History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been practised in some form or the other since the stone age when stone needles called bian were used by the ancient healers. In the iron and bronze ages needles of these metals were used to stimulate certain specific points on the body. The ancient Egyptians also had the knowledge of these points and used “prods” to spur the slaves on such spots to get tasks performed beyond the human physical capacity like the building of the pyramids, etc. The papyrus Ebers of 1550 preserved in the British Museum refer to a book on the subject of vessels which could correspond to the 12 meridians of acupuncture. Engravings in ancient caves of the South and Central America, which archaeologists attribute to the eras of Maya and Inca civilizations, depict women using sharp pins at strategic points to suppress the agony of child-birth.

The soldiers of the great General Hannibai used precise points of control on elephants to enable their invading armies to cross the Alps’. Specific veterinary points on the mammoth and mastodon, the precursors of the modern day elephant, have been found illustrated diagrammatically in some of the ancient texts. The Bantu tribes of South Africa were able to elicit acupuncture effect by scratching specific parts of the body with knives. The ancient Arabs used to cauterize parts of the ear for relief of the excruciating pain of sciatica which was common in the hot plains. Eskimos of the Tundras and the Nordic tribes used sharp stones and the icicles to alleviate pain and suffering due to frozen feet and frost-bite. This means that they recognized the vascularisation properties of acupuncture to revive the circulation of the hands and feet. Certain Brazilian tribes along the Amazon belt used to shoot sharp arrows from a blowpipe on to the disease-stricken point of the body. This could be categorized as the locus delenti use of acupuncture or acupuncture given at the site of the disease.

The ancient Chinese were the first to observe, record, and later put into practice this distant point acupuncture theory. It was noted in one instance that a soldier hit by an arrow in the ankle was suddenly cured of the severe headache with which he had been cursed with since his childhood. Similarly, an arrow at a point above the thigh and other similar observations have confirmed the acupuncture theory and the theory of energy channels in the body sponsored by the ancient Chinese.

Of course, attempts have been made through the ages by researchers, academicians and scientists to formulate theories regarding the working of acupuncture, which range from oversimplifications to bizarre hypotheses. For instance, some people have conceived the notion that some extra-terrestrial beings descended from the space to impart this wonderful power of healing to a select few. The school of thought sponsoring and propagating this notion is caned Evic Von Oeniken School, named after the chief originator of this idea. The origin of this science may continue to be a point of debate and discussion, yet the established and acknowledged fact remains that very different peoples having no geographic, ethnic, cultural or any other kind of affinity or kinship have been practicing it for years in different
ways.

Suchi Chikitsa

In ancient India, during the periods of Mohinjedero and Harappa civilisations, the treatment of diseases like hysteria and insanity was affected by placing red hot iron bars on sensitive areas of the abdomen, feet, hands and chest. The prevalence of myths about surgery and exorcism have overlooked the fact that but for the crude and barbaric methods of tortuous stimulation adopted at that time, these self-same acupuncture points are used for the same diseases with wonderful results even in the modern day practice. In the historical book Atharvaveda this therapy is described as “Suchi Chikitsa“, the oldest Indian treatise on the subject. The recently studied Ola manuscripts have a reference to the ‘needle science of Ishwara’. In it, 12,067 Nila of Command points are described for humans and animals. The Aryan invasion destroyed the Indus valley civilisation and the subsequent settlement of the Aryans in North India followed the Indus valley civilisation. The authenticated texts of that period when transcribed by herigraphical experts read that traditional treatment of snake bite involved acupuncture (blood letting from acupuncture points) and moxibustion (passage of heat through a metal probe punctured in the skin) to certain areas of the scalp and extremities.

Susruta and Charaka

The two most respected and revered healers in the annals of Indian history were Susruta and Charaka. Susruta, a surgeon of great eminence, lived 500 years before Christ in Banaras. Charaka, who has been labelled by the historians as the “Hippocrates of the Indian medicine”, was a physician of the second century AD. Both of them used acupuncture in its varied and diverse forms for the treatment of chronic diseases. This knowledge of the Indian sages was spread to the far and distant corners of the globe through the traditional silk and spice routes, as did Buddhism. According to Huang De Nei Jin Su Wan, a renowned philosopher of ancient China, “treatment using a needle qr flint had its origin in the regions of the west”.

Alpha and Omega

To the layman China is the “Alpha and Omega” of acupuncture, where traditionally this art as we know and recognise it today originated. This dogma has been in recent years questioned by several authorities and historians, as it is difficult to ignore the existence of this science in other civilisations at the same time. The great wall of China was built in the days gone by not only to keep the intruders out but also to keep knowledge within. History is strewn with accounts of Chinese wisemen travelling from their homeland to acquire knowledge, but strangely has no description of other civilisations visiting the ancient Chinese. Chinese had coined the pharse Tai Chien Hang-meaning to insert a golden needle-to describe acupuncture. Further, the Chinese were aided by the knowledge of pulse diagnosis which was orginally practised in Tibet. The adepts of the right hand path, as the Tibetan Lamas are called, had attained the knowledge of diagnosing the “thousand diseases” by feeling the superficial and deep pulses. Today in China the acupuncturist is a versatile man-applying his art of pulse diagnosis to establish the disease, using ancient Chinese philosophy to chalk out a regimen of treatment, and implementing it with acupuncture, moxibustion or cupping. It is held that though the Chinese developed and refined the art of acupuncture and built a monolith of knowledge and science, the origination of this science took place in other ancient civilizations.