सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ – 1

The Scientific Wisdom Behind Ancient Indian Customs


Our ancestors possessed immense knowledge about factors affecting our lives and well-being. Using their common sense and by keenly observing every minute detail in their surroundings and natural forces, they learnt, assimilated and used the knowledge thus gained, to give us an invaluable legacy of health imbued with spirituality. By ‘ancestors’, here I mean those of all indigenous cultures and civilisations but with specific focus on Indian and Eastern cultures.

They had an astonishing knowledge not only about health and diseases but also knew the importance of the right food in preventing and managing disorders of the body. They harnessed the Five Elements or of panća mahābhūtaVāyu (air), Appu/Jala (water), Agni/Teyu (fire), Prthvī (Earth) and Ākāśa (sky/space/ether) – which are present both in Nature as well as the human body – to correct imbalances and restore good health. To achieve this, they set in place customs, rituals and traditions that would bestow the best of physical and spiritual health on us. If one were to study the customs and rituals followed by people of different cultures over centuries, one can appreciate their health benefits and how wise our ancestors had been to have instituted them.

Both men and women of the ancient world possessed a good knowledge of health and diseases, but women had practical experience because they were the ones who took care of the family’s welfare, including meals. These wonderful women knew precisely how to keep all the members fit and healthy. One can equate a grandmother to a senior family doctor, and the younger women to interns. There were no notes or records, but all knowledge was transmitted down the generations through observation and practice and of course listening to elders.

When we look at Indian and other Eastern cultures, we will be amazed at their knowledge of Astronomy, Astrology and other cosmic sciences as well, though they might not have given them the names as such! They knew about climate variations and could predict natural calamities just by observing the changes in the behaviour of animals and birds, more accurately than our meteorologists can do today with their sophisticated equipment. By studying the movement of the planets and other celestial bodies, they deduced their effect on the behaviour and health of the inhabitants of the Earth. Finally, they connected with the Divine within themselves by being connected and compassionate to all living beings, including plants.

While talking about predicting climate variations, I am reminded of a story: A particular Japanese emperor, who was both tyrannical and whimsical, once ordered that all old people in his kingdom be put to death, as they were not productive and were a drain on the resources. Consequently, the unfortunate folk were dragged to the gallows. One General of the emperor’s army however decided to hide his elderly father at great risk to his life. He secreted him away in a cellar and cared for him.

One day, not long after that, there was a great commotion in the land. The sky darkened ominously with the raucous and panic-stricken cries of thousands upon thousands of birds rushing to the land from the direction of the sea. No one could tell what had caused this abnormal behaviour in the birds. There were no elders to consult – except the one hiding in the cellar of the General’s house. The moment he had heard the cries of the birds, the old man shouted a warning to his son: ‘A storm and tsunami are going to strike the land within the next two days. We must all flee this place!’

The General fled along with those who believed his father’s words to a safer place further inland just in time, for as his father had predicted, a tsunami struck the kingdom and destroyed it along with the demented emperor.

This might be just a story, but not very far from the truth. Remote communities and tribes – untouched by modern trappings – rely on their elders’ knowledge of Nature’s ways even today. Unfortunately generations of nuclear families and the increasing popularity of conventional medicine in both urban and rural areas have reduced the influence of elders in our society and consequently the importance of folk medicine and wisdom. It is a pity that we are losing a treasure trove of such wisdom due to skepticism, rejecting them as superstition and old-wives’ tales.

The panća mahabhūta mentioned above, have always been the guiding and governing forces of our wellbeing, despite sea changes in medical practices over the millennia. Thankfully, we have a clearer vision with proof that the Elements are indeed the vital forces in our lives backed by scientific experiments and investigations under lab conditions.

I will be dealing in detail with this concept – the panćabūta tatva – in the succeeding posts, explaining how they are intertwined with each other and how only the perfect balance can make for our physical and mental wellbeing. To illustrate the points, I will be giving examples from our rituals and customs, and share simple indigenous drugless remedies for many of the ailments that bother us in our daily lives. I have adapted folk wisdom to suit modern living conditions through constant research, in order to make them easier to follow.

Read the section of this series Here

Cover Picture:
 (Source: AyurvedaNature)

‘Amritavarshini’, a wise elder who has conducted extensive research into the customs and rituals related to health, among rural and tribal communities of our country, learning from the wisdom of the elders in these communities and building on them with her own research through drugless therapies of India and the Far East. Her forte lies in integrating the various therapies with a generous dose of spirituality and interesting tales and anecdotes, to help in a healthy lifestyle.

Published: July 25, 2018


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