Surgery developed very fast during the Buddha period. According to Vinay Pitak, worms started breeding in the head of a distinguished, wealthy man of the royal family. At that time, Vaidyaraaj Jeevak not only removed all the worms with surgery but smeared the wounds with a medicine. Our Puranas also give us a lot of information about surgery. According to the Shiv Purana, the Ashwini Kumars transplanted a new head when Lord Shiva severed the head of Daksh. Similarly, when Ganesh'shead was cut off, an elephant'shead was transplanted. We get similar examples in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In one place in the Ramayana, it has been said ?Yaajamaane swake netre udghrityaavi-mana dadau.? This means that when the need arose, the eye of one man would be taken out and transplanted in another human being. (Valmiki'sRamayana 2-16-5). From the dialogue between Yudhishthir and Naarad in the Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata, we are introduced to the eight parts of surgical treatment.
Vaidya Sabal Singh Bhaati says in the Sushruta Samhita, that training in surgery was given through the guru (teacher)-shishya (pupil) tradition. Practical training was given by dissecting cadavers or dummies. Trained surgeons performed surgery using various surgical instruments and through fire. If the need arose, blood transfusion was also given. For this, a sharp instrument called shiravedh (piercing the veins), was used.
Eight types of surgeries?The surgeries described by Sushruta are:
1. Chhedya (to bore)
Surgical instruments as described by Sushruta
2. Bhedya (to pierce)
3. Lekhya (to separate)
4. Vedhya (to remove some harmful substance from the body)
5. Aishya (to find the wound from the veins)
6. Ahaarya (to remove harmful produces)
7. Vishravya (to remove the fluid from the body)
8. Seevya (to stitch the wound)
The instruments and appliances necessary to do these surgeries are also given in the Sushruta Samhita in detail. Some resemble the forceps and the tongs required in modern surgery. The great book written by Sushruta talks of 24 kinds of swastiks, 2 kind of sandas (pliers), 28 kinds of needles and 20 kinds of catheters. Besides these 20, other kinds of instruments have also been described which were used for carrying out surgeries to various parts of the body. The eight surgeries that have been talked about earlier, were carried out with the help of different instruments and appliances. They were-
Ardha-aadhaar, atimukh, araa, badisha, danta shanku, eshani, kar-patra, kritarika, kutharia, kush-patra, mandalaagra, mudika, nakh shastras, sharaarimukh, soochi, trikurchakar, utpal patra, vridh-patra, vrihimukh and vetas-patra.
At least three thousand years ago, Sushruta had spoken about the necessity of making these instruments with the best quality steel. He even stressed that the instruments should be sharp and so pointed that even a hair could be divided into two. Sushruta has laid so much stress on the cleanliness of the atmosphere and sterilisation of the instruments used before or after the surgery, and has described the ways to do so in such a manner that even the modern surgeons are amazed. He has also talked about how to make the patient senseless (by giving anaesthesia) and the necessity to do so. In the Bhoj Prabandh, it is written that King Bhoj was made to smell a powder named sammohini to make him unconscious before performing surgery on his forehead.
Fourteen types of bandages?Along with these appliances, if the need arose, bamboo, crystal and some special kinds of broken rock were also used in surgery. Sushruta, who was an expert in surgery, gave a description of 14 kinds of bandages besides the six bone dislocations and 12 kinds of fractures of bones. His book also talks about 28 diseases related to the ear and 26 related to the eyes.
Sushruta Samhita also mentions surgical removal of harmful tissues born out of cancer in the intestines and also the birth of children through caesarian section. There is a mention of neuro-surgery, that is performing surgery on the nerves to rid the body of diseases and also about plastic surgery, which is the most complicated surgery of modern times. Apart from some methods which are considered as very modern ones, there is mention of some methods which are not known even to the modern medical science.
In short, it can be said that surgery was very highly developed in ancient India while the rest of the world was totally unaware of it.
(This book is available with Ocean Books (P) Ltd. 4/19 Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi-110 002.)