A Medical Trilogy

M S Valiathan has a remarkable career that spans at least three spheres, two more than are given to most... A surgeon who was trained in India, the UK and the US, for three decades he was a surgeon who specialised in cardiac surgery. He combined this with research on heart muscle disease which has led to the development of cardiovascular devices, including a tilting disc heart valve which is used widely in the country.

An academic administrator with flair, he was the Director of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, then the Vice Chancellor of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His work has been widely recognised by various scientific and academic bodies, and in addition he has also been President of the Indian National Science Academy- a testimony to his scientific leadership.

In recent years, Dr Valiathan, who is a National Research Professor of the Government of India has turned his attention to our medical legacy, bringing his scholarship to the study of Ayurveda. This has resulted in three books published over the years by The Universities Press, Hyderabad.

Commenting on specific aspects of Caraka’s philosophy, concepts and practice, as seen from the point of view of modern medicine, The Legacy of Caraka deals with "Caraka, the master physician, is believed to have lived in the first century AD. The Samhita– composed by him forms the bedrock of ayurvedic practice today. His contribution to India’s cultural inheritance was profound. Caraka Samhita– was, in fact, a revision of an older text Agnivesa– Tantra, which was written several centuries before Caraka’s time. Caraka’s revision became so popular that it was translated into Tibetan, Arabic, English and many Indian languages. The Legacy of Caraka retells the Samhita– in a new format.

Instead of adhering to the sequence of the Sthanas in the original, the author has retold the Samhita– through thematically structured chapters, in contemporary idiom. The retelling has involved some degree of restructuring and condensation but has ensured that whatever is stated can be traced back to the original."

The second book in the series is The Legacy of Suśruta. "Suśruta’s name is synonymous with India’s surgical inheritance. A legendary figure, he is believed to have lived and taught in Varanasi several centuries before the Buddha, and composed the Suśruta Tantra which became a timeless medical classic. Though the original text was lost long ago a redaction by Nāgārjuna survived as Suśruta Samhita and won universal acclaim. The Samhita is a study of the human condition in health and disease with undisguised emphasis on surgery, and rivals Caraka’s classic in authority. In The Legacy of Suśruta, the text of Suśruta Samhita has been recast in a thematic fashion without sacrificing any of the content of the original chapters. Furthermore, it presents much of the data in tabular form, and features many tables and illustrations."

And finally, The Legacy of Vagbhata, just published. "Vagbhata completes the “Great Three” (Brhatrayi) of Ayurveda, with his predecessors, Caraka and Susruta. His identity and period are controversial but a major section of the scholarly community believes that he was a native of Sindh, who lived in the sixth century and write Astangahrdayam and Astangasngraha. The two texts frankly acknowledge the authority of Samhitas of Caraka and Susruta and closely follow in the footsteps of the earlier masters.

The Legacy of Vagbhata is based on a study of Astangahrdayam and employs a thematic approach with the plentiful use of tables. As in the earlier volumes on Caraka and Susruta, great care has been taken in this volume on Vagbhata to maintain fidelity to the original text while ensuring easy readability for the students of Ayurveda, medicine and the sciences."

The Legacy of Caraka, 634 pages, Rs 695, ISBN: 9788125025054
The Legacy of Susruta, 908 pages, Rs 925, ISBN: 9788125031505
The Legacy of Vagbhata, 946 pages, Rs 1195, ISBN: 9788173716683