Salya Chikilsa is a branch of Ayurveda which deals with the removal of foreign matter through surgery (the term Salya means foreign body). This branch, otherwise known as Dhanwantariya Sampradaya and one of the two main schools of Ayurveda, was founded by Divodasa Dhanwanthari. It was later developed by his student the great Maharishi Susrutha.

The first known surgeon in the world and the father of surgery, Susrutha was the first to describe the anatomy of the human body by dissecting cadavers. He also documented his knowledge in Susruta Samhita, the magnum opus of ancient Indian surgery. It gives a clear picture of the theory and practice of surgery at that time.

His book on surgery, ‘Salya Chikilsa’, describes various surgical operations and the devices used in performing them. In it he classified surgical instruments into two: yantra (blunt) and shastra (sharp). The yantras were further divided into one hundred and one instruments and classified into six types.

  • Svastika (Curved) 
  • Samdamsa (Forceps) 
  • Tala (Flat edged) 
  • Nadi (Tubular) 
  • Salaka (Rod – like) 
  • Upayantras (Accessories)

He also defined eight kinds of surgical techniques or Sastrakarma: 

  • Incising 
  • Excising 
  • Scraping 
  • Puncturing 
  • Probing 
  • Extracting 
  • Draining 
  • Suturing

Even now, all surgical operations are performed by making use of one or more of these eight techniques.

Susrutha made use of wine as an anaesthetic to make the patient insensible to pain. This is considered by many to be one of the oldest references to the use of Anaesthesia. He is also credited with dividing operative procedures into three distinct stages:

  • Pre-operative or Purvakarma 
  • Operation proper or Pradhana karma 
  • Post-operative procedure or Paschatkarma

The concept of postoperative wards, where the patients were taken care of in a sterile environment, was first recommended by Susrutha. This showed his understanding of the possibilities of complications that could arise otherwise. He also described 14 kinds of bandages suitable for different parts of the body.

Parasurgical measures conceptualized by him show that Susrutha was not keen on recommending surgery as the immediate resort and advocated safer and simpler techniques.

Susruta’s contribution to plastic surgery is outstanding. Reconstruction of mutilated nose (Rhinoplasty), ear (Otoplasty) and lips (Oroplasty), grafting of healthy skin from cheek, rotation of the pedicle flap transfer to the nose, ear or lips and reconstruction- all have been described by Sushruta in vivid detail. Susrutha’s concept of Rhinoplasty is used even now.

Ayurveda also has surgical treatment for diseases like

  • Hemorrhoids 
  • Fistula inano or bhaganda 
  • Urinary calculi or Asmari 
  • Hernia or anthravriddhi 
  • Intestinal obstruction or baddhadara 
  • Perforation of abdominal viscera or Chidrodara 
  • Tumors or Gulma 
  • Benign tumors or Granthi 
  • Obstructed labour or mudhagarbha