Acharya Sushruta: Father of Surgery

When you think of surgery, you think of cutting edge technology, of gleaming antiseptic theatres and state of the art equipment. However, the fact is that surgery is a science that was practiced even thousands of years ago.

Acharya Sushruta was the ancient Indian surgeon and author of the text ‘Sushruta Samhita’, in which he describes over 300 surgical procedures, 120 surgical instruments and classifies human surgery in eight categories. He lived, taught and practiced his art on the banks of the Ganges in the area that corresponds to the present day city of Varanasi in North India. Because of his seminal and numerous contributions to the science and art of surgery he is known by the title “Father of Surgery”.

Acharya Sushruta was the world’s first surgeon who performed complicated surgeries 2600 years ago, like C-sections, cataract, artificial limbs, rhinoplasty (restoration of a damaged nose), fractures, bone dislocations, kidney stones and plastic surgery. His Ayurvedic text ‘Sushruta Samhita’ consists of 184 chapters and explanation of 1120 illnesses, detail about 700 medicinal plants, a detailed study on anatomy, 64 research from mineral sources and 57 research based on the animal sources and till date remains the key reference book for all the ayurvedic surgeons.

Contributions in the field of Surgery

There are numerous contributions made by Acharya Sushruta to the field of surgery. Surgical demonstration of techniques of making incisions, probing, extraction of foreign bodies, alkali and thermal cauterization, tooth extraction, excisions, trocars for draining abscess, draining hydrocele and ascitic fluid. He even described removal of the prostate gland, urethral stricture dilatation, vesiculolithotomy, hernia surgery, caesarian section, management of hemorrhoids, fistulae, laparotomy and management of intestinal obstruction, perforated intestines, accidental perforation of the abdomen with protrusion of omentum. He classified details of the six types of dislocations, twelve varieties of fractures and classification of the bones and their reaction to the injuries. Principles of fracture management, viz., traction, manipulation, appositions and stabilization including some measures of rehabilitation and fitting of prosthetics were also detailed.

Classification of eye diseases (76) with signs, symptoms, prognosis, medical/surgical interventions and cataract surgery, description of method of stitching the intestines by using ant-heads as stitching material were also mentioned. Acharya Sushruta was the first one to deal with embryology and sequential development of the structures of the foetus. Dissection and study of anatomy of human body, introduction of wine to dull the pain of surgical incisions (anaesthesia) were all tried and tested.

Sushruta Samhita

The Sushruta Samhita is one of the two early texts that form the cornerstone of the Indian medical tradition of Ayurveda. He was not only one of the earliest pioneers in surgery in the world, but also one of the earliest to study the human anatomy.

Acharya Sushruta paid great attention towards the structural organization of the human body. This was emphasized to such an extent that no surgeon should start his surgical career unless he was well acquainted with human anatomy. He has not only described the anatomical situations of various structures, but also given the detailed description right from cellular structure to the development of various tissues and organs, beginning from the intrauterine life. He has so keenly mentioned how the sperm and ovum combine together for the formation of embryo in the Garbhashaya (uterus).

He advised his pupils to use carcasses and models for practice before surgery. Sushruta ordained that anyone who wanted to attain surgical skill should study anatomy by practical observation of the various structures composing the body. The study of anatomy is dealt with in the Sarirasthana of Sushruta Samhita.

It is interesting to note that when surgery was in its infancy or not even heard of in other parts of the world, Acharya Sushruta was performing Rhinoplasty and other challenging operations.

Having worked as both, the practitioner and the teacher of surgery, Acharya Sushruta’s contribution towards the Indian traditional medicine and the ancient cultural heritage of India will always be precious.

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