A Medicinal system for the benefit of plants
All of us know very well about the health systems that work for the benefit of humans and animals. Many may also be familiar with the ancient Indian (Auyur-Veda), Chinese (Zhōngyī xué) and Tibetan (gSoba Rig-pa) health systems for the humans. However, not many may be aware of an ancient medicinal system devised to ensure healthy growth of plants, trees and preservation of environment; and that too an Indian one! Well, is there really such a system? Yes, there is one. It is Vrikshayurveda (Sanskrit term to mean the Plant Life Science or the Science of Plant Life) – (Vriksha = tree + Ayur- Veda = science of life).
2.1 It is interesting that ancient India not only had a medical science for the humans (Auyur-Veda) but also a one for the plants, called Vrikshayurveda. The earliest references to such a science are in the Rig-Veda and Atharvaveda. The other books that provide valuable information are Kautilya’s Artha-sastra, Amarsimha’s Amarkosha, Patanjali’s Mahabhasya, Krishi-Parashara, and Varahmihira’s Brhat Samhita etc. But, no independent texts seem to have been written on the subject. The oral tradition however regarded Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda as a credible compendium. Sadly, the actual text of Surapala was not available.
2.2 It was only in the year 1996 i.e. after Dr. Y. L. Nene (Asian Agri-History Foundation , India ) procured the manuscript from the Bodleian Library, Oxford , UK and Dr. Nalini Sadhale translated it into English; Surapala’s work became known to the modern world.
3. The manuscript written in a form of Sanskrit since extinct runs into 60 pages containing 325 well-knit verses , describing, among other things, characteristics of 170 plants. Surapala’s work puts forth authoritative opinions on several issues concerning plant life such as procuring, preserving, treating of seeds before planting; preparing pits for planting saplings; selection of soil; method of watering; nourishments and fertilizers; plant diseases and plant protection from internal and external diseases , remedies there to; layout of a garden; agricultural and horticultural wonders; groundwater resources; etc. It is a comprehensive and a systematic compendium on all issues of plant life and environment.
4.1 A word about Surapala before we get to know his work; no definite facts are available about him or his time (as it usually happens in Indian history). Historians approximate his time as 10th century A.D. He was a renowned and a highly respected physician in the court of the King Bhima Pala. Judging by the soil types, plants, and environments discussed in the work, historians surmise Surapala lived in the Gangetic plain i.e. the present day U.P / Bihar region.
4.2 Surapala calls his work a compendium of Auyur-Veda as applied to plants. He expresses indebtedness to the earlier scholars but declares that in writing the present text his own reasoning was his guide.
4.3 What were the Ayur–Vedic principles applied ?
5. Auyur-Veda grafted on plants
5.1 As per Ayur – Veda all substances ,all physical and mental constitutions , all ailments and all curative processes are pancha –bhautika in character , meaning they are related to the ambiance created by the composition of five elements viz. earth , water , fire , air and space. Further, it assumes that a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three different biological systems – vata, pitta and kapha. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayur – Veda is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha. In Surapala’s work, these concepts are grafted on to the plants as well. According to him, the plant condition, health –sickness, cause –remedies etc. all are to be viewed through the prism of Ayur-Veda.
5.2 Interestingly, the ideological structure of Ayur – Veda itself is in the image of a tree. It employs terms such as root, trunk, branches, leaves etc. while describing the disease cause, its symptoms, diagnosis, remedy etc.
5.3 Surapala advocates a holistic crop management system. He stresses the use of suitable cultivars, use of good seeds, pre-sowing treatment of seeds, use of suitable soils, growing intercrops, having optimum plant population, balanced nutrition, optimum use of water, timely weeding, protection from disorders by use of herbal products or dead animal wastes, harvest at the right stage, and seed drying and storage
6. A word of caution Surapala also comes up with a number of impractical suggestions, untested methods, fanciful ideas that do not make sense. Therefore, caution, discretion, further study and research should go along with the enthusiasm to accept the book.
Yet,it is a very helpful compendium in deed.
7. Further Reading :
1). Sadhale, Nalini (Tr.). 1996. Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life by Surapala). Agri- History Bulletin No.1. Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad – 500 009, India .
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