How world learnt the art of plastic surgery


Around 600 BC in the historic town of Kashi, popularly known as Benaras, there lived an  old man. No one knew of his past or birth or whereabouts, he just seemed to have come from nowhere and come for a reason…to pass on a magnificent art which only he seemed to have known on the planet at the time. Rumours had it that he was the disciple of Dhanwantari, the physician of the gods and perhaps he descended on earth from the gods’ abode as an old man only. The old man was Sushruta, the ancient Indian surgeon who is recognised for his innovative method of rhinoplasty, extracapsular lens extraction in cataract, anal and dental surgeries.

Sushruta would sit by the shore of Ganges at night, and wait for the corpses (which were offered to the river) to flow downstream. He would then make his students practice on those corpses the technique of surgery and surgical implants. His students were from the potter community and while Sushruta left, his legacy was passed down the generations of potters for very many centuries. It is from an Indian potter, that the young English Surgeon JC Carpue caught on to the idea of a nose replacement, and taught the rest of the world the art of plastic surgery.


The story goes like this…

In the time period from 1769 AD to 1799 AD, many wars were fought between the British and Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. On one occasion, Tipu Sultan captured Kawasaji, a Maratha cart driver who had served the British, along with four Indian soldiers of the British Army and as was customary, cut off their noses for serving the enemy. The captives were then returned to the English Command.

Some days later, an English officer was dealing with an Indian merchant, when he noticed that the merchant had a peculiar nose and a triangular scar on his forehead. Upon enquiring he found out that the merchant’s nose had also been cut by Sultan and he had got it substituted by a Maratha vaidya of potter caste.

Fascinated, the officer sent for the vaidya and asked him to reconstruct the noses of Kawasaji and the four Indian soldiers in the presence of two English doctors. An illustrated account of this operation, where a flap of skin from the forehead was used to construct the nose, was reproduced in the October 1794 Issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine of London (see figure 1 & 2).

Following this incident, the English Surgeon JC Carpue researched on the Indian nose and performed two successful operations based on it from 1814 to 1816 AD. Simultaneously, translations of Sushruta Samhita (a 600 BC Sanskrit treatise by Sushruta dealing with surgery which details 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants and 121 preparations, much before Hippocrates) were popularised by German scholars of Sanskrit throughout Europe. Thus, Nasa-sandhana of Sushruta became the precursor of Rhinoplasty and till date all operations which involve replacement of skin from immediate vicinity of loss are known as ‘Indian Plastic Surgery’.


“Was Susruta’s Nasa Sandhana Developed into Rhinoplasty?”- Ebnezar J Yogitha, Ebnezar John.

Published in International Journal of Ayurveda and Pharma Research, 2014; 2(1): 109-111

Tulika Sharma

Tulika Sharma

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