If we trace back the arrival of modern science, which grew out of the scientific revolution, especially in Asia- it was the scientific activities of Jesuit missionaries and their study of flora and fauna back in the 16th and 17th centuries. The history of medicine is a man’s struggle against illness and has been in practice for centuries. As early as 5000 BC, India developed a comprehensive form of healing called Ayurveda. The first traditional healing is recorded back to 4500 and 1600 BC. Several sages became the early practitioners of the Vedas from 2500 to 600 BC.
One such sage was Sushruta who is also regarded as the Father of Surgery. Sage Sushruta was an Indian physician who wrote the world’s earliest record in medicine and surgery in the 6th century BCE. He performed India’s first plastic surgery almost 2600 years ago. He also nearly invented 300 surgeries and passed on the knowledge to his subordinates and students.
But the question is, how did Sage Sushruta find his inspiration and managed to pull such a comprehensive surgery in times with no technology?
Sage Sushruta lived almost 2600 years ago in the ancient city of Kasi in Western India, today known as Banaras. Sushruta was a great sage who acquired his knowledge of medicine from Kashiraj Divodas, the king of Kashi. Being a physician, he used to treat soldiers wounded on battlefields and it was during these days that he found his inspiration to study surgery. Seeing numerous soldiers die due to a lack of knowledge and techniques, Sushruta decided to do something. He initially started by fixing broken parts like treating fractures through surgery.
During those days, many capital punishments were so severe that the state would chop off criminals’ limbs such as the nose. Sage Sushruta invented the Rhinoplasty or the nose surgery, through which he could reconstruct a broken nose. It was the earliest form of surgery ever performed in Asia. He was also World’s first cataract surgeon, who treated several eye problems. Due to his extensive work in medicine, he is fondly regarded as the ‘Father of All Surgery’.
With surgery, he also realized that he needed new specialized surgical instruments and he thus invented more than 121 surgical tools that provided great aid in performing severe surgeries. With this, he was the world’s first surgeon to create surgical tools. Some of them were Kritharika Shastra, Kushapatra Shastra, Dvipimukha Svastika, Marjalamukha Svastika, Kankamukha Svastika, Mandalagra Shastra and Virithimukha Shastra.
Sage Sushruta wrote about his knowledge of medicine in his treatise ‘Sushruta Samhita’, which is the main source of surgery in ancient India. Wrote in Sanskrit on palm leaves the book is dated before Christ and is one of the earliest works in the field of medicine. The book is highly regarded as one of the ‘Great trilogies of ancient medicine’ and is the earliest work of the ancient Hindu form of medicine known as Ayurveda. It is one of the three pillars of Ayurveda. He documented the etiology of more than 1100 diseases listing careful surgical techniques using hundreds of medicinal plants. It first came to light in 800 AD, when it was translated in Arab as Shah Shun Al- Hindi.
The first European translation of Sushruta Samhita was done by Hessler in Latin and in German by Muller in the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna translated it into English. But this translation didn’t receive much recognition. Later when Ayurveda was brought to the world’s forefront, it was then Sage Sushruta gained the recognition he deserved, especially for his contribution to the field of surgery.
In Sushruta Samhita, he wrote about a method to dissect and examine the human body without using a knife. This procedure starts with keeping the dead body in water to decompose and would study this decomposing body with passing time. With the help of this method, he invented complex surgeries like Caesarean, Abdominal surgeries, and Brain Surgery. He provided knowledge on Cataract surgery in-depth in one of the Chapters of Sushruta Samhita known as ‘Uttartantra’. He mentioned the principles of traction, manipulation, apposition, stabilization, and postoperative physiotherapy.
Along with working on his manuscript, Sushruta was also an excellent teacher. He would teach his students for at least 6 years before practicing medicine as an expert. Sushruta was also one of the first people in history to suggest that students should learn medicine, especially surgeries by dissecting a dead human body and studying the organs. The era of Sushruta is thus known as the ‘Golden Age of Surgery’.