Arab scholar Al-Beruni on magical powers of Ayurveda

Al-Beruni (Abu Rayḥan Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Beruni), Persian scholar and traveller, visited India in the 11th century. He authored Tarikh Al-Hind (History of India) for which he was given the tile al-Ustad (The Master).

Al-Beruni analysed the Hinduism from an Islamic standpoint. He was a researcher and knew Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, Persian, Hebrew, etc. According to him, Hindus hated Muslims because the former thought the latter were “uncultured and impure”. One of the reasons for the hatred was Muslim invaders ransacked, plundered and destroyed Hindu temples and carried out brutalities and savagery on the general public. They always violated the rules of war made men, women and children slaves.

Al-Beruni had taken valiant efforts to learn Indian pharmacology and alchemy but not always successful. On Indian alchemy, he states, “The adepts in this art (chemistry) try to keep it concealed, shrink back from intercourse with those who do not belong to them. Therefore, I have not been able to learn from the Hindus which methods they follow in this science and what element they principally use, whether a mineral or an animal or a vegetable one. I only heard them speaking of the process of sublimation, of calcination, of analysis and of the waxing of the talc, which they call in their language ‘talaka’ and so I guess that they incline towards the mineralogical method of alchemy.”

With great difficulty he collected Sanskrit works of Hindus on alchemy, medicine, mathematics and Ayurveda. “They have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them. They call it Rasayana. It means an art which is restricted to certain operations, drugs and compound medicines, most of which are taken from plants. Its principles restore the health of those who were ill beyond hope, and give back youth to fading old age, so that people become again what they were in the age of puberty; white hair becomes black again, the keenness of the senses is restored as well as the capacity for juvenile agility, and even for cohabitation, and the life of the people in this world is even extended to a long period. And why not? Have we not already mentioned on the authority of Patanjali that one of the methods leading to liberation is Rasayana?  What man would hear this, being inclined to take it for truth, and not dart off into foolish joy and not honour the master of such a wonderful art by popping the choicest bit of this meal into his mouth?”

Despite his scientific outlook and passion for knowledge, Al-Beruni remained communal to the core in his beliefs. No doubt he was overawed by India’s knowledge systems and traditions but still he harboured bitterness towards Hindus, perhaps because of the frustration that he was not received kindly by Hindu scholars who took him as another

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. Of Hindus, he says, “they are haughty, foolishly vain, self-contained and stolid and that they believe that there is no country like theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no science like theirs”.  Therefore, his religious views, philosophy, etc. should be taken with a pinch of salt.

‘Its (Ayurveda’s) principles restore the health of those who were ill beyond hope, and give back youth to fading old age, so that people become again what they were in the age of puberty; white hair becomes black again, the keenness of the senses is restored as well as the capacity for juvenile agility, and even for cohabitation, and the life of the people in this world is even extended to a long period.’ Al-Beruni

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