Politics of Knowledge in the Debates on Toxicity in Ayurvedic Medicines

Recent Controversies over Bhasmas

in Asian Medicine
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


In the last decade, a controversy has arisen over a specific type of herbo-mineral ayurvedic preparations called bhasmas (Skt. bhasman). The controversy mainly concerned serious complications or even the death of patients after having taken these medicines. Since these medicines were metal-based preparations, and specifically included lead or mercury, their toxicity was interpreted as causing the patients’ suffering. In response to that, in public discourse a plethora of writing on the issue of toxicity in ayurvedic medicines ensued, both accusatory and defensive in tone. This laid out the potential for their condemnation, with serious implications for their credibility, not to speak of their markets. This article attempts to analyse this writing, focusing mainly on the academic publications, from the perspective of the politics of knowledge. It will argue that hierarchies in the epistemologies of medical knowledge systems guide the scientific analysis of these herbo-mineral preparations, some of which contain mercury, illustrating how this happens through publications that are unequivocally critical of bhasmas, those that are defensive of them, and those that indicate a median position. It will also analyse the possible regulatory and manufacturing regimes that can emerge when a certain kind of balanced analysis informs policy-making. Focusing on the modes of translation between epistemologies of different knowledge systems that have characterised the process of making ‘traditional’ knowledge contemporary, it shows how this principally reflects the hierarchy between dominant and marginal knowledge on an everyday basis, affecting most production and marketing decisions, that backfire not only on specific products, but affect an evaluation of the system as a whole.

Politics of Knowledge in the Debates on Toxicity in Ayurvedic Medicines

Recent Controversies over Bhasmas

in Asian Medicine



BanerjeeM. Power Knowledge Medicine 2009 Hyderabad Orient Blackswan

BodeM. Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market: The Modern Image of the Ayurvedic and Unani Industry 1980–2000 2008 Hyderabad Orient Blackswan

ChaudharyA. ‘Challenges in Pharmaceutics and Therapeutics of Rasaoushadhies (Bio-mineral Preparations) of Ayurveda—A Strategy Ahead’ 2012 last accessed 17 December 2013 Lecture presented at the World Ayurveda Congress December 2012 Bhopal, India URL: <http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/anand7000-1623268-challenges-manufacturing-rasaoushadhies-ofayurveda/>

ChaudharyA.SinghN.KumarN. ‘Pharmacovigilance: Boon for Safety and Efficacy of Ayurvedic Formulations’ Journal of Ayurveda & Integrative Medicine 2010 1 4 251 6

Dahanukar S. A.KapadiaA. B.KarandikarS. M. ‘Influence of Trikatu on Rifampicin Bioavailability’ Indian Drugs 1982 19 271 3

DarganP. I.GawarammanaI. B.ArcherJ. R. H.HouseI. M. ‘Heavy Metal Poisoning from Ayurvedic Traditional Medicines: An Emerging Problem?’ International Journal of Environment and Health 2008 2 3/4 463 74

Government of India Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India 1962 Ministry of Health New Delhi

GunturuK. S.NagarajanP.McPhedranP.GoodmanT. R. ‘Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine and Lead Poisoning’ Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2011 4 51 doi: 10.1186/1756-8722-4-51

KalesS. N.SaperR. B. ‘Ayurvedic Lead Poisoning: An Under-Recognized, International Problem’ Indian Journal of Medical Sciences 2009 last accessed 29 November 2013 63 9 379 81 URL: <http://www.indianjmedsci.org/text.asp? 2009/63/9/379/56108>

KalesS. N.ChristophiC. A.SaperR. B. ‘Hematopoietic Toxicity from Lead-containing Ayurvedic Medications’ Medical Science Monitor 2007 13 7 CR295 CR298

KapoorR. C. ‘Some Observations on the Metal-based Preparations of Indian Systems of Medicine’ Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 2010 9 3 562 75

KochI.MoriartyM.HouseK.SuiJ. ‘Bioaccessibility of Lead and Arsenic in Traditional Indian Medicines’ Science of the Total Environment 2011 409 21 4545 52

KrishnamacharyB.RajendranN.PemiahB.KrishnaswamyS. ‘Scientific Validation of the Different Purifications Steps Involved in the Preparation of an Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Lauha Bhasma’ Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2012 142 1 98 104

MaoJ. J.DesaiK. ‘Metal Content in Ayurvedic Medicines’ Journal of the American Medical Association 2009 301 3 271 2

ObringerF. L’Aconit et L’Orpiment. Drogues et Poisons en Chine Ancienne et Médiévale 1997 Paris Fayard

PatwardhanB.WarudeD.GireshT. ‘Heavy Metals and Ayurveda’ Current Science 2005 88 10 1535 6

PriyaR.ShwetaA. S. Status and Role of AYUSH and Local Health Traditions under the National Rural Health Mission: Report of a Study of the National Health Systems Resource Centre Ministry of Health and Family Welfare New Delhi 2011 New Delhi Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

RamakrishnaS. K. ‘Letter to the Editor: Reorientation Program on Research Methodology for Ayurveda Academicians: A Clinical Pharmacologist’s Perspective’ Journal of Ayurveda & Integrative Medicine 2012 3 2 57 8

SaperR.PhillipsR.SehgalA.KhouriN. ‘Lead, Mercury and Arsenic in US and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic Medicines Sold Via the Internet’ Journal of the American Medical Association 2008 300 8 915 23

SaperR.KalesS.PaquinJ.BurnsM. ‘Heavy Metal Content of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products’ Journal of the American Medical Association 2004 292 23 2868 73

SarkarP. K.PrajapatiP. K.ShuklaV. J.RavishankarB. ‘Toxicity and Recovery Studies of Two Ayurvedic Preparations of Iron’ Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 2009 47 987 92

SharmaS.ShastriK. Rastarangini 2004 11th ed Delhi Motilal Banarsidass reprint

ShepardG. H.Jr. ‘A Sensory Ecology of Medicinal Plant Therapy in Two Amazonian Societies’ American Anthropologist New Series 2004 106 2 252 66

SinghR. ‘Toxic Metal Analysis in Ayurvedic Drug Systems’ Conference Report: 23rd National Systems Conference NSC 2008 December 17–19 2008 664 6

SinghS. K.RaiS. B. ‘Detection of Carbonaceous Material in Naga Bhasma’ Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2012 74 2 178 83

SinghS.MukherjeeK. K.GillK. D.FloraS. J. ‘Lead-induced Peripheral Neuropathy following Ayurvedic Medication’ Indian Journal of Medical Sciences 2009 63 408 10

ThatteU. M.RegeN. N.PhatakS. D.DahanukarS. A. ‘The Flip Side of Ayurveda’ Journal of Postgraduate Medicine 1993 39 179 82 182a

VahaliaM. K.ThakurK. S.NadkarniS.SangleV. D. ‘Chronic Toxicity Study for Tamra Bhasma (A Generic Ayurvedic Mineral Formulation) in Laboratory Animals’ Recent Research in Science and Technology 2011 last accessed 29 April 2013 3 11 76 9 URL: <http://recent-science.com/index.php/rrst/article/viewfile/9199/4660>


Chaudhary 2012.


Patwardhan Warude and Giresh 2005pp. 1535–6.


Singh and Rai 2012p. 178.


Koch et al. 2011p. 4545.


Saper et al. 2004.


Ibid. p. 2868.


Ibid. p. 2872.


Kales and Saper 2009.


Singh et al. 2009.


See for example Kales and Saper 2009p. 379 and also Priya and Shweta 2011 p. xxiii.


Kales and Saper 2009p. 379.


Gunturu et al. 2011.


Ibid. p. 1.


Gunturu et al. 2011p. 3.


Ibid. p. 5.


Singh 2008.


Ibid. p. 664.


Vahalia et al. 2011p. 77.


Vahalia et al. 2011p. 77.


Sarkar et al. 2009.


Ibid. p. 990.


Singh and Rai 2012p. 178.


Kapoor 2010.


Ibid. p. 563.


Ibid. p. 564.


Ibid. p. 563.


Thatte et al. 1993.


Ibid. p. 181.


Ibid. p. 182.


Dahanukar Kapadia and Karandikar 1982.


For example Dargan et al. 2008.


For instance Bode 2008.


Kapoor 2010p. 571.


Ibid. p. 566.


Ramakrishna 2012p. 57.


For example Chaudhary Singh and Kumar 2010.


Saper et al. 2008.


Mao and Desai 2009p. 271.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 36 36 6
Full Text Views 4 4 4
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0