Dhanwantari, the God of Physicians, is the Hindu equivalent of Asclepius, the Graeco-Roman God of medicine and healing. He is the father of Ayurveda, the age-old system of Hindu folk medicine, and according to legend, arose from the waters with a nectar cup in hand when the oceans were being churned by the Gods and the Demons in the search of the elixir of life that would give them immortality (amrita).
Dhanwantari in Hindu Traditions
The name Dhanwantari has been since used to describe the legendary healing prowess of many other physicians in the Hindu tradition, as a sort of lineage of excellence to denote the demi-god status of such Great physicians in Hindu society. The importance of Dhanwantari lies in transforming the social status of the dedicated, caring physician in society by establishing a role model; stressing upon the nobility of the profession.
This ‘divine’ association of healing is by no means restricted to Hinduism – in many other ancient cultures like Greece (Asclepius, mentioned above), Egypt (Imhotep, the high priest, and healer), Tibet (Abjihnaraja, the physician God), healing was considered a ‘Godly’ act, and God-like role models emphasized this association.
In ancient times, since the authority of God preceded everything else, such an ordained status perhaps was designed to ensure the regulation of the medical profession to the highest humanitarian and altruistic standards. In contemporary society, medicine and healing have become an ‘industry’, as such lofty idealism has waned as a result of modern socio-political structures encouraging its emergence as a state-controlled or regulated ‘service’. It can be debated, however, that the roots of ‘modern’ medicine are embedded in hard, cold science rather than cultural traditions and folklore, and the importance of Dhanwantari and similar mythological figures must be re-interpreted in the light of their spirit of humaneness and compassion that is often missing from modern medicine.
Hindu God Dhanwantari and the holistic medicine
But the Hindu God Dhanwantari will live on, as there is a powerful counter-culture of holistic medicine taking shape across the world, with adherents of mind-body medicine like Deepak Chopra stressing upon the folk roots of ancient holistic systems like Ayurveda. We must re-evaluate our heritage, even if it means re-interpreting our Gods.