body. However, just like acupressure and acupuncture, ShalakyaTantra is equally relevant for all parts of the body.

Summary:

Shalakya Tantra is an Ayurvedic treatment, primarily used for disorders of the head region. It is the source of modern acupuncture and acupressure.

Shalya Tantra

Shalya deals with surgery in Ayurveda. The word “Shalya” means any incompatible substance or particle that creates infection/pain or imbalance in the body.

According to the definition of ShalyaTantra by Acharya(master) Sushruta, Shalya is the branch that is useful in the extraction of any kind of foreign material in the body such as metal, glass, and stone. It is used for the extraction of tumors or abnormal growth of bone. Shalyais also used for the removal of pus, abscess, and internal obstructions.

This is the reason, why Ayurvedic obstetrics shares multiple overlaps with ShalyaTantra. It includes management of stillbirth and surgical removal of the deceased baby.

Shalya was indispensable medicine as war-time medicine. Sushrut Samhita, the principle ancient treatise on Ayurvedic surgery, includes elaborate details on various types of stitches, management of wounds, and even plastic surgery to get rid of physical disability or ugliness. ShalyaTantra is a very elaborate branch that contains information on 103 basic types of surgical instruments, classified into 6 categories, description of natural self-dissolving fibers used for stitches, management of burns, bone displacement, and various forms of bandages.

Summary:

Shalya is Ayurvedic surgery. This branch contains information about treatment of accidental wounds, surgical operations, bloodletting, management of broken bones, etc. Shalya describes interesting concepts like caesarean delivery, plastic surgery, self-dissolving surgical threads, cataract surgery, etc.

Agad Tantra

AgadTantra is Ayurvedic toxicology. The word “Agad” is derived from the word “gada” which refers to disease/pain/poison. AgadTantra provides an extensive description of the types of toxins, poisonous material, plants and animals, artificial poisons, and effects of different kinds of poisons along with their treatment. This branch also deals with diseases caused by animal bites like dog or rat bites.

This branch had multiple sub-branches, depending on the type of poison. For example, there were toxicologist experts in snake bite, dog bite, spiders, food poisoning, or poisoning through herbs and minerals. The famous “snake charmers” or sapera were visiting snake-bite experts in reality. Sometimes, they were hired and salaried by the state to ensure timely treatment for the masses.

Summary:

Agad Tantra is Ayurvedic toxicology, that deals with the treatment of plant, mineral, or animal-based poisons.

Rasayana Tantra

The name of this branch is derived from the Sanskrit word “Rasa.Rasa means nourishment. RasayanaTantra is a more elaborate form of modern gerontology. It is the science that contains anti-aging and immunity booster techniques. It describes various kinds of herbs, health supplements, and processes that can help to retain youth for a longer time. It can increase longevity, memory, and stamina in the body. The well-known Ayurvedic health supplement “chavanprash” is one of the RasayanaTantra preparations.

Summary:

Rasayana is an Ayurvedic anti-aging and rejuvenating treatment. It is famous for its signature herbs, called rasayana herbs or adaptogens. Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Awla (Indian Gooseberry) are some of the well-known rasayana herbs.

Vajikaran Tantra

VajikaranTantra is a branch with a unique and exclusive objective of increasing and maintaining the potency and libido of an individual. It can be inferred that people had a long, comfortable and active life. Therefore, there were enough takers for this requirement to create an entire branch to increase potency and thus sexual pleasure. VajikaranTantra derives its name from the Sanskrit word “vaji” which has “a horse” as one of its meanings. A horse is the symbol of strength and vigor. The word “karan” means “the making.” This science aims to increase the overall strength of the body, which results in the enhanced sexual potential of an individual.

This branch deals with multiple sexual problems like low sperm volume, poor quality sperms, low semen volume, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation. It describes various herbs and herbal preparations that can help to increase the sexual potential of a person.

VajikaranTantra primarily focuses on maintaining male sexual potency as males have a greater tendency to develop sexual disorders compared to females. Female sexual disorders were treated with a mix of Kaya chikitsa, Kaumarbritya, and VajikaranTantra.

Summary:

Vajikaran Tantra is an Ayurvedic aphrodisiac and fertility science. It aims to improve, and enhance the sexual experience, and also maintain sperm health and overall vitality.

Take Away

These are the main eight branches in Ayurveda that demonstrate the immense depth of Ayurvedic wisdom. However, these branches evolve into multiple specializations and subspecializations. For example, ancient texts mention dentists, eye surgeons, and wandering toxicologists, the sapera, or the famous Indian snake charmers!

5 sources
  1. https://www.ijip.in/Archive/v3i4/18.01.098.20160304.pdf
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250309310_Raktavaha_srotas_CVS_Disorders_in_Shalakya_TantraChapter_-4_in_the_Preceedings_of_Interactive_Work_shop_on_CardioVascular_Disorders_and_Management
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5512402/
  4. http://ispub.com/IJPS/4/2/8232
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27496580
Dr. Kanika Verma
Dr. Kanika Verma is an Ayurvedic physician in India. She studied Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery at Govt Ayurveda College in Jabalpur and graduated in 2009. She earned additional degrees in management and worked for Abbott Healthcare from 2011-2014. During that period, Dr. Verma used her knowledge of Ayurveda to serve charitable organizations as a healthcare volunteer.

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