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How to cure burns with Ayurveda used in Ancient India

People normally disregard the impact of medicines used in ancient India. If one studies it in detail, then one will understand that it is highly advanced, even more, advanced that what the western world was using during the time. In some cases, those medicines are even more advanced than today’s medicine. The proof can be found in Sushruta Samhita, one of the main treatises of Ayurveda, which we are here to discuss.

Written in Sanskrit around 2500 years ago, Suśruta Samhita is an important book in Ayurveda. Sushruta is regarded to be the Father of Surgery. However, since it was in Sanskrit, many people had difficulty in understanding it because of the language barrier. To continue this further, a team of 25 scholars and orientalists at Banaras Hindu University was formed, and all the 186 chapters of the classic Ayurvedic surgical treatise was translated into English, adding further comments, footnotes, research aspects, and other necessities. Thus, the book Ancient Indian Surgery series (1-12) in 12 volumes of over 5000 pages (10 volumes of text, 11 on Drugs, and 12 a synopsis of the whole in collaboration with Dr T.J.S. Patterson, the Plastic Surgeon at Oxford University, England, and a Historian of Medicine at the Welcome Unit for History of Medicine there) was published.

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This book deals with every aspect of medical science, but with more focus on surgery. The Chapters include Fundamentals of Ayurveda, Plastic Surgery, Pharmaceutics, Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of all types of diseases like neurological, piles, fistula, tumours, and many more (Ophthalmic and Otorhinolaryngological diseases, Paediatric and Gynaecological disorders, Symptomatic management for surgeons, e.g. for fever, hiccough, retention of urine, alcoholism, psychiatric disorders).

Based on these works, there are contributions of Suśruta to cure accidental burns:

1. Burns and Scalds

Sushruta’s description for Burns and Scalds can be group under Therapeutic and Accidental. The application falls under two categories: thermal and chemical, which is dealt later with communication. Following this is his teachings on accidental burns:

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“Now hereafter we would describe the signs and symptoms of burn caused otherwise (than therapeutic). Heat produces burn either through dry or wet media. The liquid at high temperature burn the skin, etc. rapidly as they penetrate along the minute pores; that is why the burns caused by the liquid media are more painful.”

(S.S.I. 12. 15: FPC p. 200)

Classification of Burns

According to Sushruta, there are four degrees of burn:

  • First Degree – The first degree is known as Plusta burn, in which there is discolouration and excessive singeing.
  • Second Degree – It is also known as Durdaghda Burn, where blisters are formed, excessive sucking pain, burning sensation, redness, inflammation and agony are present. This takes a long time to heal.
  • Third Degree – This degree of burn is known as Samyagdagdha, which is not that deep but there is a color like that of a palm fruit, and morphology is maintained in addition to foregoing symptoms and signs.
  • Fourth degree – It is known as Atidaghda, where muscles are hanging, affected parts are disorganized, severe destruction of vessels, nerves, joints, and bones occur, and then it is further complicated by the presence of fever, burning, thirst, and unconsciousness. This takes a lot of time to heal and even after healing remains discolored.

(S.S. I. 12. 16: FPC p. 201)

Pathogenesis of Burn:

Susruta says in the book:

“The blood of living beings, excited by fire (heat) gets severely aggravated: then with the same force, the pitta also gets excessively deranged. As both of these (blood and Pitta) are similar in potency with regard to taste and constituents, there is naturally severe pain and burning sensation; also blisters from rapidly and fever and thirst make the patient suffer.”

(S.S.I. 12. 17-19/1: FPC p. 202)

Management of Burn

How do we manage these burns? Here are the ways to do it:

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Management of Plusta Burn or First degree

To cure the singeing, one needs to warm the parts slightly with heat and apply the medicines after the heating effects. Heating is necessary because when the body is heated, the blood becomes fermented and water makes the blood thick as water is cool by nature.

(S.S.I. 12. 20,21: FPC 202)

Management of Durdagdha Burn, Second degree

For Durdaghda burns, both heating and cooling treatments are required. But anointing of ghee and sprinklings should be done in cold state only.

(S.S.I. 12. 22 FPC p. 203)

Management of Samyagdagdha Burn, Third degree

A demulcent ointment made up of tugaksiri, plaksa, red sandalwood, gairika, amrta, and ghrta should be applied by the doctor in case of third-degree burns.

For paste, the flesh of domestic, swampy and aquatic animals should be used. In the case of incessant burning, paitika should be done.

(S.S.I. 12. 23. 24: FPC. P. 203)

Management of Atidaghda burn, Fourth degree:

After excising withered tissues, cooling treatment is to be carried out and then, powder or rice mixed with pieces of bark of tinduka or with ghee should be applied. Guduchi or aquatic plants should be used to cover ulcer. Pattika cellulitis should be done for entire treatment.

(S.S.I. 12.25 – 27/1: FPC p. 203, 204)

Healing ointment for all types

To create the recipe, beeswax, madhuka, rodhra, sarjarasa, majistha, sandal wood, murva is required. They are all powdered and then cooked with ghrta.

(S.S.I. 12. 27/2, 25: FPC p. 204)

Treatment of Scalds

Dry treatment is to be done in case of scalds

(S.S.I. 12. 29/1: FPC p. 204)

2. Suffocation by Smoke (Dhumopahata)

The clinical features of smoke are dyspnoea, excessive sneezing, tympanitis, cough, burning sensation and redness of the eyes, smoke in the expired air, no perception of any other smell, no recognition of taste, dull hearing, thirst, burning and fever, depression and fainting.

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Here are the ways to manage them:

Management of smoke poisoning

  • Emesis – Drink mixed with ghee, sugarcane juice, grape, milk should be given in order to induce vomiting. When one vomits, there is cleaning of koshta (stomach and respiratory tract) and smoky smell vanishes. It is also important to cure depression, sneezing, fever, severe burning, fainting, thirst, tympanitis, dyspnoea and severe cough caused by smoke.
  • Gargles – To gargle, a mixture of sweet, salty, acidic, and bitter substance should be used. With this, the smell senses and taste senses are recovered.
  • Errhines – Expert should cleanse the head with errhines and should administer properly.
  • Diet – A proper diet (bland, light, and demulcent) is required to clear patient’s vision, head and neck.

3. Heat Stroke, Frost Bite, and Lighting Burns

The best method is the cooling method for those who are afflicted with hot winds and sun stroke. For frost bite, a hot and oily application is necessary.

Chances of success are reduced for severe sunstroke and lighting burns. If someone manages to survive them, then the doctors should use oil massage, sprinklings and tub baths.

(S.S.I. 12. 38, 30: FPC p, 206,207)


Abbreviations : 

  • A.I.S. – Ancient Indian Surgery
  • S. S. – Susruta Samhita
  • I – Sutra-sthana (1st canto) AIS vols 1 and 2
  • II – Nidana – sthana (2nd canto) AIS vol. 3
  • III – Sarirasthana (3rd canto) AIS vol. 4
  • IV – Cikitsa-sthana (4th canto) AIS vol. 5 and 6.
  • V – Kalpa-sthana (5th canto) AIS vol. 7
  • VI – Uttara-tantra (6th canto) AIS vol. 8,9, 10

h/t: Sanskritimagazine.com

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