The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is an independent state situated between China and India. It emerged as a unified polity in the early 17th century under the rule of an exiled Tibetan religious leader and much of its elite culture, including its medical traditions, were brought from Tibet during this period. The Bhutanese Traditional Medical system subsequently evolved distinct characteristics that enable it to be viewed as a separate part of the Himalayan tradition of Sowa Rigpa (̒the science of healing̓), which includes what is now known as Tibetan Medicine. After coming under the influence of the British imperial Government of India at the beginning of the 20th century, Bhutan was occasionally visited by British Medical Officers from the Indian Medical Service, who accompanied British Political Officers on diplomatic missions there. But when the British withdrew from South Asia in 1947 there were no permanent biomedical structures or even fully qualified Bhutanese biomedical doctors in Bhutan. Since 194 7, Bhutan has evolved a state medical system in which their Traditional Medicine is an integral part and patients have the choice of treatment under traditional or biomedical practitioners. With particular reference to the role of The Institute of Traditional Medicine Services in Thimphu this paper discusses the history, structures and practices of traditional medicine in Bhutan, including its interaction with biomedicine.
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