From Lebensreform to Swadeshi

Vithal Das Modi and the Development of Nature Cure in India

In: Asian Medicine
Joseph S. Alter University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA USA

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As an institutionalized “indigenous” system of medicine in India, nature cure derives directly from ideas and practices developed within the rubric of Lebensreform, a radical, back-to-nature health reform movement that took shape in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century central Europe. Nature cure developed in twentieth-century India as a deeply embodied manifestation of Swadeshi, a social, cultural, and anticolonial political movement intimately concerned with independence and liberation. Significant parallels between Lebensreform and Swadeshi point toward an understanding of medicine based on the habitus of class and global countercultural practices. Using examples from the work of Adolf Just and other Germans writing at the turn of the nineteenth century and the case of Arogya Mandir, a nature cure hospital established by Vithal Das Modi in Gorakhpur in 1940, this essay examines how the radical, utopian ideals of Lebensreform were translated into institutionalized medical practice that facilitated the embodiment of Swadeshi as a political philosophy of health reform in colonial India.

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