ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ancient Indian Medicine and Its Spread to China

Science and technology display the phenomenon of universalisation in their development through the ages. It is achieved through intentional or unintentional transmission of ideas and techniques from one culture area to another. In ancient times it usually was spread over a longer period of time, even a few centuries, unlike present times. One such interesting transmission occurred between India and China during medieval period when Sino-Indian Buddhist contacts were followed by scientific/medical contacts as well. The origin of this transmission is traced to the Buddhist canonical literature in Chinese which sprang up with the introduction of Buddhism into China in the late Han period (AD 25-220). Chinese historical, popular literature as well as medical works then reflected the influence of Indian medicine for over a millennium. Two Chinese works on ophthalmology, which appeared between the 8th and the 12th century AD, were attributed to Nagarjuna indicating inclusion of Indian ophthalmological material into Chinese medicine. These writings exhibit an integration of the two medical systems. The silk route which linked China to India, Arabia and further west was thus a bridge between the eastern and western civilisations, as well as promoting scientific exchanges and mutual cooperation along with exchange of goods.

Unprecedented progress in communication, especially due to the electronic media, has brought the world together. Happenings in one part of the world become known in the others in no time. This has resulted in a situation in which researches in distant lands are interdependent in their development. This is true of every scientific field today. One cannot, in fact, proceed with research oblivious of what is going on elsewhere with respect to that field. This interdependence is not a recent phenomenon only of modern times, though it appears so. In ancient times also pragmatic knowledge of other cultures was noticed and appreciated. The new information, be it ideas or actual techniques, was transmitted and incorporated in native systems.

The case of restoration of Greek sciences to Europe through the Arabian route is well known. Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD caused migration of European scholars to the west. They carried with them ancient Greek classics in Arabic translations and introduced them to the western world. It gave rise to an increasing quest for more such material and a vigorous activity of their translation into Latin. Much of Greek science was restored from its Arabic translations in this way.

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