The Unani System of Medicine has a long and impressive record in India. It was introduced in India by the Arabs and Persians sometime around the eleventh century. Today, India is one of the leading countries in so for as the practice of Unani medicine is concerned. It has the largest number of Unani educational, research and health care institutions.

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Brief History

Arab and Persian elaborations upon the Greek system of medicine by figures like Ibn Sina and al-Razi influenced the early development of Unani. The medical tradition of medieval Islam was introduced to India by the 13th century with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and it took its own course of development during the Mughal Empire, influenced by Indian medical teachings of Sushruta and Charaka. Soon after the introduction in India, the system got rooted in the country as an indigenous system of medicine. Unani physicians in India succeeded in retaining its traditional strength and also benefitting from contemporary scientific development over the years. During second half of the twentieth century, with the support of government of India, the system developed institutionalized quality education, state of the art research and an extensive network of hospitals and dispensaries for meeting the healthcare needs of the people. Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927 AD) pioneered research in Unani Medicine with modern scientific parameters in the 1920s. This lead to the significant discovery of alkaloids viz., Ajmaline, Ajmalinine, Ajmalicine, Isoajmaline, Neoajmaline and Serpentine from a native plant Rauwolfia serpentina, used extensively in Unani system of Medicine. During the British rule, Unani Medicine suffered a setback and its development was hampered due to withdrawal of governmental patronage. But since the system enjoyed faith among the masses, it continued to be practiced. It was mainly due to patronage recieved from the Sharifi family in Delhi, the Azizi family in Lucknow and the Nizam of Hyderabad that Unani Medicine survived during the British period. An outstanding physician and scholar of Unani Medicine Hakim Ajmal Khan, was one of the foremost freedom fighters in the country. He established an Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College for teaching and research in Ayurveda and Unani respectively alongwith Hindustani Dawakhana a pharmaceutical company for manufacturing of Ayurvedic and Unani medicine in Delhi in 1916. Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated the college on February 13, 1921.

Main Texts

Unani system originated in Greece. The foundation of Unani system was laid by Hippocrates. The system owes its present form to the Arabs who not only saved much of the Greek literature by rendering it into Arabic but also enriched the medicine of their day with their own contributions.

Egyptians & Babylonian Text

The history of Unani System of Medicine is traced back to ancient Egypt and Babylon. Egyptians had adopted the use of medicinal plants as remedy for ailments. They had also initiated surgery as a method of treatment. The studies of Papyri clearly show the ability of then Egyptians in the field of Medicine. Imhotep (2800 BC) and Amenhotep (1550 BC) were some noted physicians of ancient Egypt. Due to great contributions in the field of Medicine, Babylonians also occupied an important place in the history of Unani Medicine.


Hippocrates (460-370 BC) was the dominating figure of the classical period of Greek medical history. By searching the natural causes of disease and recording the existing knowledge, he set the ground for Medicine to develop it as a systematic science. A Roman scholar Galen (129-200 AD) stabilized the foundation of this science.

Arab & Persian Text

Based on Roman scholar Galen's (129-200 AD) works, Arab and Persian scholars and physicians like Rabban Tabari (775-890 AD), al-Razi (865-925 AD) and Ibn Sind (980-1037 AD) developed Unani System of Medicine to great heights. A number of Arab and Persian scholars enriched the system, among them Ibn Sina, who is also known as Avicenna. He was an Arab philosopher and physicist, who wrote Kitab-al-shifa (Book of Healing) and the Canon of Medicine. This system, earlier known as “Galenics”, later became known as Unani Tibb, (Unani being the Arabic word for “Greek” and Tibb an Arabic word for “medicine”).

Hakim Ajmal Khan

A versatile genius, Masih al-Mulk Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927 AD), pioneered research in Unani System with modern scientific parameters in the 1920s. This led to the significant discovery of the alkaloids viz., Ajmaline, Ajmalinine, Ajmalicine, Isoajmaline, Neoajmaline, Serpentine, and Serpentinine from a native plant Rauwolfia serpentina, used extensively in Unani System of Medicine.


The basic principles of Unani comprise of the Seven Natural Factors (Umur Tabiiyya), the basics of Pathology (Kulliyat-i 'Ilm al-Amrad), the Priciples of Diagnosis (Usul-i Tashkhis), the Principles of Treatment (Usul-i Ilaj).

Natural Factors (Umur Tabiiyya)

Unani System of Medicine describes man to be made up of the following 7 factors- 1. Elements (Arkan), 2. Humours (Akhlat), 3. Temperament (Mizaj), 4. Organs (Ada), 5. Pneuma (Arwah), 6. Faculties (Quwa), 7. Functions (Afal).

Elements (Arkan)

Basic elements in Unani Medicine are simple undivisible matters which provide the primary components for the human body and others. Everything in the Universe is composed of four basic elements in varying amount and proportion. Each element has two sets of basic qualities (Kayfiyat)- Hot or Cold and Dry or Wet. The four elements are Fire (Nar), Air (Hawa), Water (Ma) and Earth (Ard).

Humours (Akhlat)

The Humours are the liquid fundamental substance of living things, made up by the mixing and organic transformation of elements and thereby obtaining the ability to support biological processes i.e. life, nutrition & growth, sensation & movement and reproduction. The Humours are four in number and characterized by the dominant basic qualifies- 1. Blood (Dam)- Hot & Wet, 2. Phlegm (Balgham)- Cold & Wet, 3. Yellow Bile (Safra)- Hot & Dry, 4. Black Bile (Sawda)- Cold & Dry.

Temperament (Mizaj)

Human Beings are classifiable into four types which characterizes their entire being- body, mind and pneuma. Each type is associated with a dominant humour and named accordingly as 1. Sanguine (Damawi)- Hot & Wet, 2. Choleric (Safrawi)- Hot & Dry, 3. Phlegmatic (Balghami)- Cold & Wet, 4. Melancholic (Sawdawi)- Cold & Dry. A person's well-being and proper treatment, in case of falling ill, depends upon eating, living and medicating in light of his/her temperament.

Organs (Ada)

The physical body is made up of Organs/Tissues (Ada). They are of two types- 1. Simple (Basit) and 2. Compound (Murakkab). The simple organs are tissues like fat, bone etc. while compound organs are poly-tissue structures like heart, brain, liver etc.

Pneuma (Arwah)

The Ruh (p. Arwah) is subtle, physical substance made from the subtle components of the humours. It possesses vitality and provides life to the organism. It also acts as the seat and carrier of the physiological powers or faculties (Quwa) which are responsible for producing the corresponding physiological processes, e.g. nutrition & growth, sensation & movement etc. Man possesses three pneumas, each generated in a vital organ- 1. Vital pneuma (Ruh Haywani)- Heart, 2. Psychic Pneuma (Ruh Nafsani)- Brain, 3. Natural Pneuma (Ruh Tabii)- Liver.

Faculties (Quwa)

These are the physiological powers that give rise to corresponding physiological functions. The faculties are non-substantial powers that can exist in the organism only by subsisting in the corresponding pneuma. The primary faculties, their carrier pneuma and their functions are as follows- 1. Quwwat Tabiiyya (Natural Faculty) in Natural Pneuma - Nutrition & Growth 2. Quwwat Muwallida (Generative Faculty) in Natural Pneuma - Reproduction & Propagation of species 3. Quwwat Haywaniyya (Vital Faculty) in Vital Pneuma - Life, Respiration, Circulation & Coordination 4. Quwwat Nafsaniyya (Psychic Faculty) in Psychic Pneuma - Intelligence, Sensation & Response The faculties get drawn and attached to the corresponding pneuma as soon as the pneuma attains their proper temperament.

Functions (Afal)

They are the physiological functions and processes undergoing in organs and tissues due to the operation of faculties or physiological powers.

States of the human body

According to Unani medicine practitioners, the states of the body (Haalaat al-jism) are grouped under three headings- 1. health, in which all the functions of the body operate normally; 2. disease, the opposite of health, in which one or more forms or functions of the bodily organs are at fault; and 3. neither health nor disease, where there is neither complete health nor actual disease, such as in the case of elderly individuals or those who are convalescing. Diseases are of two types, namely simple or complex. A simple disease is one that completes its course without complications. A simple disease may manifest itself in three forms- 1. imbalance of the humours (dyscrasia); 2. structural diseases; 3. diseases of disharmony. Further categories of disease are listed in Abu Sina’s Canon of Medicine.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The diagnosis and treatment of the disease are as follows:


Classical diagnosis in Unani system is based on examination of pulse, stool and urine in addition to routine physical checkup. In accordance with its holistic vision of man and disease, Unani System of Medicine uses macroscopic parameters rather than microscopic or biochemical parameters for diagnosis. Since, its holism also takes into account the subtle level of man, therefore, Unani System of Medicine also uses subjective parameters, such as dreams. However, its diagnostic system is very sophisticated and accurate and succeeds in diagnosing diseases in a reproducible manner. Secondly, being macroscopic, it is highly economical and independent of technological paraphernalia. It also has the conceptual framework to use modem medical diagnostic means in some cases where they are useful at a secondary level. For instance, since it considers discontinuity in structure as a basic pathology, it has no hesitation in using endoscopy to see extent of gut ulceration after diagnosing the basic pathology by its macroscopic method.


Treatment is adopted when Prevention fails and disease occurs. It is mainly based upon Heterotherapy (Ilaj bi'l-Didd). Disease, which amounts to the emergence of an abnormal Temperament, is treated by applying Drugs and Non-Drug Factors with opposite Temperament. Since, Environmental Factors, Diet and even Mental States etc. either themselves possess a Temperament or affect the Temperament, the Unani System of Medicine uses these non-drug factors very frequently and extensively, on the basis of this correlation. The Unani System of Medicine has also discovered some Specific Drug Effects, arising from Essence (Surat Nawiyya) and not from the Qualities (Temperament). Therefore, it uses these Specific Drugs (Adwiya Dhu al-Khassa) also, particularly in serious diseases, as these drugs are generally more potent. The Unani System of Medicine also uses Surgery (Ilaj bil-Yad), including Ophthalmological, Gynaecological and Obstetrical Surgery.

Types of Treatment

The types of treatment can broadly be classified as:

Regimenal therapy (Ilaj bil-Tadbir)

Regimenal therapy (Ilaj bil-Tadbir) is one of the most popular methods of treatment, practised by Unani physicians since antiquity. Regimenal therapy comprises mostly non-medicinal procedures by which the lifestyles for preservation of health and treatment of disease are modulated. Ancient Unani physicians, e.g. Hippocrates, Galen, Rhazes, Avicenna, Albucasis etc. have described various regimens for the management of diseases, either independently or in combination with other therapies. These include changes in diet, physical exercise, lifestyle modification and measures to eliminate the morbid humours (Tanqiya) from the body or divert them (Imala) by Cupping (Hijarnat), Massage (Dalk), Leeching (Taliq), Venesection (Fasd), Purgation (Ishal), Emesis (Qay), Diuresis (Idrar-i Bawl), Enema (Huqna), Diaphoresis (Tarig), Expectoration (Tanfith), Counter Irritation (Ilam), Sitz Bath (Abzan) etc. Some other regimens are also used for elimination/diversion of morbid material or resolution of the inflammation, e.g. Turkish bath (Hammam), Irrigation (Natul), Fomentation (Takmid) etc.


Unani System of Medicine lays great stress on treating certain ailments by administration of specific diets or by regulating the quality and quantity of food. In addition to nutritional properties, various foods have pharmacological actions too. For example, many foods are laxative, diuretic and diaphoretic. The weakness of certain organs is corrected by administering the same organ of an animal by way of food; for instance, disorders and weakness of liver are treated by including the goat liver in the patient's diet. Likewise, heart, kidney and brain are recommended in the respective organ's treatment.


According to Unani System of Medicine, the choice of drugs for treatment is governed by three laws- (i) Quality of drug in terms of Temperament, (ii) Quantity of drug in terms of its weight and potency and (iii) Time of administration. The proper drug is that which is contrary to the nature and qualitative pattern of the disease i.e. its pathological Temperament. The weight and potency of the drug is determined by the nature of the organ; severity of the disease; and other related factors such as sex, age, weight, habit and habitat, season, built, previous treatment, and stage of the disease. The Unani System of Medicine states that the drugs have their own particular temperament due to their specific constituents. Concoctive drugs (Mundij Adwiya) are used to prepare the morbid matter for excretion, whereas Purgative drugs (Mushil Adwiya) are used to remove morbid matter through intestine. Unani drugs are used in different forms e.g. Powder (Safuf), decoction (Joshanda), infusion (Khisanda), tablet (Qurs), semisolid preparations (Jawarish, Majun, Khamira etc.).

Surgery (Ilaj bil-Yad)

Surgery (Ilaj bil-Yad) has always been a part of treatment in Unani System of Medicine since ancient times. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi described several procedures, inventions, and techniques, including thyroidectomy, extraction of cataracts, removal of kidney stones, tonsillectomy, tracheotomy, craniotomy, caesarian section, dentistry etc. In Unani System of Medicine, certain categories of drugs are used in cases needing surgical interventions, e.g. antiseptic drugs (Dafi-i Ta'affin Adwiya)- Cinnamomum camphora (Kafur), Azadirachta indica (Nim), Santalum album (Sandal) etc.; Styptic drugs (Habis-i Dam Adwiya)- Alum (Shibb Yamani), Quercus infectoria (Mazu), Polygonum bistorata (Anjibar) etc.; Wound healing drugs (Mudammil-i Quruh Adwiya)- Dracaena cinnabari (Dam al-Akhwayn), Soap stone (Sang Jarahat), Red Ochre (Geru) etc.; Anaesthetics (Mukhaddir Adwiya)- Datura innoxia (Jawz al-Mathil), Hyoscyamus alba (Ajva-in Khurasani), Lactuca sativa (Kahu) etc.; Analgesics (Musakkin-i Alam Adwiya)- Colchicum autumnale (Suranjan), Conium maculatum (Shukran), Syzygium aromaticum (Qaranfal); and Cicatrizants (Khatim Adwiya)— calcified shell (Sadaf Sokhta), Slaked lime (Ahak Maghsul), Nummulite (Shadinaj) etc.

Regulatory Authority

The Central Council of Indian Medicine

It is the statutory body constituted under the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970 vide gazette notification extraordinary part (ii) section 3(ii) dated 10.8.71.

Since its establishment in 1971, the Central Council has been framing on and implementing various regulations including the Curricula and Syllabii in Indian Systems of Medicine viz. Ayurved, Siddha and Unani Tibb at Under-graduate and Post-graduate level. The Sowa Rigpa System of Medicine is included in the Central Council of Indian Medicine from the year 2012 as per Gazette Notification No. 2345 dated 16.12.2011. Now, all the Colleges of Indian Systems of Medicine are affiliated to various Universities in the Country. These Colleges are following the minimum standards of education and Curricula and Syllabii, prescribed by Central Council.

Important Institutions


The regulatory authority as per the provisions introduced the following courses through Regulations.

Degree Course

Unani Degree Course - The degree awarded is Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS). The duration of Course is 5 years 6 months. The minimum amission qualification is 12th Standard or Fazil in Madrasa system.

PG Degree

Unani Post Graduation Degree Course - The degree awarded is MD (Unani medicine) or MS (Unani surgery). The duration of Course is 3 years. The minimum amission qualification is Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS).

PG Diploma

Unani Post Graduation Diploma Course - PG Diploma Unani in 16 specilaities. The duration of Course is 2 years. The minimum amission qualification is Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS).

Ph.D Unani

Unani Ph.D Course - Degree awarded Ph.D Unani.

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