The Atharvaveda, a sacred text of Hinduism dating from the Early Iron Age, is the first Indian text dealing with medicine, like the medicine of the Ancient Near East based on concepts of the exorcism of demons and magic. The Atharvaveda also contain prescriptions of herbs for various ailments. The use of herbs to treat ailments would later form a large part of Ayurveda. In the first millennium BCE, the world's first scientific system of medicine emerges known as Ayurveda, literally meaning the science of life. Ayurveda is the literate, scholarly system of medicine that originated in post-Vedic India. Its two most famous texts belong to the schools of Charaka, born c. 600 BCE, and Sushruta, born 600 BCE.

While these writings display some limited continuities with the earlier medical ideas known from the Vedas, historians have been able to demonstrate direct historical connections between early Ayurveda and the early literature of the Buddhists and Jains.

The earliest foundations of Ayurveda were built on a synthesis of traditional herbal practices together with a massive addition of theoretical conceptualizations, new nosologies and new therapies dating from about 400 BCE onwards, and coming out of the communities of thinkers who included the Buddha and others.

According to the compendium of Charaka, the Charakasamhita, health and disease are not predetermined and life may be prolonged by human effort. The compendium of Susruta, the Susrutasamhita defines the purpose of medicine to cure the diseases of the sick, protect the healthy, and to prolong life. Both these ancient compendia include details of the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments. The Susrutasamhita is notable for describing procedures on various forms of surgery, including rhinoplasty, the repair of torn ear lobes, perineal lithotomy, cataract surgery, and several other excisions and other surgical procedures. Most remarkable is Sushruta's penchant for scientific classification: His medical treatise consists of 184 chapters, 1,120 conditions are listed, including injuries and illnesses relating to ageing and mental illness. The Sushruta Samhita describe 125 surgical instrument, 300 surgical procedures and classifies human surgery in 8 categories.

The Ayurvedic classics mention eight branches of medicine: kayacikitsa (internal medicine), salyacikitsa (surgery including anatomy), salakyacikitsa (eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases), kaumarabhrtya (pediatrics), bhutavidya (spirit medicine), and agada tantra (toxicology), rasayana (science of rejuvenation), and vajikarana (aphrodesiacs, mainly for men). Apart from learning these, the student of ayurveda was expected to know ten arts that were indispensable in the preparation and application of his medicines: distillation, operative skills, cooking, horticulture, metallurgy, sugar manufacture, pharmacy, analysis and separation of minerals, compounding of metals, and preparation of alkalis. The teaching of various subjects was done during the instruction of relevant clinical subjects. For example, teaching of anatomy was a part of the teaching of surgery, embryology was a part of training in pediatrics and obstetrics, and the knowledge of physiology and pathology was interwoven in the teaching of all the clinical disciplines. The normal length of the student's training appears to have been seven years. But the physician was to continue to learn.

As an alternative form of medicine in India, Unani medicine got deep roots and royal patronage during medieval times. It progressed during Indian sultanate and mughal periods. Unani medicine is very close to Ayurveda. Both are based on theory of the presence of the elements (in Unani, they are considered to be fire, water, earth and air) in the human body. According to followers of Unani medicine, these elements are present in different fluids and their balance leads to health and their imbalance leads to illness.