Snippets on ancient Indian Public healthcare

This post is on ancient Healthcare system of India from some inscriptions and notes. This is basically collation of various posts on such topic in the net references to which are at end of post.  The immediate trigger was pachauris tweets on poor indian healthcare system and had it not beeen for brits, we had a rotten system. Thats when the info read on net was compiled as tweets and expanded into blog here. Credit to respective writers and many thanks to them for enlightening us. This is just a compilation of the work they have done. These links have more info on this topic and suggest that one do read them. The attempt is to ensure that media wallahs dont get away hiding these facts as these arent discussed for kids in history classes also.

Fa-Hian, writing about Magadhain 400 AD, has mentioned that a well organised health care system existed in India. According to him, the nobles and householders of this country had founded hospitals within the city to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, the crippled and the diseased may repair. They receive every kind of requisite help. Physicians inspect their diseases, and according to their cases, order them food and drink, medicines or decoctions, everything in fact that contributes to their  ease. When cured they depart at their ease

This quote is from Fa Hien: A
Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, English Translation by J. Legge,Oxford 1886, Delhi Reprint 1971, p.79.

This was also mentioned in this BJP 2009 manifesto foreward by Murli Manohar Joshi.

Dominik Wujastyk, in his The Roots of Ayurveda: Selections from Sanskrit Medical Writings (Penguin Classics, London 2003) writes

This description by Fa Hsien is one of the earliest accounts of a civic hospital system anywhere in the world and, coupled with Caraka’s description of how a clinic should be equipped… suggests that India may have been the first part of the world to have evolved an organized metropolitan system of institutionally-based medical provision

Down south- the marathas, Raja of Thanjavur, Sarfojee Mahraja, wrote to the British describing the services available in the
Chhatrams and requested them to continue the services uninterrupted.

‘chatrams have Doctors, skilful in the cure of diseases, swellings and the poison of reptiles.Travellers who fall sick at the Chetrum or before their arrival, receive medicines, and the diet proper for them, and are attended with respect and kindliness until
their recovery’.

This letter of Sarfojee Maharaj is reproduced in full in Annam Bahu Kurvita: Recollecting the IndianDiscipline of Growing and Sharing Food in Plenty, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai 1996

The orthanadu chatram- from the hindu

Orthanadu Chatram- from hindu

orthanadu chatram -from hindu

The Thanjavur Marathas had built 18 such chatrams. As the above letter makes clear, Chatrams were not mere boarding places and also not just for trading community. They provided food, health facilities and space for the animals that accompanied travellers. Each chatram was separated from the other by a day’s travel. Pilgrims greatly benefited from such  chatrams. The letter of serfoji 2 was written when british took over administration.

Such chatrams served as the lifeline of indian towns and villages in ancient times. As we can see in the songs of Nayanmar Thirunavukkarasu, and in purandaradasa song – Ragi Tandira – which has opening lines annadana maduvaragi, anna chatra nittavaragi. As seen in the above case and following ones, many of these were possibily tied up with hospitals to treat the travellers and aged.

Such chatrams and hospitals, and education was also tied to temples in olden days in many cases. The tirumukudal temple near kanchirpuram at confluence of rivers palar, vedavati and cheyyar,  In this temple is found the inscription of vira rajendra
chola, son of Rajendra Chola, who ruled the chola empire for 8 years. This inscription gives us more insight. It records the existence of a Vedic college located in the Jananatha-mantapa inside this temple in the 11th century A.D. where eight subjects including the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and grammar were taught.

The students lived in hostels attached to it, and besides teachers, cooks and servants wer part of staff roster. To take care of their
well being a hospital(Athura Sala) called Vira Cholan was attached to the facility.

The hospital was a 15 bed facility. The inscription reveals that chief of hospital was physician Savarna Kothandarama Asvatha Bhatta, who prescribed the medicines. His junior is refered to as one who treats. The hospital also boasted of a surgeon, two nurses, a barber, besides assistants for collecting the herbs and preparing the medicine.

The physician was paid 90Kalams of Paddy and 8Kasu annually in addition of the grant of a land. The surgeon was
given 30Kalams of Paddy, two nurses were given 30kalams of Paddy and one Kasu annually. There was also a barber who was paid 15kalams of Paddy. In addition to the above, there were two persons who were to get medicinal herbs. These two got 60kalams of Paddy and two Kasu.

Mukkudal Inscriptions

Mukkudal inscription

Sculpture of surgery being performed

A total of twenty medicines were stored permanently in the hospital, names of these mentioned in the inscription. They were

Vasa haritaki
Dasamoola haritaki
Bilvatha haritaki
Bala eranda Taila
Panchaka Taila
Lasunathi eranda Taila
Uthamkarnathi Taila
Mandura Vadakam


Kalyana lavanam

The hospital thus was a siddha ayurveda combination. This hospital also sticks to what Thiruvalluvar says in his kural. Valluvar says a health facility as one that have four parts; patient, physician, nurse and medicine. The kural Noi Naadi Noi Mudhal Naadi lays emphasis on treating the disease rather than symptom. Caraka too says same. Caraka says “Baisak dravyani upasthatha rogi patha chathusthayam”. – physician, medicine, attendant and patient form the four legs of what is known as health care.

There are further records. Its known that a public hospital was attached to a Vishnu temple named after Sundara Chola, called Sundarachola Vinnagara Salai, endowed by Kundavai, the sister of Rajaraja Chola

Another inscription found in Malakapuram,gunturdist.  is that of a maternity home established by queen Rudra devi who ruled the Kakatiya dyanasty from warangal in 12th century. She gifted a village to her Rajaguru Visveswara Siva. When he settled the village with people from different professions, temple, saiva matha were also built. To care of health care and education needs of the people- of village- a vedic college, a maternity hospital(prasuti sala) and a hospital(Aarogya sala) were established.

Indiaknew plastic surgery, practised it for centuries and, in fact, it has become the basis of modern plastic surgery. The operation is mentioned in great detail in the Susruta Samhita and the reference is well-known to those interested in the history of plastic surgery. Cowasjee, a Mahratta, of the caste of husbandman, was a bullock-driver with the English army, in the war of 1792, and was made a prisoner by Tippoo, who cut off his nose, and one of his hands. In this state, he joined the Bombay army near Seringapatam, and is now a pensioner of the Honourable East India Company. For above twelve months, he was wholly without a nose; when he had a new one put on, by a Mahratta surgeon, a Kumar, near Pune. This operation is not uncommon in India,
and has been practised from time immemorial. Two of the medical gentlemen, Mr. Thomas Cruse and Mr. James Findlay, of Bombay, have seen it performed The above article has been reprinted in Classics of Medicine Library, Bethesda 1981.

Inoculation with attenuated human small-pox material obtained from previous outbreaks was widespread and is well-documented. One fairly easily available account is that of J. Z. Holwell, FRS, published in 1767.

King bhoja of Ujjain,, the contemporary of Rajendra Chola, just before he ascended the throne, was suffering from a tumor in his brain that caused him an excruciating pain in the head. Despite all the medical aid given to him by his physicians, his condition
became critical. Providence blessed the king with the services of two learned Brahmin brothers from the school of ujjain,
who were pre-eminent surgeons of the era, and had arrived at Dhar about that time.
The two surgeons administered an anaesthetic called Sammohini, a powdery preparation, that made the king unconscious. Then they trephined his skull, removed the malignant growth in the brain which was the cause of complaint, closed the opening, stitched the wound and restored the patient to consciousness by another drug called sanjIvini.

bhojarAja survived his surgery remarkably well and had an illustrious reign both as a military commander and as a scholar .

Here is a sample of the surviving portion of the verses that speak of bhoja’s brain surgery (with my attempt at translation,

sa tasya rogaH kenApi na nivAritaH | For this disease there was no cure in sight.
tadanena bhojanRupAlena bhiShajvarA api svadeshAnniShkAsitAH | There was no physician in the country who could ‘egress’ the disease.

kapAlashodanaM kRutaM bhojena, tadA praviShTaH pAThInaH |The cure involves cleaning his skull,
tanmUlo&yaM rogaH |where the root of the disease is located.
tatastAvapi rAjAnAM mohachUrNena mohayitvA|and then the king was made unconscious by smelling a poweder (mohachUrNam)

shiraH-kapAlamAdAya tatkaroTikApuTe sthitaM shapharakulaM gRahItvA|cutting open the skull, the tumor the size of a large fish was removed;

kasmishchad bhAjane nikShipya saMdhAnakaraNyA kapAlaM yathAvadArachayya|

saMjIvinyA cha taM jIvAyitvA tasmai taddarshayatAm |

then the opening was rejoined and consciousness restored using saMjIvini.

tadA tad dRuShTvA rAjA vismitaH:| the king as he became consciousness and well, was amazed.

The book titled ‘bhoja-prabandha’ that describes such anecdotes connected with King bhojarAja, and is commented
in Hindi, can be downloaded here:

base links

Some links to the Bhoja  surgery:

Leave a comment


  1. Dear really foolish of the people not to acknowledge our civilization, but when civilization is so old then health care is the most important ingradient of any developed society, as India’s

  2. The translation, I think contains major errors. Fixing the translation:

    sa tasya rogaH kenApi na nivAritaH | This disease of his (was) cured by no-one.

    tadanena bhojanRupAlena bhiShajvarA api svadeshAnniShkAsitAH | So, by king bhOja were exiled exalted doctors.

    kapAlashodanaM kRutaM bhojena, tadA praviShTaH pAThInaH |
    Bhoja cleansed his skull, then a certain fish entered.

    tanmUlo&yaM rogaH |this is the root of the disease.

  3. Thank you for writing this. This must reach to every Indian. If we just refer our past and practice then we can become world leaders. If we work on them and enhance then we will remain as word leader.


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