At the end of the nineteenth century, the British colony, the then Ceylon, had a system of Indigenous medicine, but no College to provide indigenous medical education. Three associations or bodies that were formed had done the preliminary work for the preservation of traditional medical knowledge and to protect and uphold the professional status of those engaged in practicing oriental medical system. These associations are “The Sinhalese Medical Association (1891), Sri Lanka Vaidya Maha Mandalaya (1901) , and Sri Lanka Samaja Prathisanskarana Sangamaya (1915). Eminent personalities such as, Sir Solaman R. Dias Bandaranaike, F.R. Senanayake, K. Balasingham, Donald Ubhayasekera and Ananda Coomaraswamy, the great patriots were involved in creating a fund for this purpose.
In 1926, for the first time, a committee that looked into the indigenous medical system proposed that a college should be established with an adjoining teaching hospital, to provide training to those who are keen to pursue this system of medicine. The then States Council (Rajya Manthrana Sabhawa) appointed an Advisory Council titled’ Ayurveda Sammelana Sabha’ in 1928 with Dr K. Balasingham as its Chairperson. Based on this Committee’s recommendation , an Institute named “Swadeshiya Vaidya Vidyalaya” (Indigenous Medical College) was established on 10th June 1929, and it was inaugurated by the then Governor General of Ceylon, Sir Herbert James Stanley, at the Bauer building situated at Cotta Road, Borella. Dr A.N.N Panikkar from India who had western medical qualification and who possessed a Sound training in Ayurveda Sciences was brought down to the newly established College by the then Government as its first Principal. Similarly, Dr H.M. Jaffer and Dr H. Ahamed were also brought down from India to develop Unani system of medicine.
Another milestone in the field of indigenous medical system was the enactment of Indigenous Medical Ordinance No. 17 of 1941. Hon S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike as the Minister of Health and the Chairperson of the Indigenous Medical Advisory Council had brought the legislation to uplift the quality of teaching at the College with a national standard. In 1961, the Ayurveda Act No. 31 of 1961 was enacted by repealing the Indigenous Medical Ordinance No. 17 of 1941 and the College was renamed as the Government College of Indigenous Medicine and came under the management of the Ayurveda College and Hospital Board. This was a step taken to uphold the quality of ayurveda health care delivery and the systems of education in Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. Four Statutory Boards namely, Ayurveda Medical Council, the Ayurveda College and Hospital Board, Ayurveda Research Committee and Ayurveda Drug Formulary Committee were created.
In 1963,the Diploma in Indigenous Medicine & Surgery (DIMS), the qualification hitherto named was changed to that of the Diploma in Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery (DAMS) under the new Ayurveda Act.
In 1977, the College of Indigenous Medicine was absorbed as the Institute of Indigenous Medicine and affiliated to the University of Colombo under the University Act No. 1 of 1972. This was done by the Institute of Ayurveda Statute No. 1 of 1977, published in the Government Gazettee Extraordinary bearing number 258 of March 30, 1977. The objective of this step was to produce qualified medical practitioners in the field of Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha medical systems. Institute of Indigenous Medicine Ordinance No. 7 of 1979 published in the Government Gazettee Extraordinary bearing No. 67/14 dated 21.12.1979 under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. With this enactment, the Siddha section was transferred and affiliated to the University of Jaffna.
The Institute under the affiliation to the University of Colombo, many changes have been made in the syllabus with the approval of the Senate of the University. One such major revision was in 1982 where the assistance of specialists in various sections in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani for which expert advises were obtained from Prof. P.N.V. Kurup, Advisor on Ayurveda of the World Health Organization.
With the establishment of the Institute in 1977, imparting instructions under the two degree programmes, i.e. Degree of Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) and the Degree of Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS) commenced under two sections of the Institute and the first batch graduated in 1983. These degrees were conferred at the convocation of the University of Colombo held in 26.10.1992.
Since inception, the National Ayurveda Teaching Hospital at Borella has been the centre to provide resources for imparting practical knowledge and skills, particularly in the clinical setting. The Institute has the strength of postgraduate qualified academic staff who undertake teaching responsibilities and 23 different subject areas are now taught during the five academic years. The syllabi contain study material on Ayurveda/ Unani and other related sciences to produce a competent indigenous medical graduate. Each academic year consists of thirty (30) weeks teaching during three terms, with two mid term vacations. At the end of each academic year, annual examinations are held. Each examination consists of a written, viva-voce and practical/ clinical components.