The Asiatic Society has started republishing rare books

 In Urban Conservation (Asiatic Society)

The Asiatic Society is doing all that it can to preserve ageing, decaying manuscripts. It has also taken up the task of reproducing certain old treatises so that the knowledge contained in them is not lost to posterity. One of the rare books that it has just republished is “Colloquies on The Simples & Drugs of India” by Garcia da Orta (1490- 1570). Senior member Dr. Ram Lele has written an elaborate foreword to the book. Here are the introductory passages of the foreword: “Garcia studied medicine at a Spanish University (from 1515 to 1525), served as a village doctor (1526-1532) and then as a lecturer in Lisbon University till 1534 when he travelled to India, arriving here in September, 1534. He and practiced as a physician in India for 36 years.

“This rare book was published in April, 1563 and was the third book ever to be printed in India. The first was a Catechism by St. Francis Xavier (1557) and the second was Compendio espirituel by Dr. Pereira, the first Archbishop of Goa. Garcia da Orta died in Goa in 1570. “The standard edition of Garcia de Orta was published in 1891 and the second one in 1895. The book contains chapters on 59 plants and simples and 23 plates showing whole plants.

“Da Orta referred to quality of drugs in terms of fire (hot and dry), air (hot and moist), water (cold and moist) and earth (cold and dry) – concepts common to Ayurveda as well as Greek-Roman medicine. He knew personally all the plants within his reach from which drugs were derived. Interestingly, Orta means a garden in Portuguese. “In his introduction, Clements R. Markham (July 20, 1913) states: “This work is a great value owing to its giving the first description of plants and drugs to the natives of India.” This comment reveals colossal ignorance of the British Rulers about the ancient Indian heritage. All herbs mentioned by Orta are right there in “Dravya Guna Sangraha” edited by Vaidya V.M. Gogte which contains sketches of 350 Indian herbal plants with full descriptions.”

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