This essay uses Dalit women’s mediumship as a healing tradition that provides something of a “limit situation” from which to review basic assumptions about the varied ways in which we can understand what it is to “have” tradition—as an acquisition and inheritance that Dalit women enjoy like everyone else, but also as formal claims to value and recognition that are largely denied to Dalit women. Comparing Dalit women healers with male performers in ritual theater and more privileged healers in rural Tamil Nadu, the essay addresses dimensions of inequality comparatively neglected in studies of tradition as either constructed or invented within modernity. The essay moves us away from discussions of tradition that center on conscious claims to a consideration of the elements that mean that some traditions may never reach the level of being articulated as claims, let alone achieve recognition.
This epilogue reflects on scholarship in the study of South Asian medicines and healing traditions at the end of the twentieth century and in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. It underscores the growing multidisciplinarity of this field, and it suggests that the contributions to this special issue signal this development and speak to the theoretical richness and importance of this research.
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.
In the fourteenth century, the physician Shihāb al-Dīn Nāgaurī added an autobiographical chapter to the end of a medical text, describing his experiences learning and practicing medicine in India. Because this text is not easily accessible, especially when compared to autobiographies of physicians written in Arabic, I present the Persian text and translation of this chapter here. It is the final chapter of Cure of Illness (Shifāʾ al-maraẓ), composed in 1388 CE, and is one of the few texts of ṭibb (often known as Greco-Arabic medicine or Islamic medicine) from the early centuries of its spread in India. Nāgaurī reflects on the pluralism of his environment. He studied medicine with a ḥakīm (a practitioner of ṭibb) from Kabul as well as with local jogis (who taught him Ayurveda). He preferred his Hindu patients to his Muslim patients, finding the latter lacking in faith. The themes raised by Nāgaurī’s tale can help us study hybridity in Indian medicine before the European colonial encounter.
In 1923, the Presidency of Madras published The Report of the Committee on the Indigenous Systems of Medicine, the first of many Indian policy documents to regulate indigenous medicine. At first glance, the report seems to offer more evidence of the increasing entrenchment of religious nationalist positions within medical networks in the colonial period. Scholars have analyzed its main text, and a significant “Memorandum” associated with it, and found them emblematic of the formation of Hindu science in the early twentieth century. In this article, drawing on the methods of intellectual and cultural history, I conduct a close analysis of the unstudied Urdu-language sections of the report, which suggest a different interpretation. I argue that within the Urdu-language testimonies written by Hindu men, one finds a continuity with early modern medical courtly culture, whose resonances in the colonial period have largely been elided by modern historiography.
This opening piece introduces the eight articles in this special issue of Asian Medicine, all of which emerged out of the daylong Science, Technology, and Medicine in South Asia Symposium: Medicine and Memory, at the 2018 Annual Conference on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin. These articles are concerned with the ways in which time and healing entangle across regions and healing traditions in South Asia, including Unani, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, and biomedicine. Linking the findings from these articles with recent scholarship, our conversation in the symposium moved beyond the notion of medical pluralisms to a notion of dynamic plurals, through historicizing regional and local diversities in practices and philosophies, often grouped under a single name by communities and practitioners. In an increasingly communalist and politically fractured modern South Asia, we suggest that the discussions in this special issue make a critical contribution to understanding how cultural institutions of knowledge function in society.
Changes in medical technologies have increased questions about how best to handle end-of-life care at the same time as raising questions about the extent to which death can be held off or the life span extended. This article is an offshoot from a broader examination of medical approaches to the dying in two South Asian medical traditions. In this piece, tensions between letting go of life and extending it are illuminated by an exploration of patienthood and body in the context of dying via the Carakasaṃhitā, a foundational text of Ayurveda. These tensions continue in the tradition and speak to questions raised in biomedicine as well. An acknowledgment of the limits of medicine comes up against the desire to continually do more, to cure us of our mortality. Much work has been done on the concept of the body in South Asian medicines, but little has focused on the stage of dying.