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Acupuncture in India - A Historic View


Acupuncture has been practised in India for thousands of years as a part of Ayurveda. It is common to see Indian villagers with earrings placed at specific points in the ear, to treat diseases elsewhere in the body. Many villagers also have scars on the abdomen, as a result of cauterization carried out to treat pain in the abdomen. This is similiar to moxibuxtion or heat treatment, which is used in Chinese medicine.

There has been a rich exchange of ideas, philosophy and literature between India and China over thousands of years. Travellers and scholars from India went to China to teach and pilgrims from China came to visit Buddhist shrines and universities in India. This gave rise to the belief prevalent in many parts of India and Japan that acupuncture actually originated in India from where it spread to China.

In India, Ayurveda was a highly developed and effective system of medicine and acupuncture was only used for those diseases that did not respond to Ayurveda treatment. As there were thousands of herbs that were effective for different diseases, acupuncture was not as widely practised in India as it was in some parts of China. As explained earlier, in northwest China, very few herbs were available, so here traditional practitioners developed acupuncture into a highly advanced science.

With the onset of British rule and their promotion of the Western system of medicine, the art of acupuncture was largely lost. It was practised only by a few village doctors with a very basic knowledge of certain "effective points" which were passed down from father to son. It is only recently that there has been a resurgence of interest in acupuncture in India, fuelled by the intense worldwide awareness of its efficacy in curing a multitude of ailments.


Over the years, Acupuncture and Chinese medicine spread beyond the borders of China, to Japan and Korea, where it soon became the accepted form of medicine. Acupuncture was first introduced to these countries around two hundred years before Christ. It only became popular there after the arrival of Buddhism, which reached China about the middle of the first century A.D. Buddhism developed and spread from China to Korea and Japan between 400 A.D. and 800 A.D. Chinese medicine remained popular in Japan till the 16th Century, after which it was gradually overshadowed by influences from the West. Over the next 300 years, Western medicine overshadowed acupuncture in Japan.

In 1884, an attempt was made to wipe out acupuncture from Japan by issuing an edict prohibiting the teaching of acupuncture. This coincided with the inauguration of the medical faculty at Tokyo University. Fortunately this did not stop people from practising acupuncture, which is still practised in Japan along with Western medicine.


One of the first Western countries to show an interest in acupuncture was France. The earliest European books on acupuncture were written in the early years of the 18th century. The two most important were entitled" "The Secrets of Chinese Medicine" and the "Perfect Knowledge of the Pulse". These were written by a respected Frenchman who had lived and studied in China, but who withheld his name for fear of ridicule. Acupuncture has been practised sporadically in France over the last 200 years and is now well established.

There were also missionaries from Austria and Germany who went to China in the l7th and 18th centuries and learnt the art of acupuncture. They returned to their own countries and started schools and institutes for acupuncture, some of which flourish to this day.

However, acupuncture did not become popular in the West till the second half of the 2Oth century. Acupuncture received the attention of the world after President Nixon went to China in 1971 and the journalists accompanying him publicised the practice and efficacy of acupuncture in various American magazines.

Acupuncture is now rapidly gaining popularity and is being practised all over the world. The introduction of modern scientific instruments like lasers and ultrasound and their use by acupuncturists have led to the integration of modem technology with ancient Chinese methods to give us a science that is effective and up to date.

Acupuncture, like allopathy, homeopathy or ayurveda is a complete system of medicine. Like other systems of medicine it has a treatment for almost every disease and like each of these, it is extremely effective in treating some diseases, but not so effective in others. Subsequent chapters describe some ailments that respond better to acupuncture than to any other system of medicine.