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India's Indigenous Medical Systems (A Cross-Disciplinary Approach)

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Item Code: NAM112
Author: Syed Ejaz Hussain and Mohit Saha
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789380607627
Pages: 362 (76 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 700 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

India’s Indigenous Medical Systems: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach brings together in one volume, essays by historians, botanists and physicians of indigenous as well as Western medicine to show how Indian medicine evolved, constantly adapting itself to the challenges posed by Western medical science. Among other thing, this volume also highlights the development of medicine and public health under the patronage of Jahangir; the efficacy of Ayurveda in combating epidemics and fatal disease; the introduction in colonial Bengal and the social resistance to it; the rich heritage of folk and tribal medicine among the tribes of Birbhum; use of traditional herbs which have now become patent drugs for curing serious ailments like jaundice; and the developments of organized documentation of ethno-botanical medicine in India. Several essays bring out how there was continuous conflict as well as collaboration between Ayurveda, Unani and Western medicine, and how each system learnt from the lack of an understanding of the human anatomy and surgery, and a disregard for scientific research have thwarted the advancement of indigenous medical systems in India.

This volume looks to add to the rapidly growing scholarship in the new and vital field of the history of medicine, in which the conventional medical systems of the Greeks, Arabs, Chinese and Indians are being explored in the context of modern scientific interpretations to see how they shaped and reshaped society through the ages.

About the Author

Syed Ejaz Hussain is professor in History at Visva-Bharati University Santiniketan West Bengal. His fields of specialization are medieval Indian history and numismatics as well as Islamic history and philosophy. Dr Hussain’s two co-edited publications include The Varied Facets of History: Essays in Honour of Aniruddha Ray (with Ishrat Alam, 2011); Mauji-i Sultani; A Memoir of the Mughal Prince Mirza Muhammad Zubairuddin Gorgani (with Surendra Gopal, 2003); and The Bengal Sultanate; Politics, Economy and Coins, AD 1205-1576 (2003).

Mohit Saha is a Senior Medical Officer at Pearson Memorial Hospital, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal. He has participated in a number of conferences on medicine and associated with several community services and public health.


Today history is not what the elders wrote; stressed and interpreted in context of land revenue and fiscal systems, peasants’ rebellion and workers’ movements or political and administrative structure, etc. Other factors also acted as the motor of change in society; production, dissemination and adoption of knowledge in general, and scientific knowledge in particular, has been the mark for the growth, survival and extinction of civilization. Medical science and health systems- conventional and modern, oriental and occidental-have also played some definite role in shaping and reshaping the society from the remote past. Greek, Arab, Chinese and Indian heritage in the medical knowledge are being explored today in context of modern scientific interpretation.

Social character and cultural polity of India is reflected in the domain of scientific and medical development of the country. The fact that India is generally termed as a ‘recipient’ society, and considering the manner in which Western science and medicine was received and perceived, exhorted the modern scholarship to explore the field of medicine and public health to find out how it was used as a tool of dominance and control in a colonial set-up. David Arnold’s Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India (1993) was a pioneering hunt in this line of enquiry. Since then the subject has been extensively and critically examined, and diverse facts and have been brought about in scores of works broadly covering the colonial phase. This framework of historical writings particularly appealed to the revisionists who worked on precolonial or more precisely medieval history of South Asia. They were encouraged to investigate and examine the status and dynamism of science and technology as also medicine in the precolonial period in India, and to trace the indigenous roots of scientific developments.

Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha have been the three major systems of indigenous medicine in India’s earliest indigenous medical system, Ayurveda, thrived on the two classical medical compendiums, i.e. Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. Ayurveda establishes that disease is a natural process and that symptoms are the reactions of the body to the disease. It forms a holistic healing science dealing not only with treatment of some diseases but projecting the system as a complete way of life. The goal of Ayurveda is prevention of disease as well as promotion of the body’s own capacity for maintenance and balance of Tridosha or the three humours. Unani moved from Greece and Rome to Alexandria, Iran and finally reached Baghdad where a new dialogue and discourse between civilizations became a hallmark in the process of history development. Learned Muslims, Christians, ‘Hindus and other translated several scientific and philosophical works including medicinal texts into Arabic in the middle of the eighth century under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphs, Harun Al-Rashid (AD-786-809) and his son Ma’mum Al-Rashid (AD 813-33).

When Mongols ravaged Persian and Central Asian cities like Shiraz, Tabrez and Geelan, a large number of scholars and physician of Unani medicine fled to India and got patronage under the Delhi Sultanate. The Delhi Sultans, the Khaljis, the Tughlaqs, the Lodis and later the Mughal Emperors took keen interest in the promotion of Unani-tibb and extended state patronage to the scholars and physicians. They also enrolled some accomplished medical practitioners as court physicians. Among them Abu Bakr bin Ali Usman Kashani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Mian Bhowa bin Khawas Khan, Ali Geelani, Akbar Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan were some of the leading physicians whose experimentations and contributions to Unani- tibb became the groundwork for the growth of the system in India. At the same time the spirit of dialogue and discourse between civilizations and institutions of knowledge was revived and rekindled in India. Ayurveda, Unani-tibb and Siddha practitioners benefited from the sharing and exchange of observations and knowledge with each other in an unbiased and cooperative manner and thus helped enrich India’s indigenous medical systems.

During the British rule, indigenous medical systems suffered a setback and their development was hampered due to withdrawal of governmental patronage. European and British Physicians like Manucci, Francois Bernier, John Fryer and John Ovington criticized the Indian physicians and surgeons for their ignorance of anatomy and surgical methods. Earlier, in the sixteenth-century Goa, the Christian medical practitioners who considered themselves the ‘doctors of soul’, initiated various works of mercy like running orphanages and educational institutions, simply as a means to achieve the ends of raison d’ etre or conversion of the entire world to Christianity. The members of the Society of Jesus and the Royal Hospital of Goa, at least, practically worked for it-as is evident from the narration of the Portuguese doctor, Garcia Orta who stayed in Goa from 1534 to 1563. But the Ayurvedic and Unani Practitioners during the Sultanate period never had any such agenda, nor did any such idea germinate in Mughal India.

In spite of the onslaught and attack by the Europeans, the indigenous medical systems enjoyed faith among the masses and continued to be practiced both in rural and urban areas, and in fact still cater to medical needs of a large chunk of the country’s population. Though there is great respect for allopathic medicine, there is immense faith in the abilities of traditional medical healers and practitioners to treat some chronic and seasonal diseases. Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and other conventional systems of healing have been undergoing several changes in the method of treatment, research and examination of drugs, control and standardization, preservation and promotion of herbal plants, mass production and supply of medicines and their advertisements through electronic and media as well as the growing concerns for community or public health. Instead of traditional examinations of the patient’s urine and stool, modern techniques of investigation such as microscopic examination, chemical analysis, radiography and electrocardiography, etc., are now encouragingly adopted and employed by the practitioners of Ayurveda and Unani.

The present volume is based on papers of a seminar on ‘India’s Indigenous Medical Systems: Historical Perspective and Contemporary Relevance’ help in the Department of History, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan. This Department offers an optional paper at the postgraduate level on History of Science and Technology which incorporates a good portion on India’s Indigenous Medical Systems especially Ayurveda and Unani. Interestingly the seminar was attended by faculty from various streams, Allopath, Ayuveda Unani, historians as well as faculty from science and humanities. They shared a common platform and exchanged their experiences and observations to best utilize for the society the knowledge and potentiality of the healing systems we have inherited. The volume incorporates a total of nineteen research papers contributed by the scholars and faculty of various streams like history, medicine and surgery, humanities, science and information technology to the achievement of this common goal.

Deepak Kumar has surveyed the history of medicine in South Asia and has raised certain pertain pertinent questions relating to collaboration and conflicts between the indigenous and Western systems. He has stressed that Ayurveda and Unani interacted with and borrowed from each other in India after the introduction of Galenic traditions in medieval period and the concept of arka had entered Ayurveda. He has argued that several Sanskrit medical texts were translated into Arabic and Persian but instances of Islamic works being translated into Sanskrit are very rare. He has also pointed out that when the Western medical system entered India, there was again a period of collaboration and conflicts; Western medicine emphasized the cause of disease using the tools of microbes and microscopes but the indigenous system laid stress on the power of resistance in human body. Still, a dialogue began between both system-indigenous and Western, but this dialogue was not real practice by the medical practitioners.


Acknowledgements vii
Introduction ix
1 History of Medicine in South Asia: Some Concerns, Some Questions 1
2 Diseases and Meddicines in the Pre-Modern World: Divergent Societies' Assessments 12
3 Rise and Decline of Surgery in Indigenous Medicine with Emphasis on Unani-tibb 53
4 Medical System during the Time of Jahangir: A Study 79
5 Situating Traditional Medicine in Modern Times: Ayurveda in Colonial Bengal 88
6 Ayurvedic Medicine in Colonial Bengal: Challenge and Response 100
7 The Old and the New of Ayurvedic Materia Medica: A Historical Perspective 114
8 Revisiting an Indigenous Medical Practice: The Tikadars in Colonial Bengal 151
9 Healing in an Indigenous Context: Leaves from the Journal of Dr Martin Honigberger in the Punjab 163
10 Clinical and Ergometric Evaluation of Terminalia Arjuna in Chronic Angina Pectoris 170
11 Fundamentals of Unani Medicine, Its Growth and Narional Scenario in Post Independent India 187
12 Unani Medicine in Indigenous Stain, with Reference to Some of Its Notable Indian Resources 201
13 Medical System in Ancient India: History, Myth or Mist!: A Contemporary Relevance 211
14 Indian Herbs and Plants for Treatment of Liver Disorder/Hepatitis B 227
15 A Brief Sketch of Anatomical knowledge and Health in Ayurveda: Its Interactions with Modern Medicine and Outcome India 241
16 Orchid Germplasm: Its Historical Perspectives, Medicinal Importance and Possible Conservation Strategies 257
17 Tribal Medicine: Traditional Therapeutic Uses of Plants among the Tribes of Birbhum District, West Bengal 267
18 Issues Relating to Ontology Design for Indian Medical System 299
19 Disease, Diet, Medicine': Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray's Writings on Food 318
Notes on Editors and Contributions 327
Index 331

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