Father of Surgery

This post is in continuation to the previous one titled Three stages of scientific discovery.

At this age, we have an abundance of information on the origin of plastic surgery or surgery in general. In fact, I do not even need to give you a reference to ancient Indian scientists who adequately documented surgical procedures, including cataract surgeries. Charaka and Sushruta, two famous doctors, earned great fame in their fields, even before the birth of some civilizations who are currently claiming the discovery!

The knowledge they discovered through the trial-and-error method was transferred from generation to generation through both inheritances and formal education. For example, the nasal reconstruction procedure (seems) to be a standard routine during medieval India. But it looks like it was totally unknown to the west during then. And you know how all these validations work? Until it appears in one of the western publications, the legitimacy can be questioned freely and even denied.

Luckily for Sushruta, the certification was issued after 2000 years of his death. It came in the form of a report published in 1794 in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which describes the surgery of one Cowasjee.

Cowasjee was employed as a soldier in the British army. Unfortunately, he was one of those captured by Tipu Sultan’s Army during the Third Anglo-Mysore War. Unlike modern India, where even caught terrorists get to eat Biriyanis in lock-up, the medieval world wasn’t so kind. The soldier was, among others, were severely mutilated.

Lieutenant of Cowasjee probably wanted him to fight another battle for them and make himself useful. This led to shipping him to Pune to a cobler whose name appeared in word-of-mouth endorsements. Remember this, he was a cobler and not a doctor or a surgeon. Stitching dead goat leather is one thing and fixing live human skin is an entirely different thing. Apparently, to everyone’s surprise, they were not that different during 1794. The doctor set his nose with the skin removed from his forehead in the presence of awestruck British scribes, soldiers and career bureaucrats.

Nasal reconstructions had been practised as a relatively routine procedure in India for centuries. This was driven by the common use of nasal mutilation in India as a means of punishment or private vengeance for various forms of immorality. The procedures are described in two well-known early Indian medical works, the Suśruta Saṃhitā, thought to date to the middle of the first millennium BCE, and the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā, believed to date from the sixth century CE*. By the nineteenth century the technique had been handed down through separate families in three different parts of India.

Rhinoplasty by transfer of skin flaps from other body parts had also been practiced in Italy in the sixteenth century, most famously by the Bolognese surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi (1545-1599). The Indian technique probably spread to Italy via Arabic scholarship – it is probable that the Suśruta Saṃhitā was translated into Arabic in the later 8th century CE on the orders of the Vizier Yahya ibn Khalid.

– a couple of paragraphs from a blog post named Britain’s first nose job from British Library.

It is adequately registered through various sources that Arab enthusiast had translated procedures discovered by Sushruta and Charaka’s. So, any Arab surgeon a Millennium later had ready-made SOP to start with.

Statue of SushrutaRACS, Melbourne through wikipedia

Now, remember, we Indians, at least some of us, are still hold the mindset of “Nothing good came out of this sub-continent, we have invaders to thank for whatever we are”!

For these reasons , some of our history textbooks still point out to an Arab as the father of a Surgery!!

11 thoughts on “Father of Surgery

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information. Loved reading your post. The way you pick topics from the past and test them them in the present perspective using your erudition makes it an awesome read!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Deepak, I enjoy doing that. The indic culture and value are underreported in media and understated in academia and media. I attempt as much as I can. Readers such as you give me more and more validation that I am on right path calling them out. Thanks for being a regular reader and patron.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s