Ayurvedic Anatomical Drawing, c18th Century
Ancient India is believed to have been founded in 3000 BCE. In approximately 1500 BCE the four main Hindu religious texts, or Vedas, are written. The fourth and last of these is the Atharvaveda, which is the source of Ayurvedic medicine - one of the world's oldest systems of medical knowledge. Ayurveda advocates balancing the body's three doshas to maintain good health through medicine and diet. Early texts also discuss poisons, care of children and the elderly, mental health, and surgical technique.Couching Needle
The Sushruta Samhita is the oldest surviving medical text in India to mention eye disease. The original was written in Sanskrit by Maharshi Sushruta in approximately 600 BCE. The book mentions even earlier practitioners and their techniques, documenting the ancient lineage of medicine in India. Most famously, the Sushruta Samhita contains instructions for rhinoplasty and couching of cataracts. This bronze couching needle dating to the Roman Empire likely owes its design to ancient India.
Couching Needle Illustration
Couching is a surgical procedure that consists of using a needle inserted through the sclera to dislocate the opaque lens or cataract back and into the vitreous of the eye. There the lens remains out of the field of vision. The quality of sight after a couching procedure would have been poor, especially in ancient times before the invention of spectacles. The patient, who endured the surgery without anesthesia, would have done so because limited vision was preferable to blindness. This illustration is from "Ophthalmodouleia: das ist Augendienst," by George Bartisch and dates to 1583. A couching needle is shown in the right hand of George Bartisch (1535-1606). The surgical procedure he performed was nearly identical to that described by Sushruta over 2000 years earlier.