Indian Journal of Medical Ethics


Do Ayurveda students need a course in Medical Astrology?

Published online first on January 4, 2023. DOI:10.20529/IJME.2023.001

Ayurveda is based largely upon two classics — Charaka-Samhita, representing the school of medicine, and Sushruta-Samhita representing that of surgery. These two texts mark the historic switch in the Indian medical tradition, from faith-based therapeutics to its reason-based variant [1]. The Charaka-Samhita, which acquired its present form in circa 1st century CE, uses two remarkable terms to designate the distinctness of these approaches: daiva-vyapashraya (literally, dependence on the unobservable) and yukti-vyapashraya (dependence on reason) [2].

The switch from faith to reason, however, did not happen as a sudden disruptive event. It was a gradual transition spread over several centuries starting circa 8th century BCE [3]. It achieved a marked finality by 1st century CE. Such a gradual transition, though not unremarkable for the paradigm-shift it takes towards rationality, must be expected to retain certain vestiges of an earlier world view. Despite being overwhelmingly reason-based in their orientation, the works of Charaka and Sushruta thus contain isolated references to faith-based practices. Alongside lengthy descriptions of drugs, diets, and lifestyle measures to counter diseases, passing references to religious rituals also find a place in these texts.

The progress towards evidence-based reasoning that the Ayurveda pioneers achieved was sustained for about a millennium. Thereafter, starting roughly around the 10th century CE, this medical system suffered a long phase of intellectual and experimental stagnation. At the dawn of the 20th century, the spirit of Swadeshi coupled with the influence of modern science was expected to revitalise Ayurveda’s rational mores. But that was not to be. A wrong understanding of Indian philosophy by thought-leaders in the field led to an unwitting replacement of the rational with the mystical [4]. Shabda-vyapashraya (dependence on authority) replaced Yukti-vyapashraya (dependence on reason).

The tyranny of Shabda-vyapashraya seems to continue unabated. The recent move by the National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (NCISM) to introduce “Medical Astrology” as an elective for Ayurveda students is a case in point [5]. NCISM, the apex body with an explicit mandate to “encourage medical professionals to adopt the latest medical research in their work,” has ironically enrolled over 700 students for its online course on medical astrology. The course description on its official website ( reads:

    “It’s believed that during olden days Astrology was a flourishing branch of studies. In history there are many recorded incidents of accurate prediction of future events. Medical Astrology is subject which discusses one’s likely diseases based on birth charts and planetary positions. In the subject some real life case studies have been included to re-emphasize the topics covered… (sic).

    By studying this subject interested students will be able to correlate patient’s sickness with Astrological conditions and also prescribe parallel alternate treatment. Interested students can also pursue the subject on their own.”[5]

Sporadic references to the usefulness of astrology in prognosticating and managing illnesses are indeed found in the Ayurveda classics. But, as M S Valiathan notes, “the use of mantras was infrequent, and astrology played a minimal, if not nil, role” in Ayurveda’s approach to the practice of medicine [6].

Thanks to the biased perspectives of politically powerful lobbies, truth and scholarship have little bargaining power. Vestiges of faith-based practices are now again seeking to take centre stage in Ayurveda. Lobbyists for such practices do not realise that they are only insulting the epistemological strengths of this ancient science.

That astrology does not work has been repeatedly shown in numerous studies — both theoretical and experimental [7]. Years ago, when the University Grants Commission issued a missive that “there is an urgent need to rejuvenate the science of Vedic astrology,” there was a long debate on the issue in Current Science. Contributing to the debate, Yash Pal sarcastically wrote: “It is suggested that doctors will gain through the study of Vedic astrology. Some of them might not be able to spare the time to get a PhD in this field, but uncertainties about diagnosis and treatment of disease would be removed even after a certificate course because we would know what Time has in store for the patient.” [8]

With charlatanry deciding what university students must learn, one wonders what Time has in store for Ayurveda.

G L Krishna (, Homi Bhabha Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012, INDIA.


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  2. Yadavasharma, ed. Vimanasthanam 8/87 In: Ayurveda Deepika commentary on Charaka Samhita. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers; 1992.
  3. Editors. Ayurveda. In: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Cited 2022 Dec 31. Available from:
  4. Krishna GL. The history of a superstition. Curr Sci. 2019 July 10;117(1): 9.
  5. National Commission for Indian System of Medicine. Introduction to Medical Astrology. Date unknown [Cited 2022 Dec 31]. Available from:
  6. Valiathan MS. An Ayurvedic view of Life. Curr Sci. 2009 May 10[Cited 2022 Dec 31];96(9):1186-1192. Available from:
  7. Komath M. Testing astrology. Curr Sci. 2009 June 25; 96(12):1568-1572.
  8. Pal Y. UGC decides to set up departments of Vedic astrology in universities. Curr Sci. 2001 May 10;80(9):1087.