Under the name of Indians, we comprise all those tribes that inhabit that vast extent of country, bounded on the east by China, on the west by Persia, on the north by little Thibet, and on the south by the sea. Though now divided into many kingdoms or principalities, the inhabit- ants of these countries appear to have had in antiquity, a common origin, the same religion, and similar institutions. The mildness of the climate, and the fertility of the soil, which produced abundantly the necessities of life, must have invited early the occupation of man ; and authentic monuments attest that India possessed the blessings of civilization, while Europe was still plunged in the darkness of barbarism. Some writers even go so far, as to pretend that the torch of civilization, was transported from the banks of the Ganges, to the banks of the Nile; but this is only a simple conjecture, devoid of proof, while the contrary view is at least as probable.
The Indians are divided into many castes, of which the most noble is that of the priests or bramins. These only have the privilege to exercise the functions of priests and physicians ; they alone learn the Sanscrit, which is the language of the learned of those countries, and in which all their books are written. Their medical knowledge is collected in a book which they name Vagadasastir. We possess of this work only a few extracts, the exactness of which I dare not guarantee ; for such as they are, they give too poor an opinion of the knowledge and judgment of the Hindoo doctors.
This organon of Medicine, is divided into eight parts ; the first treats of diseases of children ; the second of bites of venomous animals ; the third of affections of the mind, which are produced, as generally sup- posed, by demons ; the fourth part, is consecrated to diseases of the sexual organs
; the fifth to hygiene and prophylactics ; the sixth to surgery ; the seventh to treatment of diseases of the eye, and of the head ; the eighth gives directions for the preservation of youth, and the beauty of the hair. It is plain that no philosophic idea, lies at the foundation of the arrangement of this medical encyclopedia.
They admit three principal sources
of internal diseases, viz : flatulency, wodum, vertigo, bittum, impure humors, t'chestum. They further believe that all cutaneous diseases, were caused by worms. According to them there were in the human body, one hundred thousand parts, of which seven- teen thousand were vessels. Each one of these is composed of seven tubes, giving passage to ten species
of gases, which, by their conflicts, engendered a crowd of diseases. They placed the origin of the pulse, in a reservoir, situated beneath the umbilicus. This reservoir was four fingers wide, by two long, and divided into seventy two thousand canals, which were distributed to all parts of the body. Upon a physician examining the pulse of a patient, he observed at the same time very carefully, his countenance, believing that every change in the pulsation of the artery
, answered to a corresponding change in the expression of his face. He examined also the feces and the urine
, consulted the stars, the flight of birds, the accidental incidents in his visit, he drew, in a word, his prognosis from a thousand different circumstances, but omitted those which alone could be available to him, namely, the symptoms indicating the state of the organs.
The following maneuver, admirably illustrates the silly credulity or arrant charlatanism of the Hindoo physicians. He let fall from the end of a straw, a drop of oil, in the vessel containing a specimen of his patient's urine. If the oil was precipitated, and attached itself to the bottom of the vessel, he predicted an unfavorable result; if, on the contrary, the oil floated, he announced a favorable termination ; from which, according to this method, an unfavorable prognosis must have been rarely made.
With ideas so ridiculous, on the origin and diagnosis of diseases, it would seem to follow, that their therapeutics must have been miserable indeed. Nevertheless, we are assured that they were very successful in the choice of remedies, the proper time for their use, and in the manner of preparing and presenting them. They are said to have had an ointment, that caused the cicatrices of variola to disappear. They cured the bites of venomous serpents, with a remedy, whose composition is unknown to Europeans. In health, as in disease, their attention was especially directed to the regimen. They observed in their persons, and in everything about them, a minute and even excessive cleanliness. In short, we find in this country still, as in ancient Egypt, several classes of physicians, each of which treats certain kinds of diseases only. They pretend that their science is derived directly from heaven ; and it is owing to this belief, doubtless, that they have not made any improvements on it, for thousands of years.
from Histoy of medicine by P. V. Renouard.
French version: Médecine des Indiens orientaux.