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Father of Surgery: Was Sushruta the First Plastic Surgeon in 600 B.C.?

One of the highlights of Sushruta's surgery is the operation of Rhinoplasty or the making of a new nose

  • ‘Sushruta Samhita’ which translates to Sushruta’s compendium describes the ancient tradition of surgery in Indian medicine
  • It not only contains the teaching regarding plastic surgery but also the composite teachings of the surgery and all the allied branches including midwifery
  • One of the highlights of Sushruta’s surgery is the operation of Rhinoplasty or the making of a new nose

The restoration, reconstruction, and alteration of the human body is not something that has popped up in the recent years. Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, reconstructive surgery and the treatment of burns has its roots more than 4000-year-old in India, back to the Indus River Civilization . It is believed that plastic surgery originated in the Vedic period (5000 years B.C) and Sushruta Samhita, which is a part of Atharvaveda (one of the four Vedas) is believed to be the first surgical text.

‘Sushruta Samhita’ which translates to Sushruta’s compendium describes the ancient tradition of surgery in Indian medicine. This treatise contains detailed descriptions of teachings and practice of the great ancient surgeon Sushruta, mentioned ispub.com Website.

Considered  to be the most advanced compilation of surgical practices of its time, ‘Sushruta Samhita’ not only contains the teaching regarding plastic surgery but also the composite teachings of the surgery and all the allied branches including ‘midwifery’. Giving priority to the knowledge of both surgery and medicine, he compares a doctor not proficient in both of them to a bird with only one wing.

Sushruta said, “Anyone, who wishes to acquire a thorough knowledge of anatomy, must prepare a dead body and carefully observe and examine all its parts.” Accordingly, a body is to be submerged in water and allowed to decompose. Every stage of decomposition is meant to be studied carefully and examined, layer by layer. It is to be noted that during those times, dissection was performed without using instruments.

Sushruta Samhita. Image source: www.ancient-origins.net
Representational Image. Image source: www.ancient-origins.net

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‘Sushruta Samhita’ was first published in Europe by Hessler in Latin and by Muller in German, in the early 19th century. The first complete English translation was done by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna in three volumes in 1907 at Calcutta.

The Internet Scientific Publications Website mentioned that in the book ‘Sushruta Samhita’, the insight, accuracy, and detail of the surgical descriptions are most impressive. All the 184 chapters and the 1,120 conditions listed in them, include various medical explanations and treatment procedures ranging from injuries and illnesses relating to ageing and mental illness. The compendium of Sushruta includes many chapters on the training and practice of surgeons. The Sushruta Samhita also describes over 120 surgical instruments.

The ancient surgical science was known as Salya-tantra (surgical science) embraces all processes aiming at the removal of factors responsible for producing pain or misery to the body or mind. Salya (salya-surgical instrument) denotes broken parts of an arrow /other sharp weapons while tantra denotes maneuver. Sushruta has described surgery under eight heads Chedya (excision), Lekhya (scarification), Vedhya (puncturing), Esya (exploration), Ahrya (extraction), Vsraya (evacuation) and Sivya (Suturing).

Shushruta Statue, Haridwar Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
Shushruta Statue, Haridwar Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

One of the highlights of Sushruta’s surgery is the operation of Rhinoplasty or the making of a new nose. This grabbed the attention of the medical world and brought him fame as the originator of plastic surgery. The Indian Rhinoplasty today, is just a modification of the ancient Rhinoplasty described by Sushruta in 600 B.C. Even today pedicled forehead flap is referred to as the Indian flap.

Talking about Sushruta, the eminent surgeon Allen Oldfather Whipple (1881-1963), 20th century’s major innovator in pancreatic surgery said,  “All in all, Susruta must be considered the greatest surgeon of the pre-medieval period.”

The marvels and brilliance of Sushruta is recognised by many people across the globe. His texts are reefed even today by many great minds. He is regarded as the ‘Father of Indian Surgery’ and the ‘Father of Indian Plastic Surgery’ because of his numerous seminal contributions to the science and art of surgery in India.

– prepared by NewsGram team.

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