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Discussion is vital, don’t dismiss all ancient science as myth

Discussion is vital for intellectual refinement. Unfortunately the debate has been reduced to an ideological slanging match sans facts and logic, writes Vivek Gumaste.

ht-view Updated: Jan 06, 2015, 23:20 IST
Vivek Gumaste
Vivek Gumaste

Every opinion, however outlandish, warrants an examination in a free society. Healthy scepticism is a positive attribute that reflects an open mind but vulgar derision demonstrates prejudice. The Indian History Congress’ censure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement regarding the transposition of an elephant head on to Ganesha’s body falls in the second category.

Instead of denouncing the PM’s comment, the naysayers must try to find out whether ancient Indians possessed a sophisticated knowledge of plastic surgery. Yes, if you believe standard medical textbooks, scientific journals and opinions of practising plastic surgeons.

A History of Organ Transplantation (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012) by David Hamilton with a foreword by Thomas Starzl, the father of modern liver transplant, asserts: “……. manuscripts from the Indian subcontinent in the 6th century BCE describe carefully conducted plastic surgery” (Introduction, Page XV).

An article — Sushruta: father of plastic surgery — in Annals of Plastic Surgery (July 2014) (Champaneria et al July 2014; Volume 73: p1: p 2–7) reiterates the predominance of Indian medicine: “Sushruta, who lived sometime between 1000 and 800 BC, should be credited as the Father of Plastic Surgery.” This designation stems from his novel method of nasal reconstruction (rhinoplasty) called the ‘‘Indian method’’ for which the basic principles of nasal reconstruction and in turn, flap surgery, remain true today.

Other sources concur: The website of the Royal Free Hospital London ( states: “Plastic surgery had to wait until the late 18th century for the next significant advance — the skin graft. And ironically the breakthrough came from rediscovering a procedure developed in ancient India…The severe-looking skin graft procedure was rediscovered in an ancient book called the Sushruta Samhita — dating back to 8th century BC.”

A perusal of the Sushruta Samhita reveals that it is a serious scientific document, not mythology. It may be an exaggeration to claim that everything good and great originated from India. By the same token the campaign to denigrate everything Indian, past and present, is a false patois that is intended to demoralise and this is unacceptable.

Discussion is vital for intellectual refinement. Unfortunately the debate has been reduced to an ideological slanging match sans facts and logic. We need to inject sanity into this exchange: An objective evaluation that draws an authentic picture of our past.

Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic and political commentator

The views expressed by the author are personal

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