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Science of Childbirth And Pregnancy In Atharva Veda – Ancient Hinduism On Obstetrics

The science of childbirth and pregnancy is dealt in Atharva Veda an ancient text in Hinduism. Believed to have been written down between 1400 to 1000 B C, Atharva Veda gives an indication into the knowledge of Hindus on matters regarding obstetrics and gynecology. It must be noted here that all these texts were transmitted for ages from teacher to student through memorization. The teacher taught the text to students and therefore it was preached from person to person for thousands of years before it was written down.

Atharva Veda provides a vivid description of the anatomy and physiology of procreative organs. The blood supply of the uterus, including that of the endometrial is described along with its importance in the menstrual cycle.

Also described are conception of the fetus, various stages of labor and the indications of surgery in labor and the diagnosis of obstructed labor.

The interpretations of technical terms of Atharva Veda remain a convoluted problem. It talks of canals, fashioned by gods, in which man’s power rests in the testicles.

Translators were unable to properly translate many verses and they mention only the tubes attached to testicles. In a different Sukta, these two tubes are named gavinikas and it is hinted that a fetus can grown in gavinika. These two tubes should thus be taken as fallopian tube, at the end of which the ovary is situated, which is the seed-carrier of females, while the seed-carrier in males is in the testicles.

Another verse of Atharva Veda describes the destruction of the ovary and testicles by medication and crude surgical methods, converting a male into a eunuch sterile and feminine in behavior and appearance.

Another verse refers to a mongoose who, having cut a snake apart, puts it together again. Since Hindu stories takes it that a nakula (mongoose) has the power to reunite the two ends of a divided snake, the allusion is to the surgical unification and re-canalization of the vas in a eunuch to make him fertile again.

A Verse in Atharva Veda says, “Stand still, thou lower one (vein), stand still, thou higher one; do thou in the middle also stand still. The tiniest (vein) stands still; may then the greater artery also stand still. Of the hundred arteries, and the thousand veins, those in the middle here have indeed stood still. At the same time the ends have cease to flow. (1.12.1.1) It is accepted that blood vessels in females mainly connected with the uterus are described in the above verse.

These are depicted as vessels situated in the upper (superficial), middle and lower (basal) of the endometrium of the uterus.

The blood vessels in the middle layer and the basal layer are compared to a single daughter, who does not leave the ancestral home even after marriage (during the Vedic age, the custom was that if there is a single girl in the family, the husband stayed with her family).

She is not allowed to go to her husband’s residence, leaving her ancestral family. The idea here must be that, during the menstrual period, the blood vessels in the middle layer as well as in the lower layer remain steady. They are not destroyed. The vessels in the superficial layer are closed, destroyed and discarded along with the superficial layer at the endometrium during menstruation.

Atharva Veda states “In the male, indeed, grows the seed; that is poured along into the woman; that verily is the obtainment of a child (6.11.2.3).

The anatomy and physiology of copulation and fertilization have been described. The presence of sperms in the semen and the phenomenon of the formation of the zygote in females were also recorded.

Another sukta states – “O bracelet open up the womb that the embryo be put into it (6.81.2). Here the uterus is said to have a tight orifice that opens only during the process of fertilization to allow the implantation of the sperm with the ovum within the cavity.

Abortion was well known and it was attributed to certain mechanisms that damaged the embryo.

Herbs that could prevent abortion and sustain the life of the fetus were known.

There is a prayer for normal delivery when a pregnant women completes her term (1.11.3).

At another place it is written – as flies the wind, as flies the mind, as fly the winged birds, so do thou, O embryo, ten months old, fall along with the placenta.”

Different types of uterine contractions are enumerated. This is comparable to the involuntary contraction, e.g, mild continuous contractions, periodical powerful contractions and final massive contraction, which are noted during the time of labor.

I split open thy vagina, they womb, thy canals; I separate the mother and the child, along with the placenta. May the placenta fall down (1.115). The surgical method of the time during obstructed labor is described in this sukta. These are referred to here episiotomies, caesarian sections and tubectomies.

Bibliography
Hymns of Atharvaveda (1969) Maurice Bloomfield (translated) – Greenwood Press New York.
History of Medicine in India: the Medical Encounter (2005) Chittabrata Palit and Achintya Kumar Datta (eds) – Kalpaz Publications Delhi
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VII page 528 – 529 - IHRF