ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Epidemic Prevention: Precursors of Public Health in Early Āyurveda?


Angermeier Vitus - University of Vienna, Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, Vienna, Austria


05 – Health, disease and epidemics: multidisciplinary perspectives on the socio-ecology of medicine in pre-modern South Asia


 Āyurveda, the predominant medical system in pre-modern South Asia, is by definition a very individualistic tradition of healing, discerning and treating the patients under special consideration of their personal constitution, diet, physical strength, habituation, character and age. Furthermore, the āyurvedic source texts show a strong commitment to preventive procedure, frequently suggesting avoiding unwholesome influences and to treat bodily imbalances even before the actual disease breaks out. In between these coordinates, dealing with epidemics is a delicate and interesting topic. Individualistic approach and unfamiliarity with the concept of contagion makes it difficult to even perceive epidemics as such. Furthermore, individualistic treatment appears inappropriate in a situation in which people of different backgrounds fall ill and die with uniform symptoms. Therefore, such collective calamities call for special measures applicable to all patients without distinctions. Thus, in this paper I will examine the suggested responses to epidemic and similar events as described in the works of early Āyurveda. In this context I will put a special focus on preventive measures that could be applied collectively. This approach will allow us to assess the extent to which “individualistic” Āyurveda was able to draw on collective, preventive measures that could subsequently form the basis for an early form of public health system.