Ashtavaidya refers to the eight families of Nambudiri Brahmins who specialize in Ayurveda in Kerala. Ashtavaidyan are eight main branches of Ayurveda in Kerala.
The term ashta (eight) in the word ashta vaidya refers to the eight branches of the discipline and also probably to the eight families practicing Ayurveda.
These Brahmins, who specialized in Ayurveda, were required to study Ashtanga Hridaya, a work by Vagbhata and interact with numerous patients with varied ailments. They treated people from all walks of the society.
These Brahmins had very little time for a secluded religious life or for rituals. Hence they were exempted from the study of the Vedas. Thus, they were known as those without Vedic knowledge (ottillattavar).
Among these Ashta Vaidyas, only Vaidyamadham had the privilege of studying the Vedas, to enter the hall of fire rituals (Yagashala) and treat even the performer of yajnas (yajamana). Members of the Alathur Vaidya family are referred to by the term Nambi
The Ashtavaidya families had Dhanvantari, Shasta and Vettakkorumakan as their family deities.Since some of the members of the ashtavaidya families married non-brahmin women of Variyar and other communities, the tradition of Ayurvedic studies in Kerala was continued by these communities too.