Health scenario of Woman in ancient perspective




Introduction –

     The primary as well as the secondary sexual differences of the woman from those of man has given her a distinctive social position throughout the many ages of human history .When we speak about “women’s health” it encompasses many different issues during the different stages of her life. Every woman goes through a series of profound changes during her lifetime. Like menarche, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. Now her claim to equality with man has been seriously put forth and has gained recognition in all civilized countries. She claims neither the privileged position with its implication of relative weakness and inferiority nor the subordinate position as an object of sense gratification asserting her equal partnership with the man in the enterprise of life and wants neither less nor more.

           The Vedic period is divided into two- namely the Early Vedic period which starts from 2000 BC and continues till 1000 BC. And the Later Vedic period which starts from 1000 BC and lasts till 600 BC.

Health aspects of woman are well-thought-out since the ancient time. Early forms of Charaka samhitā are dated to the period of 900 BCE - 600 BCE,while the later editions of Charaka samhitā are dated to later centuries. Early forms are dated to the period of 900 BCE - 600 BCE. The Vedic period (or Vedic age) (c. 1500–500 BCE) was the period in Indian history during which the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed. The precise time span of the period is uncertain.Philological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedas, was composed roughly between 1700 and 1100 BCE, also referred to as the early Vedic period. The Suśrutasamhitā is an important Sanskrit text on medicine, considered to be one of the earliest major works related to detailed study of medicine and surgery. Written by Sushruta, it is commonly dated to the period of the 6th century BC. So the time period of Charakasamhita and Sushrutasamhita is near about contemporary to the Vedic era. Hence  references  related to woman  health in the Veda  particularly in Rigveda and  Atharvaveda [Ayurveda being a upaveda ofAtharvaveda] are helpful to recognize  different aspects of woman’s health in that era . One special branch of octopartite  Ayurveda [bala] has been devoted to the physiology and pathology of the maternity stage of a woman’s life.

In Rigveda krimi [micro organisms] are pointed out as a causative factor of different Gynecological disorders.[Yonivyapada] Many references are available about gynecological disorders in later-Vedic period samhita . The term Yonivyapada [gynecological disorders] encompasses almost all types’ diseases of woman. In Veda  Garbhadhana [induction of pregnancy] chapter is described in detail. In Atharvaveda also it  is stated  , that krimi [Micro organisms]   are the  major causative factors which  causes mrutavasta [Still birth]  and  vandhya [Infertile]  [4]  More over againVeda instructed that every society should be very cautious towards  the infant’s health .Minimum number of infants death [balamrutyu] is a sign of healthy society. Garbhapata [abortion] is considered as a one of the most evil actions among the seven most condemned acts. Krimi causes miscarriage [Garbhastrava], abortion [garbhpata], stiibirth [Mrutavatsa] and infertility [vandhyatwa] in woman. Mantra incantation is specified to treat all above conditions 

In Veda, Garbhadhana has given very much importance and having a healthy child is the responsibility of both that are man and woman.  As well as there should be provision for appropriate dhatri [wet nurse] for taking care of the newly  born  child and mother.  Many other references are given in Ayurveda texts also which can be divided in two categories as Medical references and General References. Yet again these can be organized as in context of physiology like growth, aging, constitution and in context of pathology like diseases, medication, and dosage etc. with this the health status of ancient woman can be inferred .

Age -The sages of India by long observation and thought knew the difference in the pace of growth and decay of the constitutions of both man and woman. In physical and mental development and maturity as well as in their decay man is slower than woman. This fact is described in observations like the following.  “The wise  physician  should  know that  a man of twenty five  years  of age  and a woman of  sixteen years of age  have attained to an  equal stage  of  sexual maturity .The catamenal discharge which starts from the age of twelve  in a woman  comes to a cessation  at the age of fifty  when the body  enters  in its  stage of  senescence.”[11]

Diseases- Woman is liable to all diseases  which human flesh is recipient  to and in addition to these diseases  she suffers from diseases and disorders  peculiar to her due to the special  structure of her sexual organs. These diseases are called gynecic diseases. [12] In the chapter of Gulma , a special type of it called Raktagulma  is described   which is a peculiar affection  of  the female species as it is a uterine affection .[13]Again while describing vata diseases, Charaka  says that her position of dependency on man , her lack of enlightment ,an her actual inclination to shyness ,delicacy and modesty, impose restrictions on the prompt discharge of  natural urges . [14]

Constitution- Constitution of female is being considered weaker than that of a male is compared with the constitutions of the child and the aged persons, and accordingly medications are to be made milder for her. As “for king and kingly persons, and great men, for women, and persons of delicate constitution as well as for children and the aged [we shall described the dosage of oil and honey]” [15]

General references- Charakasamhita being primarily a medical treatise takes a scientific and biological view of man and woman. Yet the social practices of the age and the relative imposition of woman have been mentioned explicitly sometimes and implicitly more often   .

In the etiology of Raktagulma[Tumor], the social position of the in general is referred.[16].In the description of posology  woman has been described as  unsteady by nature , tender ,wavering,  easily disturbed  and  generally delicate ,weak and dependant on others .It is owing to this that is in emergency a weak patient should be first treated  with non-distressing ,mild and generally delicate remedies  and later on gradually  , by heavy remedies  which do not upset him or give rise to complications .This should be specially done in case of woman . 

Code  of conduct-In the chapter instructing the principles of good way and behavior of life to man, it is said that do not contemn nor confide in the woman overmuch, nor divulge a secret to her ,nor place her in power.

As a companion and entertainer- Women were also trained to play the part of companion and entertainer to man in his pursuit of pleasure. Charaka  describe  the part played by woman attendants and carriers  who actually were to be well trained  in the art of entertainment .Man should drink  while being shampooed  by clean ,loving ,beautiful , young and well trained woman decked in fine clothes ,jewels, and flowers suitable to season .

In selection of wife- In the description of the selection of wife, life's partner one of the qualifications she must needs possess her being Vashya that is amenable. One who is akin to man in mind, who is agreeable to and pleased with man’s advances, who enthralls all man’s senses by her excellent qualities was considered as amenable [20]

As a best aphrodisiac- The combination of the delectable objects of all the senses is found only in the woman and nowhere else. Hence woman‘s body and appearance have been considered the best aphrodisiac .

Woman as therapeutic agent- Mention of woman is made as a therapeutic agent in the diseases coming under the category of pitta type, specially fever and alcoholism.  To counteract and subdue such a condition man should keep the company of agreeable woman wearing cool garments and garlands.

As poisoner- she has been used as a poisoner or poison girlEvil minded women destroythe life of skillful king by means of poison and sometimes by various poisonous potions for the sake of winning good luck; man also loses his life quickly by contact with poison girls. 

 As a bed-mate-Man is advised to have as sexual partners different types of woman according to the season, one should have plump and passionate woman as bed-mate in the winter. Man one should drink wholesome sidhu or honey wine and enjoy the youthful loveliness of woman and gardens.

The vilification section which forms one of the eight branches of octoparatite Ayueveda is devoted solely to helping the man and there is no mention of the woman in this process. No names of renowned female scholars or vaidyas are founds in the texts. This is an indication that woman usually kept or were kept remote from learning the medical science .The ethics of medical practitioners   as described in the texts indirectly give us an idea of the status of woman in ancient India No offering of meat by a woman without the order of her husband or guardian shall be accepted by thee.Physicians should not indulge in laughter or jokes with woman nor stay along with them, nor should they accept gifts other than food from woman.

Code of surgical nursing-The Code of surgical nursing prescribes the services of a female nurse. Not only that even the sight of a woman is considered undesirable. As sometimes by even sight and other contact with the woman; man will suffer the evil effects thereof.

Selection  of  wet  Nurse[Dhatri] - If  the mother milk is not  available for a fetus  there is  a  provision  of wet nurse .Special criteria  for  selection of wet  nurse is mentioned. It  shows  that  very  well  established system  was there  in ancient time to  provide  mother milk.Apart from this in Ayurveda  above regimens  are specially  focused  in context of woman  and her health .Excessive indulgence in sexual  act is worst  among those  regimens which causes consumption .Sexual act with a woman during her  menstrual  period  is the worst habit  among all inauspicious habits. Pregnant woman  is  most contraindicated  among those repairing abstinence from the intake of strong medicines ,resorting  to sexual act and physical exercise .Happiness  is the most  important  feeling among all feelings  helping  retention of  conception .


The ceremony for having male progeny [pusavan vidhi ] is described in detail but there  is no corresponding  pre-natal  strisavan  ceremony. There is no special ceremony believed to be as inductive and constitutive of the procreation of a female child as it in case of male .References described above indirectly give us an idea of the status of woman’s health in ancient era .


In Ancient world –Woman held either a privileged position by virtue of her charm ,delicacy relative weakness or an inferior position to man  and was regarded as a subordinate ,ornament and source of  sense  satisfaction , to be possessed ,decorated  and pampered  .Woman is only  source of progeny and as such she was highly respected .

As a matter of fact it was the protection the woman received as the source of progeny, family honor and the repository of dignity that kept the woman from coming to the forefront.  So her very usefulness was turned into her weakness Charaka, when he come to speak about this aspect of a woman’s life polishes assured and surpasses others in his tribute of the woman. But  all these references  which indirectly  give us a glimpse  of the status  of woman  in those times  need  not lead us to the conclusion  that  she was  regarded   as no more  than a chattel  or a useful toy to please the whims of man. Although her natural weakness and her anatomical peculiarities kept her far behind in the race as against man, her status as mother was highly respected. She was the fountain source of the propagation of race .Because childlessness was not only condemned, it was despicable. So it was the woman who brought the very purpose of life to fruition.


Thus all though the biological picture of woman  as given in medical texts  of old is not so glorifying  to the woman , as she is by nature weak and  inferior to man but her emotional  and aesthetic value  was regarded highly  and her social value  as the perpetuator   of the race was almost adored .




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