Kerala is proud of her indigenous system of medical treatment called Ayurveda. From very ancient times, Ayurvedic treatment was very popular in Kerala. Kerala could make rich contributions to the theory and practice of this medical science, by actively engaging in improving the traditional system.
It is believed by many that Vagbhata, the author of the Ayurvedic ' treatises Astamgahridaya and Astangasamgraha, wrote when he was staying in Kerala and his disciples popularised this system of treatment. It was the Buddhists who gave extensive popularity to the Ayurvedic system of medicine in Kerala. The Buddhist monasteries had dispensaries which supplied medicines to the sick people and provided medical aid to animals also. The temples in Kerala gave medical preparations or oils to mentally and physically sick devotees, and thus played an important role in the popularisation of Ayurvedic treatment.
The original and authentic texts in Ayurveda were written in Sanskrit. There are a number of works in Malayalam describing the Ayurvedic system of medicine. Sarvanga Chikitsa Ratnam, Vaidya Manorama, Vaidyamanjari, etc., are the most important of them. There were plenty of works on special branches like toxicology (Vishavaidya) paediatrics (Balachikitsa), eye treatment (Netra Chikitsa) and diseases like leprosy, diabetes, tuberculosis, rheumatism, etc. Prayogasamuchaya, written by Kerala Varma of Cochin, is considered an authoritative work on toxicology. Kerala also contributed popular Ayurvedic dictionaries like Ayurveda Nighantu and Ayurveda Ratnakarakosam. Sariram and Arogyamargangal of Dr. L. A. Ravi Varma also enriched the Ayurvedic literature. Commentaries in Sanskrit and Malayalam on Ayurvedic works like Ashtangahridaya, Susruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita also enriched the literature of Ayurveda. Dr. P. S. Warrier's AshtangaSarira and BrihatSariram are also notable contributions to Ayurveda.
In the methods of treatment Kerala has a unique tradition. The Panchakarma treatment had been resorted to by the Ayurvedic physicians of Kerala from very early days. Dhara, Navarakishi, Pizhichil, Uzhichil and Sirovasti are reckoned as special treatments of Kerala. The Dharakalpam deals with the Dhara treatment. Vaidya Manorama contains numerous clinical applications. There are also a number of books dealing with treatment, such as Sahasrayogam, Chikitsakramam, Vaidyamanjari, Chikitsamanjari, Yogamritam, SannipataChikitsa,Netrarogachikitsa,Masurimalaetc.Matangalila deals with the treatment of elephants.
Ayurvedic literature was enriched by other scholars also. Pachu Muthathu, the author of Tiruvitamkoor Charitam, was an expert physician. He wrote two medical treatises, Hridaya priya and Sukhasadhakam. Mahakavi Vallathol contributed ArogyaChintamani, Garbharakshakramam and Vaidyajeevanam. Astangahrudayam Bhasha, translated into Malayalam and first published in 1915, is an important contribution to Ayurveda. Another important work translated into Malayalam by V. M. Kuttikrishna Menon is Ashtangahrudayam. The 'Ayurvedic System of Medicine' published in two volumes by N. S. Gupta gives elaborate instructions about the season and culling of the medical herbs and plants.
The State has a number of medicinal herbs and plants special to Kerala. There are dictionaries on these medicinal plants and herbs. During the Dutch period Henry Van Rheede, the Dutch Governor in Kerala, took interest in the compilation of a dictionary describing, the medicinal properties of Indian plants. The result was the compilation of Hortus Malabaricus in 12 volumes.
The practice of Ayurvedic treatment was the chief occupation of a number of families from the time of the sangam age or even prior to that period. There are references of the Vela Vaidyas in the Sangam works. Physicians in Ayurveda sprang up from different communities like the Ezhavas, Genakans, Mannans and other low castes, and from Brahmins, Nairs, etc., and other high castes. Among the Christians also arose great physicians. The Ashta vaidyas of Kerala are very famous. They belong to eight Brahmin families and they claim that they were the disciples of Vaghbata who was the great authority on Ayurveda. In ancient days the knowledge of Ayurveda was transmitted to the disciples by the Guru or Chief Physician. But the influence of western learning changed the Gurukula system of Ayurvedic studies and the Government started Ayurveda Colleges in Trivandrum, Trippunithura, Kottakkal, Cannanore providing facilities for degree courses. In the Ayurveda College of Trivandrum, Master Degree Course in Ayurvedic medicine has also been started by the Government. To promote research in the field of Ayurvedic studies, the Government of Kerala has started the Ayurvedic research institute.