Opinion: Can “Ayurveda – The Observational Science” Embrace Modernity? – Dr. Nishant Barapatre and Dr. Mohan Tambe



Dr. Nishant Barapatre * and Dr. Mohan Tambe **

*Lecturer, Govt. Ayurved College, Bhavnagar, **Retd. Prof. Aryangla Ayurved College, Satara


In the current era of post-scientific revolution, the modern medical sciences as well as the basic sciences have undergone such a rapid development, which is almost equivalent to a second scientific revolution.[1] However, even after the radical changes in the scientific perspective, the ancient science of life “Ayurveda” seems to have lagged behind to embrace the modernity. Therefore, “Ayurveda” – the oldest medical science, has been reduced to more of a “Philosophical science”, in the viewpoint of modern sciences.


The term “Philosophy” quite literally means, the “Love of Wisdom”.[2] In a broader sense, Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language.[3] Being a science of life, though Ayurveda has discussed the “Philosophical” part and explained the wisdom of life; but it cannot be considered as a Philosophical science only.


Just like the two types of research study designs as per the modern research methodology, viz. observational and experimental; Ayurveda also seems to have evolved through the similar kind of approaches, even though not exactly the same. The Ayurvedic science is based upon the time-tested theories, which were proven by keen observations of the surroundings and conducting experimentations through trial-and-error methods.[4]


The observational approach of Ayurveda can be envisaged through a major principle called “Loka-Purusha Saamya Siddhanta” (Theory of Macrocosm and Microcosm), which means that the human body is a miniature representation of the vast universe. All functions within the human body are a reflection of activities taking place in the universe.[5]

However, the “Loka-Purusha Saamya Siddhanta” of Ayurveda has been founded upon the “Pinda-Brahmanda Nyaya”, which was first enunciated in Yajurveda and later reiterated by Vedanta Darshana. This “Nyaya” suggests that, all that’s existing in the Brahmanda (Universe) does exist in the Pinda (Individual) as well.

As the human being is a part of nature, the environmental changes affect the human body, either favorably or adversely. Therefore, any changes occurring in the universe also cause structural and functional changes in the body. Hence, changes in normal structure and function of universe play an important role in cause and development of disease or abnormal condition (Etiopathogenesis).

Though this Siddhanta was first introduced in pure texts of Philosophy like Yajurveda and Vedanta Darshana; but Ayurveda has used it for making keen observations to explain the human Anatomy (Anatomical or Structural similarity) and Physiology (Functional similarity). In the recent times, Acharya Priyavrat Sharma has further elaborated this “Loka-Purusha Saamya Siddhanta” to conclude that; the plant parts or substances which are morphologically similar to the human body parts are actually beneficial to that body part. Thus, the same principle has been applied to assess the medicinal uses of the plants on the basis of observations.[6]

Apart from such Gross observations, Ayurveda has made many minute observations as well, which helped it to evolve on a scientific basis. The observation of different anatomical structures carried out through the dissection of dead bodies (For example, the seven layers of skin) or observation of different physiological and pathological processes taking place in the human body (For example, the digestive process; the vitiation and pacification of the Dosha i.e. Body humors) are several such examples.[7]


The experimental approach can also be envisioned in the development of Ayurveda, evident from the experimentations conducted through trial-and-error methods. The experiments (Pariksha) for the establishment of Ayurvedic principles (Siddhanta) have been carried out by the ancient research scholars (Pramata) to gain the knowledge (Pramiti) in specific areas of research (Prameya) by using the ancient research methodology (Praman).

Specifically, the Panchavayavi Vaakya (Five step methodology) used for Logical Inference (Anuman Praman) depicts a scientific method –

Sr. No.


Panchavayavi Vaakya Scientific Research Methodology
1 Pratigya


To make a Hypothesis
2 Hetu


Reasoning to gather the supportive evidences
3 Drishtanta


Compilation and presentation of data through examples
4 Upanaya


5 Nigamana



Yukti Praman is another convincing method used in ancient research methodology, which advocates the application of experimental methods for the solution of every problem. It helps to explore the “Cause and Effect Relationship” (Kaarya Kaarana Bhaava) behind any creation or any event, and establish the exact cause of that effect. This is a strong theory to address the causative factors of the diseases and plan an effective treatment protocol accordingly.[8]

However, even this principle of “Kaarya Kaarana Bhaava” has been acquired from Darshan Shastra (Ancient Philosophical Sciences) like Vaisheshika Darshan, Vedanta Darshan etc. It shows the influence of Philosophical Sciences on the clinical science like Ayurveda.

Another most important ancient method of research in Ayurveda is the “Assessment of 10 points of examination” (Dashavidha Parikshya Bhaava).[9]

Sr. No.


Dashavidha Parikshya Bhaava Scientific Research Methodology
1 Kaarana Self-assessment by the Researcher

(of his own intentions, abilities, limitations)

2 Karana Availability of Research facilities like

medicines, staff, instruments etc.

3 Kaaryayoni


Materials like research data of the patients
4 Kaarya


Aims & Objectives of the research
5 Kaaryaphala


Research outcome
6 Anubandha


Impact of research

(on the science and the society)

7 Desha


Place of research work
8 Kaala


Time frame

(in which the research has to be performed)

9 Pravrutti


Methodological conduct of the research
10 Upaaya Good efficient qualities of the researcher,

Research facilities etc.

In this way, such ancient research methods seem to have established Ayurveda as a science, through a process of research investigations. After conducting such multi-dimensional examinations and investigations only, the principles (Siddhanta) of Ayurveda could have been established by the ancient sages.

Even we find ample of evidences about animal experimentations in Ayurveda. Acharya Charaka has suggested to feed the blood to dogs or crows, in order to distinguish between Jeevarakta (Pure Blood) and Raktapitta (Disorderly Bleeding). Acharya Sushruta has advised to test the food on various birds and animals, before it’s served to the king. The Visha Vega (Impulses of poisoning) have been described distinctly for humans, birds and animals. To understand the animate poisoning properly, many animals like snakes, insects, scorpions etc. have been studied in very minute details. All these descriptions in Ayurveda indicate that, plenty of animal experiments must have been conducted in the past and then only, such a detailed knowledge-base of Ayurveda might have been generated.[10]


The first step in Scientific Methodology is to make objective “Observations”. Then only, a hypothesis can be formed and research investigations can be initiated based on these “Observations”.[11] Even during an experimental study, any data recorded can be called as an “Observation”.[12] For conducting the statistical analysis further, this “Observed data” is of prime importance. Thus, the capacity to make the key “Observations” is indispensable even throughout the experimental approach. Therefore, Ayurveda can majorly be called as an “Observational science”, even though the experimental studies have also played a major role in its development.

As Ayurveda is a science of life, it has discoursed about the “Philosophical” part related to the human life as well; but it will be unfair to consider the ancient-most medical science as a “Philosophical science” only. Ayurveda has borrowed many principles from the texts of Philosophy, but has utilized them to make the clinical or experimental observations, in order to promote the human health. Therefore, Ayurveda should be considered as an “Observational science” only and not as a “Philosophical science”.


Now, considering the rapid scientific revolution in today’s era, the current situation demands for the further development of Ayurveda. There’s a need to re-validate the concepts and wisdom of Ayurveda, in order to establish it on a scientific basis. Therefore, it’s very essential to extensively conduct good quality researches to serve this purpose.

However, the modern research methodology can help Ayurvedic research, only when it is accepted with pure Ayurvedic approach. For that, we may be required to design newer tailor-made experiments or technologies in research according to the needs and the viewpoint of Ayurveda. The modern methodology may not prove very beneficial for this purpose, because an important difference in the approaches of both these sciences is that, Ayurveda mainly focuses on the human body and its internal environment/physiology; and not on the external factors like drugs.[13]

As the main focus of Ayurveda is on intrinsic factors like the Body Composition (Prakruti), Pathological condition (Vikruti), Constitution of the Tissues (Dhaatu Saaratva), Body Proportion (Samhanana), Body measurements (Pramaana), Compatibilities and Incompatibilities (Saatmya-Asaatmya), Mental Strength (Satva), Apetite (Aahara Shakti), Exercise Capacity (Vyayama Shakti) and Age (Vaya); the Drug (Aushadha) has been mentioned as a “Saadhana” (Karana or Hetu) only.[14] It’s just an accessory, through the administration of which, a specific action (Karma) is observed as a response of the human body.

On the other hand, the emphasis of modern approach of drug research is mainly to explore the pharmacodynamic effects of a drug. This modern approach focuses on the extrinsic factor (Drug) and its efficacy is assessed in the internal environment of the human body. However, the biological variations among the individuals are not taken into account and the effects of the drug are anticipated to be the same in all the research population, irrespective of the different internal settings of the body.

This is a very important difference in the approaches undertaken by these two sciences. As the approach of modern drug research is drug-centric, it tries to investigate the efficacy of a drug; while Ayurveda is Person-centric and therefore, it’s considered as the response of the human body to a drug. Superficially, both these concepts of “Effect of a Drug” and “Human body response to a Drug” would look quite similar and interrelated. However, if we give it a deeper thought, it will be clear that, both these concepts differ significantly.

As we know that the body heals itself, even without any intervention; or sometimes the body responds well, even if we just provide oxygenation or a placebo, and not any drug. Therefore, it proves that the drug is only an accessory (Saadhana) to develop a human body response and the same can be observed even without the administration of the drug. Sometimes the patient doesn’t respond to the treatment or is resistant to certain drugs like Antibiotics. In this condition, even though the external factor “Drug” is the same, the human body responses do vary. Therefore, our prime focus should be on the human body, and that’s the approach of Ayurveda in drug research.

A wide variety of differences can be seen in Human body responses, even when the same drug or the same food is administered to different living beings. Even the immune responses of the human bodies show a wide variation, as every living being responds differently to the same stimulus. There may or may not be an immune response in the body, which vary from allergies in the mild form to severely life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. For example – In many people, the allergic reaction to Bhallataka can vary from occurrence of mild rashes or extensive Contact Dermatitis to widespread cellulitis; while some people tolerate it well and develop no immune response at all, going completely symptomless. Considering such a wide variation, an Individualistic approach has been undertaken in Ayurveda to counter this factor of “Different human body responses”.

Even modern science has now accepted that, there are limitations to the concept of drug-effect relationship, due to the complex nature of the biological systems. Often, there are many unknown biological processes, which do operate between the exposure to an external stimulus and the tissue response. That’s why, the responses of different human beings are observed differently to the same stimulus like a drug. Therefore, “Personalized or Precision medicine” is a novel, better health care approach, on the basis of unique genetic makeup of each and every person.[15]

For better understanding of these different perspectives, let’s take an example of “Vamana Karma” (Emesis). The modern science considers “Emesis” as an action caused by the “Emetic Drugs”, either due to local irritant effect on the GIT directly, or through their effects on the chemoreceptor trigger zone indirectly.[16] On the contrary, Ayurveda considers it as a Human body response, that can result from oral intake of any Vaamaka Dravya (Emetic drug) having Tikta Rasa (Bitter taste) or even in response to Visha (Poisoning), in order to safeguard the life. It’s the inherent tendency of the Human body to expel the incompatible substances out of the stomach, and that’s what we observe as a Human body response in the form of “Vamana Karma” (Emesis).

However, we can try to bridge this gap by translating Ayurveda in the terms of contemporary sciences. For example – “Vamana Karma” (Emesis) can be considered as stimulation of the parasympathetic activity in the body due to administration of Vaamaka Dravya (Emetic drugs); thus, increasing all the glandular secretions, that come into the Phlegm and are later removed from the body by the action of Vamana (Emesis). Thus, Ayurveda can be brought on a common platform with the contemporary sciences and this exercise can take it one step further, to unfurl it for better understanding from the modern viewpoint. Though, such translation of Ayurveda has been instigated since last few decades; nevertheless, we have a long way to travel and lots of efforts are still required.


In this way, we observe a huge difference in the approaches of Ayurveda and the contemporary sciences like Allopathy. The evolution of Ayurveda has been chiefly as an “Observational Science”, with a holistic understanding of physiology, focusing on the whole; while the Allopathic medical science has been based upon analytical understanding of physiology with a reductionist approach, looking at the parts.[17] In Allopathy, the assessment of health or disease condition is based upon a limited number of biomarkers only, and such restrictive approach seems to be inadequate to understand the complex human biological system. Therefore, a person-centric whole-system approach of Ayurveda needs a new set of experimental methodology.[18]

In order to counter this important difference in the approaches of these two sciences, there’s an immense need to contemporize the Ayurveda; and for that, there’s a prime need of research in Ayurveda. However, modern research methodology hasn’t been very rewarding till now except some minor benefits, as no major breakthrough outputs have been derived from Ayurveda research. Therefore, we need to move ahead from the conventional methodology and develop an Ayurveda-specific research methodology for further advancement.[19]

Therefore, we need to understand the basic differences between the modern medical science and Ayurveda; and accordingly, we need to translate the principles of Ayurveda on the base of modern science. But what we observe today is that, Ayurveda is being translated more like a Philosophical Science, especially in the academic settings of Ayurveda education. We definitely have to think of Ayurveda beyond that. We need a transition of Ayurvedic knowledge and not just a translation like a Philosophical Science.

Even in ancient period, the basic concepts of Ayurveda were formulated by Sage Charaka. Later, they were transitioned in the clinical practice by Vriddha Vaagbhata and Laghu Vaagbhata. Further, sages like Maadhava and Sharangdhara transferred the same wisdom according to the utilization in their era. Thus, the transition of knowledgeof Ayurveda can be observed in the ancient period as well. The same needs to be done one more time now, on the basis of modern science.

Therefore, it’s a need of the hour to make a transition of an “Observational Science” of “Ayurveda” on the parallel lines of the modern science and do not let it transform into a Philosophical Science only.



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