Nose-job, the ancient Indian way

Getting rid of disfigurement through a plastic surgery is not new, Indians seem to have known since atleast 650 BCE. The ancient gladiators of Europe were thankful to the Indians and so were the Kings, for a grafted piece of skin could turn itself into a nose and return the lost honour.

Nose is often associated with pride and that is why punishment for sins was to chop it off so that it serves as a lesson for others in the polite society. A soldier’s nose met the same fate during battles. On one such occasion in 1792, during the 3rd anglo-Mysore war, an Indian soldier who was working for the British, faced the wrath of Tipu Sultan’s soldiers. The Indian soldier’s name is mentioned as Cowasjee in the British journals mention, albeit the real name was Kosaji. He belonged to the Maratha region. After he was released from the prison of Tipu, he headed straight to a potter. The potter’s name was Kumhar Vaidya (Kumhar means potter, Vaidya means physician). Apparently, back in those days people with manual dexterity, like potters and barbers etc were the ones who would perform such surgeries. This so because golden era of Indian surgery had diminished with the rise of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent, a Buddhist scripture called Mahavagga jataka, had placed strict prohibitions on surgeries. Kosaji was lucky he knew the potter who recreated his nose through a skin-grafting process, using skin from his forehead and a wax template of the desired nose shape. Two Biritish surgeons who witnessed it were shocked and soon Kosaji’s before and after picture circulated in Britain and finally made it to the Gentlemen’s magazine.

There was another example where a woman’s nose was reconstructed using the butt skin. But in this case the thicker butt skin was prepared by flaying it so that it would swell, and then would be easier to graft.  The reason why skin was not used from forehead in this case is not hard to guess, as removing forehead skin would have left a wound on the forehead too.

These methods soon found their way to Britain and the 1st nose-job in Britain was done on 22nd October 1814, Joseph Constantine Carpue.  This came to be knowns as the Hindu method. Albeit in Italy it was being practiced as early 16th century by Gaspare Tagliacozzi of Bologna, who had become familiar with the techniques described in Sushruta Samhita. The methods described by the great sage Sushruta travelled to Europe through Indian & Arab traders, Buddhists and through spies.

It is said that in 695 AD, the Roman Byzantine emperor– Justinian II whose nose was chopped off during a coup, managed to get it fixed by a travelling Indian surgeon. A few years later, he not just regained his kingdom but also his honour—nose’s honour. Whilst British got their hands on Sushruta Samhita through a Turkish origin spy who sold a birch bark manuscript to a British officer. The manuscript when deciphered later, was found to be Sushruta’s work.

Rhinoplasty, as the nose-job is now known, was first performed by this ancient Indian called Sushruta, the original father of plastic surgery. He had in his book mentioned 1,100 surgeries which included cataract surgery, hernia repair, C-section (caesarian) deliveries by women, and also bladder stone removal. Since anesthesia was not used back then, a certain wine was given to the patients to make them unconscious. The nose’s empty portion was measured with a leaf and a flap of skin of the same size was removed from the forehead. The dissected flap of skin was then placed on the nose and molded & stitched with the support of cheeks. Later the wound was sprinkled with a powder of licorice, red sandal-wood, and barberry plant. Finally, it was to be covered with cotton, and clean sesame oil was applied intermittently.

The procedure was miraculously simple and effective. Over the centuries, the method was passed down from father to son and then the restrictions were placed on surgeries by Buddhism. Two ancient Indian medical texts —Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita, were translated to Arabic during during the Abbasid Caliphate in 750 AD.

Not many within the Indian subcontinent are aware that the medical procedure for the “nose-job” was first practiced here. But the 1st man who recorded his findings on birch bark, did so only with the intention of spreading knowledge. No wonder ancient India was the fountain head from where the knowledge spread to other continents. Naman to the ancient Sanatanis!

(Naman means to pay respect, Santani is ancient name for followers of Hinduism)

An article by Levina

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