In the field of anatomy, the knowledge of Indian veterinarians in ancient times seems to have been quite extensive, and possibly more precise than corresponding knowledge on the human body. Observations on animal carcasses were favoured by sacrifices, wars and other events. For example, equestrian texts provide a rich anatomical nomenclature, but the concepts derived from this were quite rudimentary in the case of visceral anatomy. The value of dissecting carcasses was recognised. One of the oldest Âyurvedic treatises in Sanskrit, the Susrutasamhitâ (‘Collection of Susruta’, from the beginning of the Christian era) even describes a dissection procedure for the study of the human body. Veterinarians, like surgeons, had to be aware of vulnerable regions (marman) in which any injury would be fatal or particularly severe (3,20). The marman concept, which was an innovation of Ayurvedic surgery, is found in veterinary medicine and is known to have originated in a Vedic concept. The word is derived from the root MR (signifying death) and was used particularly to designate a vital region of the body. In animals, as in human beings, the location of the marman shows that they often coincide with highly vascular regions, and also tendons and major nerve trunks, where any injury is serious because of the risk of heavy bleeding, incapacity or paralysis. In the absence of detailed knowledge of the internal anatomy of animals, anatomical knowledge was confined to empirical observation of the body surface, enabling operations to be performed without harming vital organs. The physiopathological concepts contained in Sanskrit texts are those of the classical Âyurveda. According to these concepts, the health of both animals and human beings depended on the equilibrium and good functioning of the three vital principles: ‘wind’ (vâyu), ‘bile’ (pitta) and ‘phlegm’ (kapha or sleshman). Each of these three principles was supposed to act, embracing the secondary forms which corresponded to various functions and manifestations of life. The most important of the three primary principles seemed to be ‘wind’, which referred to various organic fluxes and governed ingestion, digestion and assimilation of nutrients, the differentiation of organic substances and their distribution, and also the internal circulation of fluids, respiration and general motor functions, thus including numerous aspects of body functioning which modern medicine attributes to the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous systems (16,17).
Generalised diseases and localised ailments were linked to imbalance in these principles, or disturbances in the secondary forms of a single principle. Consequently, the name tri-dosha (‘three troubles’) was given to this triad of elements. Disorders in the functions governed by the three principles were themselves the outcome of multiple causes related to behaviour, character, feeding, mode of life, season, habitat, etc. In particular, equestrian texts often invoked a nutritional cause: food poisoning or unbalanced feeding. Classification of diseases was broadly similar to the principles applied to human diseases but differed in detail, except in certain cases such as the diseases common to horses and human beings. The various conditions were classified according to their supposed origin, their apparent seat, or the nature of the symptoms. In the first category were diseases attributed to a disorder of ‘wind’, ‘bile’, etc. ‘Diseases of wind’ were the most numerous, totalling 76 in the case of elephants. In the second category were diseases of the skin and the head, chest pains, etc. The last category notably included fevers, which were differentiated into many types according to the involvement of ‘wind’, ‘bile’ or ‘phlegm’, and according to the other symptoms which accompany hyperthermia. One of the most detailed classifications is that of the Hastyâyurveda, which placed diseases of elephants in two broad groups (23). The first group was endogenous disease, including diseases attributable to disturbance of the vital principles. The second group was exogenous disease, mainly traumatic injuries: accidental wounds and those caused by weapons, bites of wild animals, etc. However, identification of the diseases listed in the texts is often uncertain, and sometimes even impossible, due to a lack of information.