Ayurveda is literally translated as the 'Science of Life' and well-being. Ayurveda is the oldest documented body of holistic medical knowledge, it is a system of plants, oils and herbs. Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine native to India,and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine. Evolving throughout its history, Ayurveda remains an influential system of medicine in South Asia.

6000 years ago, the ancients sages who founded Ayurveda discovered that plants and plant extracts had a startling effect on skin and hair. According to Ayurveda the powers of nature - the Heat of the Sun, Light, Air, Water, Minerals and Plant substances have immense therapeutic value and play an important part in leading a healthy, fulfilled and aware life. Ayurvedic practitioners also claim to have identified a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for curing various ailments and diseases.

The earliest literature of Ayurveda appeared during the Vedic period in India. The Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita were influential works on traditional medicine during this era. The Charaka Samhita travelled with traders and scholars to China, Egypt, Arabia and Europe, influencing and laying ground work for plant-based healing all over the world. This health care system indigenous to India, has an impressive evolutionary history that spans a period of many thousands of years. After centuries of testing, Ayurveda science has
proven effective, allaying concerns about side effects. Ayurveda is now getting worldwide attention. Ayurvedic treatments satisfy every aspect of a person's well being - physical, mental and spiritual. Ayurveda is the Knowledge of Life.

Today, in the search for more complete healing and harmonious well-being, the holistic wisdom of Ayurveda is gaining international popularity as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM ) to modern allopathic medicine where several of its methods—such as herbs, massage, and Yoga as exercise or alternative medicine—are applied on their own as a form of CAM treatment. Ayurveda can function in the area of Primary Health Care or as a Medical specialty or even as an independent medical system.

Ayurveda believes in 'five great elements' (earth, water, fire, air and space) forming the universe, including the human body. Chyle, Blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, and semen are believed to be the seven primary constituent elements of the body. Ayurveda stresses a balance of three substances: wind/spirit/air, phlegm, and bile, each representing divine forces. According to Ayurvedic beliefs, the doctrine of these three Doshas is important :—vata (wind/spirit/air), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm)—is important. Traditional beliefs  hold that humans possess a unique constellation of Doshas. In Ayurveda, the human body has 20 Guna, meaning quality. It is believed that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality. Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage.

The concept of Panchakarma is believed to eliminate toxic elements from the body. Eight disciplines of Ayurveda treatment, called Ashtanga are given below:

Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa).
Treatment of diseases above the clavicle (Salakyam).
Internal medicine (Kaaya-chikitsa).
Demonic possession (Bhuta vidya):
Ayurveda believes in demonic intervention and—as a
form of traditional medicine—identifies
a number of ways to counter the supposed effect
of these interferences. Bhuta vidya has been called psychiatry.
Paediatrics (Kaumarabhrtyam).
Toxicology (Agadatantram).
Prevention and building immunity (rasayanam).
Aphrodisiacs (Vajikaranam).

In Ayurveda, balance is emphasized; suppressing natural urges is seen to be unhealthy, and doing so may almost certainly lead to illness. To stay within the limits of reasonable balance and measure is stressed upon. Ayurveda places an emphasis on moderation in food intake, sleep, sexual intercourse and the intake of medicine.

Ayurveda incorporates an entire system of dietary recommendations. Ayurvedic dietetics comprise a host of recommendations, ranging from preparation and consumption of food, to healthy routines for day and night, sexual life, and rules for ethical conduct.  

For diagnosis the patient is to be questioned and all five senses are to be employed.The Charaka Samhita recommends a tenfold examination of the patient. The qualities to be judged are: constitution, abnormality, essence, stability, body measurements, diet suitability, psychic strength, digestive capacity, physical fitness and age. Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech. The study of the vital pressure points or marma is of special importance.

Hygiene — also a component of religious virtue to many Indians — is a strong belief. Hygienic living involves regular bathing, cleansing of teeth, skin care and eye washing. Occasional anointing of the body with oil is also prescribed.

Oils—such as sesame and sunflower oil—are extensively used in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies show that both these oils contain substantial amount of linoleate in triglyceride form. Oils rich in linoleic acid may have antineoplastic properties. Hundreds of vegetable drugs are used in Ayurvedic medicine—including cardamom and cinnamon. Ayurveda stresses the use of vegetable drugs. Fats are used both for consumption and for external use. Some animal products may also be used, for example milk, bones, and gallstones etc. Minerals—including sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate, gold—are also consumed as prescribed.In some cases alcohol is used as a narcotic for the patient undergoing an operation. The advent of Islam introduced opium as a narcotic. Both oil and tar are used to stop bleeding. Oils may be used in a number of ways including regular consumption as a part of food, anointing, smearing, head massage, and prescribed application to infected areas.

The proper function of channels—tubes that exist within the body and transport fluids from one point to another—is seen as vital, and the lack of healthy channels may lead to disease and insanity. Sushruta identifies that blockages of these channels may lead to rheumatism, epilepsy, paralysis, and convulsions as fluids and channels are diverted from their ideal locations. Sweating is favored as a manner in which to open up the channels and dilute the Doshas causing the blockages and harming a patient—a number of ways to take steam bathing and other steam related cures are recommended so that these toxins are released.

The mantra written on rocks. Chanting mantras has been a feature of Ayurveda since the Atharvaveda—a largely religious text—was compiled. Ayurveda traces its origins to the Vedas—the Atharvaveda in particular— and is connected to religion and mythology. The Sushruta Samhita of Sushruta appeared during the 1st millennium BCE. The main vehicle of the transmission of knowledge during that period was by oral method. The language used was Sanskrit — the vedic language of that period (2000-500 BC). The most authentic compilation of his teachings and work is presently available in a treatise called Sushruta Samhita. This contains 184 chapters and description of 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources. 

Underwood & Rhodes (2008) hold that this early phase of  traditional Indian medicine identified 'fever (takman), cough, consumption, diarrhea, dropsy, abscesses, seizures, tumours, and skin diseases (including leprosy).  Treatment of complex ailments—including angina pectoris, diabetes, hypertension, and stones — also ensued during this period. Plastic surgery, cataract surgery, puncturing to release fluids in the abdomen, extraction of foreign elements, treatment of anal fistulas, treating fractures, amputations, cesarean sections, and stitching of wounds were known. The use of herbs and surgical instruments became widespread. 

Cataract in Human Eye—magnified view seen on examination with a slit lamp. Cataract surgery was known to the physician Sushruta. In India, cataract surgery was performed with a special tool called the Jabamukhi Salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the lens and push the cataract out of the field of vision.The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged.Other early works of Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhita, attributed to Charaka. The earliest surviving excavated written material which contains the works of Sushruta is the Bower Manuscript—dated to the 4th century CE.The Bower manuscript cites directly from Sushruta, and is of special interest to historians due to the presence of Indian medicine and its concepts in Central Asia. Vagbhata—the son of a senior doctor by the name of Simhagupta— also compiled his works on traditional medicine. Early Ayurveda had a school of physicians and a school of surgeons. Tradition holds that the text Agnivesh tantra—written by the legendary sage Agnivesh, a student of the mythological sage Bharadwaja—influenced the writings of Ayurveda.

The Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien (ca. 337 - 422 CE) wrote  about the health care system of the Gupta empire (320 - 550 CE) and—in the process—described the institutional approach of Indian medicine which is also visible in the works of Charaka, who mentions a clinic and how it should be equipped. Madhava (700 CE), Sarngadhara (1300 CE), and Bhavamisra (1500 CE) compiled works on Indian medicine. The medical works of both Sushruta and Charaka were translated into the Arabic language during the Abbasid Caliphate (750 CE). These Arabic works made their way into Europe via intermediaries. In Italy the Branca family of Sicily and Gaspare Tagliacozzi (Bologna) became familiar with the techniques of Sushruta.

British physicians travelled to India to see Rhinoplasty being performed by native methods. Reports  on Indian Rhinoplasty were published in the Gentleman's Magazine by 1794. Joseph Constantine Carpue spent 20 years in India studying local plastic surgery methods. Carpue was able to perform the first major surgery in the western world by 1815. Instruments described in the Sushruta Samhita were further modified in the Western World.

Within India

In 1970, the Indian Medical Central Council Act was passed by the Parliament of India, which aims to standardize qualifications for Ayurveda and provide accredited institutions for its study and research. In India, over 100 colleges offer degrees in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The Indian government supports research and teaching in Ayurveda through many channels—both  at the national and state levels—and helps institutionalize  traditional medicine so that it can be studied in major towns and cities. The state-sponsored Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS) is the apex institution for promotion of traditional medicine in India. The studies conducted by this institution encompass clinical, drug, literary, and family welfare research.

Many successful clinics are run by professionals who qualify from these institutes—both in the urban and the  rural areas.Mukherjee & Wahile cite World Health Organization statistics to demonstrate the popularity of traditional medicine, on which a significant number of the world's population depends for primary health care. In Sri Lanka the number of traditional Ayurveda practitioners is greater than trained modern medicine professionals.The manufacture and marketing of Ayurvedic medicine has been commercially successful for several
pharmaceutical companies. Old manufacturing companies  such as Arya Vaidya Sala, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, IMIS Pharmaceuticals, Dabur, Baidyanath have maintained  the classical range, while also patenting certain own formulations, such as Gyncocalm, Jeevani, Eosinophal, Dabur Pancharishta.