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Hakim Abdul Hameed. 1990. Exchanges between India and Central Asia in the Field of Medicine Especially During the Mughal Period. In Interaction Between Indian And Central Asian Science And Technology In Mediaeval Times (Eds.) W.H. Abdi et al. Vol. II. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy. Pp. 19-47.

Brief Review by

Manikant Shah

In recent years there have been increasing attempts to study the indigenous knowledge systems in India. The present monograph in which the above paper appears has been jointly produced by the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi and the USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow. As its name suggests, the monograph is an attempt to bring to light the Interaction between Indian and Central Asian Science and Technology in Mediaeval Times. It is a useful book that tries to lend insights into the fields of medicine, technology, arts and crafts, architecture and music that were enriched as a result of the interaction between India and the Central Asian regions.

The paper contributed by Hakim Abdul Hameed falls in the section devoted to such interactions in the field of medicine. As the title of the paper suggests, one would have expected, exchanges of knowledge between the Indian and the Central Asian regions. However, Hameed treats the knowledge in the field of medicine in India cursorily and seems to focus more on the medicinal knowledge largely brought into India by the Central Asian visitors during the period of the Mughals. The history of the interaction between India and the Central Asian regions goes back to the earliest times as is also pointed out in the preface to the second volume of this monograph: ‘(in) the ancient and mediaeval times the so called political boundaries of Central Asia shifted from time to time but they had little relevance while considering movement of the peoples and ideas over the centuries. This region witnessed from the earliest times the migration and march of varied groups of people.’

Hameed divides the period of such interaction into four phases beginning from the 7th century: (i) from the 7th Century to 1220 i.e. from the Arab conquest of Central Asia to the overthrow of Central Asian states particularly Bukhara by Chingez Khan in 1220; (ii) from 1220 to 1370 i.e. from Chingez Khan's conquest of Central Asia to the rise of Timur; (iii) from 1370 to 1526 i.e. from the rise of Timur to the advent of Babur in India; and (iv) from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century. In this paper Hameed is concerned largely with the fourth phase alone, where he discusses these interactions under the Mughals.

Hameed does not tell us about the interactions between the two regions earlier than the 7th century and does not even tell us of the state of Indian medicinal knowledge at that time. Of interaction during the earlier three phases as enumerated by him, he only refers to the translations of the Indian works into Arabic. He says, ‘When the Abbasid Caliphs evinced interest in Indian sciences and invited Indian scholars to work in the bureau of translation, a new source of transmission of Indian ideas to Central Asia came into prominence…. In 770 A. D. Brahamsphuta-Sidhhanta of Brahmagupta was translated into Arabic as Al-Sind Hind. Similarly other Sanskrit works on astronomy like Aryabhatiya and Arya Siddhanta (of Aryabhata, 499 A.D.) were rendered into Arabic as Arkand or Zij-i Arjabhar. Through these works the Siddhanta astronomy reached Central Asia and many Indian astronomical mathematical concepts found currency there. An example of the latter is Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 835 A.D.) book on Indian arithmetic or methods of calculation. He writes, ‘Indian medical ideas, herbs and methods of treatment were also transmitted from Baghdad to distant parts of the Caliphate. Manka who had cured Caliph Harun ul-Rashid, was appointed as in-charge of the Bureau of Translation for rendering Sanskrit works on medicine into Arabic. Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) frequently refer to the earliest works on medicine by Caraka and Susruta in their works. In the 14th century.’ Apart from this there is no more mention of the ancient Indian medicinal knowledge and the paper goes on to describe a one way incursion of the Central Asian medicinal knowledge into India that went on to develop into the Unani system of medicine in India. Hameed writes, ‘during 11th and 13th centuries, the Ghuzz and Mongol invasions threw a large number of people into India. When Chingez Khan tore the social and political fabric of Central Asia to pieces and razed all its buildings, mosques, madrasahs etc, to ground, a large number of men belonging to different walks of life came to India to hide their heads under safer places. They not only supplied personnel to the nascent Delhi Sultanate but also planted the traditions of Muslim scholarship in India. Many distinguished families, which played a vital role in the cultural history of India during medieval period, came from Central Asian towns of Bukhari, Samarqand, Nakhshab, Nuhmera… etc.’

From here Hameed goes on to describe the various men of letters and medicine that came to India under the different rulers and adorned the courts of these rulers. We are informed that under Babur, the first Mughal ruler, there was Hakim Amir Abu'l Baqa', one of the early physicians who came to the court of Babur. He was a close confidant of the Emperor, well versed in both medicine and philosophy and was also famous for his depth of knowledge. He also lived in the reign of Emperor Humayun for a long time. In the same manner Hakim Yusuf bin Muhammad bin Yusuf al-Heravi has also been described.

Next to Babur is Akbar under whom various visiting scholars have been so described: Hakim Shams ul-Din Gilani, Hakim Amir Faihullah Shirazi, Hakim Masih ul-din Abul Fath Gilani, Hakim Ain-ul-Mulk Shirazi, Hakim Najib ul-din Humam, Hakim Nur ul-din Qarari, Hakim Lutfullah, Hakim Ali Gilani, Hakim Faghfur Lahijani, Hakim Muzaffar B. Muhammad Al-Husayni Al-Shifai, Hakim Hadhiq, Hakim Muhammad Amin Gilani, Hakim Muhammad Nafis Gilani, Hakim Zanbil, Hakim Hassan Gilani, Hakim Dawai, Hakim Nizam ul-din Ahmad Gilani, Hakim Muhammad Baqar, Hakim Jabrail and many others. The description is brief and tells us about their personal lives and the importance given to them by the court and the emperor. They were expert physicians, therefore their contribution to the field of medicine in India is undoubted, but perhaps more could be told about identification and recognition of flora, fauna and therapies in India. This would have given a truer perspective of the interaction between the two regions that the paper wishes to explore. The paper further goes on to describe in a similar manner the physicians, scholars and medicine men all from the Central Asian regions that served under emperors Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. 

It is of course important to know the various scholars who served under the Mughal emperors but it would have been much more useful to find out about how these people contributed to the indigenous system of medicine or whether they borrowed something for their medicine systems from local scholars and texts. In the absence of such facts it is difficult to delineate a balanced perspective on interaction between the two regions. Although the Unani system of medicine had a parallel development with that of the indigenous Ayurvedic system, it is a recorded fact that the antiquity of Ayurveda goes far beyond the medicine systems of Central Asia. Even in the 4th Century AD context the famous Bower Manuscript on Indian medicine system was found in Turkestan. And Carak Samhita goes back to the middle of the First Millennium BC.