This paper was written by Nikita Sharma for the Spring 2007 Living Routes program in Auroville.

A Practice from the Past or an Answer for the Future?

The local plants and trees of southern India have many medicinal qualities. If local people are taught some of this ancient knowledge that once sustained many communities, herbal medicine can provide a natural solution to common sicknesses without the hassle of visiting a clinic. In this paper, I will explore the history of traditional medicine and the extent to which it is present in the local area of Auroville and its surrounding villages. I will also look at how communities across the globe are propagating this information. For my project, I have interviewed a local siddha vaidya, Logonathan, to better understand the status of herbal medicine. I have also taught local children about some basic herbal healthcare methods in order to spread some of this knowledge.

Expensive and frequently excessive medical procedures, healthcare costs and legal processes are all causes of immense stress and waste time and energy in societies across the world. The mentality of needing instant gratification and “quick fixes” permeates through the minds of many people. A common cold or fever often prompt a visit to the doctor; a few chemicals are received in order to provide the patient immediate relief. In many areas, such as the tropical environment of south India, plants and trees that possess the medicinal capability to cure these common ailments grow commonly in the tropical climate. These properties, however, are not as commonly known as they once were because modern medicine has made traditional, natural methods of treatment obsolete. The ancient practices of eastern medicine, such as ayurveda and siddha, are practiced by vaidyas who have inherited this knowledge from their ancestors; more recently, this knowledge has also been available in colleges around India. If this information is spread to the people, traditional medicine can regain its former prevalence and replace modern medicine as a more accessible form of treatment. I will look briefly at the history of ayurveda and siddha medicine, specifically, and assess the extent of their presence among communities in southeastern India, such as Auroville and the surrounding areas. I will examine the ways in which this ancient knowledge is being revived and propagated through various local organizations. Since the indigenous plants of India possess many medicinal qualities, basic awareness among the locals of these healing capabilities will reduce unnecessary and often not easily accessible hospital visits. This ancient information will enable families to maintain their health at home as opposed to visiting a hospital.

Introduction to Auroville
I will be looking at the revitalization of local health traditions in the context of its presence in southeast India. As part of this semester stay, I will research, explore and meet others who are studying traditional medicine or practice it. It is important, however, to understand the background of this environment in order to put these findings into perspective.
In southeast India, there is an international community called Auroville with around 2,000 permanent residents and many visitors. Based on a vision of human unity, Auroville attracts people with varying interests from all around the world to explore the community and the surrounding areas such as the town of Pondicherry. In the center of this galaxy shaped community is a huge dome called the Matrimandir that serves as the spiritual center of Auroville. People are attracted to Auroville for different reasons: for some, it is the spirituality and the philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother; for others, it is the movement towards sustainability and the farms and organizations involved; still others come for leisure purposes, tourism and the ideal location next to the beach. Within these groups, people with diverse backgrounds interact on a regular basis and come in contact with the local villagers. In some cases, Auroville serves as a haven for this local village interaction; organizations like Martuvam and Tamarai provide children from the villages and the city of Pondicherry with a place to interact and play with other children. At any given point in time, there is a wide variety of projects taking place in Auroville and staying in this community facilitates the learning of Indian and other Eastern cultures. There are many controversial issues, such as water usage and future expansion of Auroville, and opinions are divided between those who prioritize spiritual intentions and those who focus more on environmental concerns.

History of Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine and their Current Prevalence
When learning about the current standing of a tradition in modern society, it is important to look at its history. Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine are two forms of traditional medicine that originated in India around 3-5,000 years ago. This ancient knowledge was put into writing by Vedavyasa, an avatar of Vishnu, and has been passed down through the generations. (“History of Ayurveda”)These practices focus on treating patients with herbal preparations, modifying one’s diet, practicing yoga, and the purification of the body. A core concept of traditional medicine is interacting and developing a relationship with healing plants that grow in one’s area. This concept is known as bioregional herbalism as defined by Christopher Hobbs. Although allopathy has replaced these forms of medicine as the dominant method of treatment in many countries, 90% of the people in Ethiopia and 70% of the people in Benin, India, Rwanda, and Tanzania still use traditional medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO) as opposed to the 42% in the United States. ("World Health Organization 1”) However, in a meeting with a local herb provider I learned that many local villagers are unaware of the practices of traditional medicine and turn to allopathy as a solution. The WHO also says that the advantages of traditional medicine include its widespread accessibility and relative cheapness. In poverty stricken countries, this form of healthcare seems to be the most practical. In the United States however, the sales of pharmaceutical drugs are $160 billion per annum, and Claritin and 2 similar drugs bring in more money than the entire herbal industry. For the country that spends the most money on healthcare, we develop “surprisingly few innovative new drugs.” (Hobbs 134) Reviving the ancient knowledge of traditional medicine around the world can potentially save a lot of money and still provide effective healthcare.

Herbal Medicine in/around Auroville
In Auroville and the surrounding areas, these forms of herbal medicine are used to treat common illnesses, and this basic knowledge continues to be propagated to the surrounding areas. In Auroville itself, there is a health center with a physician available in the mornings and the Quiet Healing Centre is the main alternative health care facility. There are two medicinal forests in Auroville, Pitchandikulam and Martuvam. The older of the two, developed in 1973, is now an area of 50 acres within the green belt of the Auroville International Community. It was a dry eroded plateau among palmyra trees. This area, now known as Pitchandikulam, “has evolved into a self generating forest ecosystem with more than 600 species of plants.” (“Ethno Medical Forest) In 1992, this organization began working with the Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) and now offers training and demonstration programs to help reestablish local health traditions. Also within this program, there are outreach programs that work with local villages and healers in order to spread traditional knowledge and educate the local people about alternative healthcare methods to provide them with a substitute for antibiotics.
Another recently formed organization in Auroville, Tamarai, is a program that strives to build relations between Aurovilians and the local villagers. Children come to the center for play groups, study groups and a variety of classes. In conjunction with Pitchandikulam and other Aurovilians, Tamarai is in the process of reviving a medicinal herb garden that was once planted there. As part of my project, I have taught the local children about the uses of these herbs and others that grow locally.

Lack of healthcare in Education and Communities
As of now, there are many areas in which children and communities as a whole lack the knowledge of basic healthcare. If they can be provided with some fundamental principles, the next generation can carry on natural treatments that have been around for centuries. Many villagers buy antibiotics and allopathic treatments for common fevers and colds because they are unaware that these ailments can be treated naturally with the plants in their local areas. (Logonathan, personal interview) According to the Nutrition Foundation of India, “it is important that these communities with high rates of illiteracy (especially female illiteracy), are at least equipped with the basic knowledge about how best to protect their health and avoid disease.” This is the goal of organizations such as Martuvam and organizations around the world, such as the FRLHT. The NFI also mentions that “the importance of health education even in the current context of poverty…should not be underestimated.” Not only are many local people uneducated about easy methods of treatment, the hospitals that they rely on are extremely hard to access. For people who live in rural areas, “medical help is inaccessible and beyond means” and “those who require hospitalization are perennially repaying debts. In fact, rural indebtedness caused by illness is far greater than that caused by crop failure.” (Shaw) It is estimated that 50% of the people in rural areas visit the hospital at least once a week and only about 10% rely solely on herbal medicine. According to Logonathan, 90% of the illnesses that bring these people to the hospitals are treatable at home via common herbal preparations and healing methods. (Logonathan, personal interview)

Process/benefits of Introducing Basic Healthcare into Communities
There are already groups that exist in this area and around the world, as mentioned, that have the purpose of spreading the knowledge of basic herbal medicine. As this knowledge spreads, families will be able to frequent the hospital less often and treat common ailments at home. One proposal for this is “long term programs for the eradication of diseases [that] have to be conceived and implemented throughout the country. Specialist folk practitioners of each area have to be included in order to achieve this program in a more sustainable way” (Muduliar 185). Until the past decade, 13,000 midwives of Tamil Nadu, known as village health nurses, were only trained in allopathy and had no concept of herbal medicine. In the past ten years, the Indian traditional system of medicine has been integrated into the nurses’ education, and now these midwives have a basic idea of how to use 150 plants and know how to make about 50 herbal mixtures. Empowered with this knowledge, these village health nurses will be able to spread these newly revived methods among the local people. They will bring this knowledge into the school system as well as to the women of local communities.
Also in the past decade, primary healthcare methods have started to be introduced into the school system. Supported mainly by non-governmental organizations with some government support, children are able to buy herbs at school for one rupee and use them at home. One example of this is the herb vallarei, used for memory improvement, which has been widely introduced into the school system. As the current generation matures, the implementation and effects of their knowledge will begin to manifest themselves in the communities. Although the healthcare in the school system is still inadequate, it will slowly improve with the continued efforts of organizations and people who are dedicated to reviving traditional medicine. (Logonathan, personal interview)

Basic Herbal Remedies
Fundamental herbal medicine includes plant identification and basic knowledge of their uses. There are many medicinal uses of indigenous plants in the surrounding areas of southeastern India such as the extensive use of the neem tree, which grows plentifully in this area. This form of medicine is ideal for rural areas because of the wide availability of these plants. I went to Tamarai, a village outreach program and taught a group of young children, ages 10-14 about a few simple herbal remedies. I taught them how to identify neem trees and told them that chewing on neem twigs is good for dental hygiene. There was a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 1990 that compared the chewing of twigs to chemical toothpaste. The study showed that chewing the twigs of certain trees was indeed better for dental health than common toothpaste. (Ranade 146) I also showed them a tulasi plant, which was growing in their own backyard, and taught them that 5 or 6 leaves in a cup of tea had anti cold and fever properties. I also showed them the proper amount of ginger to put in tea to treat upset stomachs. Lastly, I mentioned that warm water with honey or lemon juice was effective for common colds. (Ranade #s) One of the older girls seemed to be quite aware of some of these properties and told the others that eating neem leaves was also good for general health. One of the younger girls wanted to keep the poster there for reference, so I left it hanging on the wall for the children to see in the future.

Having a basic understanding of the current status of siddha medicine, and having much more to learn, it is ironic that a medicine with a 4,000 year history now has to prove itself to “modern medicine” which is at the most 500 years old. Efforts are being made around the world to propagate this ancient knowledge, through organizations such as Martuvam, Pitchandikulam, and on a global scale, the Foundation for the Revitalization of Traditional Knowledge. As local people begin to implement this knowledge, the need for expensive allopathic medication and hard to access hospital visits will diminish. Using indigenous plants and trees to cure common ailments will allow families to maintain their health in a more sustainable way. Although the world of medicine is always rapidly changing, the observation of ancient tradition will allow the human race to look back to its roots for answers to the future.

Annotated Bibliography

Ausubel, Kenny. Ecological Medicine. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 2004.
This text is an anthology that includes many essays on medicine and health. Specifically, these articles focus on nature and its important, but often overlooked, factor in medicine. I read many of these articles, but the article by Christopher Hobbs, entitled “Community Herbalism in Modern Health Care” provided me with insight and information which was relevant to my topic. This book is written for those who are concerned about health and the environment, and gives the reader a perspective on ancient as well as modern medicine, and the integration of the two.

"Community Health/Nutrition Education." Nutrition Foundation of India. 2 Mar 2007 .
The Nutrition Foundation of India is a non governmental organization whose goal is to better the nutrition status of Indians. This organization “plays a catalytic role of advocacy and education to focus attention on major nutritional problems; provides leads for practical action in overcoming these problems; and combats inadequacies in the implementation of ongoing nutrition programs.”

Ethno Medical Forest. Pitchandikulam. 6 Mar 2007
< http://www.auroville.org/environment/pitch_brc.htm>.
This site provides an overview of Pitchandikulam, a medicinal forest in Auroville.
It is written for the residents of Auroville and anyone who is interested in their work. The site contains their history and their purpose and gives the reader an idea of the purpose of their creation and their mission. Viewing this site provides the reader with a full picture of this medicinal forest, and the outreach efforts they are involved in and the publications they have released thus far.

"History of Ayurveda." Florida Vedic College. 6 Mar 2007 .
The Florida Vedic College, established in 1990 in Coral Springs, Florida is and “independent, comprehensive, international College and Vedic Institution of higher education. It is the oldest Vedic College in the USA. It is dedicated to providing high quality educational programs of distinction at times convenient to students, employing innovative delivery systems and courses that are structured to directly apply to the real-life challenges and problems that students encounter. Florida Vedic College combines the cultural intellectual legacies of the past with a pragmatic concern for meeting the challenges of the present and the future.”

Muduliar, Logonathan. Personal interview. 5 March 2007.
Dr. Logonathan is an 11th generation siddha vaidya who specializes in optometry. He was involved in the initial efforts of Pitchandikulam, and now has his own practice at his home in Pondicherry. He sees patients on Sundays and gives around 10 lectures a week at local colleges. Although he practices traditional medicine, and one day hopes to start an herb dispensary, he is open to other practices of medicine and believes that we are evolving towards a united form of healthcare, or global medicine.

Muduliar, Logonathan. Research on Medicinal Plants: Specifically for Eye Disorders. Pondicherry, India: New Binding Works and Printing, July 1999.
This text is the PhD thesis of Dr. Logonathan. In it, he explores the various aspects of using herbal medicine in optometry and for the treatment of various eye diseases. On the front cover are four pictures which record consecutive days of treatment of a stye. As opposed to a surgical procedure, an herb mixture is used to make the disease disappear in just four days. Throughout his thesis, Logonathan tracked various methods of treatment and provides a natural alternative to allopathic medicine.

Ranade, Dr. Subhash. Ayurvedic Treatment of Common Diseases. 1. Delhi: SriSatguru Publications, 1999.
This book is an overview of the use of common herbs and plants for a variety of diseases. It is written for “people who are interested in simple and useful remedies to cure common diseases.” The treatments are based on the observations of the authors and clinical experiences over the years. The preparations described in this book are from ancient Ayurvedic texts. This book provides backgrounds and explanations of these various diseases and simply explains the methodology of treatment.

"Traditional Medicine - Growing Needs and Potential." World Health Organization 2(2002)
The World Health Organization is the United Nations specialized agency for health. Established on April 7, 1948, its objective “as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO's Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The information and articles published by the WHO are available online for those who are interested in the status of world health and the many subtopics included.

Shaw, Kiran Mazumdar. "Healthcare for a Billion." Times of India 6 March 2007 .
Times of India is a national newspaper that is available to everyone via the internet. Various authors write articles on different topics, and this article in specific takes a look at the problems posed by the task of providing healthcare to an extremely populated country. It mentions the steps that are being taken by organizations and the government in order to provide sufficient healthcare for the entire country.
This paper was written by Matt Sloan for the Living Routes program in the Spring of 2007:


Siddha medicine, a traditional healing practice native to South India, is currently positioned in an era of change. Siddha has been challenged to integrate foreign elements into its practice throughout its history. Today the force of globalization is acting to shape the practice, for better or for worse. Practitioners today are concerned as some aspects of Siddha are appropriated by the global market, notably drugs and medicals, while the holistic approaches are neglected. I interviewed practitioners and healers in the Auroville area, and evaluated works on the history of Siddha, Ayurveda and globalization. Though the future of Siddha is uncertain, it is unlikely the practice will soon be eradicated. Government colleges are training a body of new practitioners, and Siddha is now on the WHO’s list of Ethnomedicines. Today’s Siddha practitioners, however, are relying less on ancient texts and more on modern medical techniques. Two questions remain: “How will this change affect the future of Siddha?” and “How sustainable are these new practices?”

Part One: Foreword

The United States has been wrought by conflict between the corporate/political powers-that-be and the desires of the populace since the Vietnam era. The participants of that age of protest grew to become the teachers and mentors for a new, younger generation. The youth latched on to the examples set for them by their elders and have successfully fostered a tradition of openness to dissent against unjust acts. In this spirit, programs have been developed that allow students to dive into today’s most impassioned civil issues.
At the top of the list of political issues, a generational mainstay since the publication of Rachel Carson’s eye-opening novel, Silent Spring, stands the topic of environmental responsibility. Today in the face of global warming alerts, weapons of mass destruction, peak oil disasters, water wars and countless other worries stemming from environmental degradation and irresponsibility, there is a popular buzzword being increasingly uttered in classrooms across the country – “sustainability.” It was a vague understanding and desire to learn more about this concept that drew me to participate in the Living Routes program based in Auroville.
Living Routes is an opportunity for college students to study abroad in places as diverse as West Africa and Western Massachusetts. The Auroville program is based in Tamil Nadu, a southeastern Indian state. The twenty-four participants of the program live in community and dissect the concept of sustainability from every angle. The environment of Auroville, a society founded on the ideas and vision of two great thinkers, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, is an ideal setting for this learning process. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother set up this progressive city as “an experiment in human unity.” Since this time over forty years ago, roughly 2,000 liberal-minded thinkers have been attracted to the city. The dream of the Mother included a population in Auroville of 50,000.
Tamil Nadu is an ideal place for me to begin looking at a phenomena that is sweeping through the field of traditional medicine. This region is home to an ancient medical practice known as Siddha. The impression I got from a local herbal provider is that “all the villagers rely on Western medicine.” (Shivaraj) The same opinion is reiterated in Jean Langford’s Fluent Bodies, a comprehensive look at postcolonial Ayurvedic practice in India. Further, as a nation on an expediently globalizing and homogenizing planet, I am interested in what impact the, once remote, West has had on the modernization of traditional practices. India’s cultural and medicinal traditions are undeniably affected by these global forces, for better or for worse. I hope to evaluate where these practices may be headed in the future.
As part of the Auroville program, students partake in a three-week internship, participating in some aspect of the community. I have had the opportunity to meet and interview vaidyas (traditional doctors) about their thoughts on the state and future of modern Siddha medicine. I have also been able to work with Aurovilian sustainable farmers who are working to revitalize traditional knowledge of both medicinal and agricultural plants, caretakers of two local medicinal plant sanctuaries (Pitchandikulam and Martuvam) and researchers from a nearby medicinal studies institute, Institut Francais Pondicherry.
I am relying on comparable research as carried out by Jean Langford and viewed through her publication, Fluent Bodies. Other important works being used in my examination of this topic include: Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace by Vandana Shiva for information on British colonial impact in India and globalization; Siddha Medicine: A Handbook of Traditional Remedies by Dr. Paul Joseph Thottam for information on the history of the Siddha practice; and selections from the United Nations Development Programme, Volume 10, Sharing Innovative Experiences. With these sources as foundation, I hope to compile an accurate, if not complete, picture of where modern Siddha stands, my vision for its future, and what relevance, if any, this may have on the patients directly affected by its practice in Tamil Nadu, and those persons indirectly affected by Siddha in the West, such as medical practitioners, global activists, cultural scholars, travelers, and others.

Part Two: History of Siddha (/Ayurveda) Through the Time of British Departure

Mythologically decreed to have been invented by the god, Lord Siva, Sir John Marshall’s excavation in 1921 of the Indus River Valley civilization dates the practice of Siddha back eight thousand years. (Thottam 3) It is, however, the siddhars (scholars or saints) who are credited with the creation of this medical practice. Among their contributions are “palm leaf manuscripts on many subjects, including medicine, psychiatry and surgery.” The exact date of these ancient publications is unclear. (Thottam 7) Further, the Pathinen (eighteen) siddhars said to have contributed to the collective knowledge of Siddha medicine are now believed to be as many as twenty-five with nationalities beyond Tamil, including, perhaps, Chinese and Roman. (Thottam 12)
“Siddha medicine is characterized by the diversity of therapeutic approaches which work together to promote holistic healing… [including] both traditional as well as modern aspects.” (Thottam x) In this regard, Siddha has historically been seen as a practice open to integrating the exogenous medical practices with which it comes into contact. I will assess later how this history compares with the way Siddha, today, interacts with Western biomedical practices.
The shift that has transformed Siddha into the practice seen today began during the British colonization of India. Siddha subsequently developed into its modern state in the postcolonial era. The impact of the colonial era and its resultant effects (including the rise of globalization) will be discussed later in this paper.

Note: For all intents and purposes, Siddha medicine is analogous to the more widely known practice of Ayurveda. The two terms may be used interchangeably throughout the rest of this paper. The differentiation stems from a translation of the ancient Ayurvedic texts into the local language of Tamil, and will not have a great bearing on my investigation.

Part Three: Siddha Practice Today

Today’s practice of Siddha medicine is one greatly transformed from the ancient tradition. Jean Langford looks specifically at the practices of three Ayurvedic vaidyas in an attempt to understand how the practice is changing over time. She identifies the emergence of three vastly different perspectives within Ayurveda in three sequential generations of practitioners. Langford attributes these apparent disparities to varying levels of resistance to modern medicine, and cites a “postcolonial identity problem” as the cause of this discontinuity. (Langford 25)
Looking at the first practitioner, Langford sees a resistance against science itself. The eldest of the three practitioners, this physician takes a very traditional approach to healing. This type of practice focuses predominantly on “going deep” and defining the patient’s dosa. “The diagnosis consists primarily of darsan and of talking to the patient…[and] includes an examination of tongue, eyes, skin color, and so on.” (Langford 29) The vaidya takes the patient’s pulse to define the dominant dosa. This is done as a traditional assessment and not a diagnostic calculation, as it is used in Western practice. Though this physician will, on occasion, use modern diagnostics (such as a hemoglobin count) he values the word of the patient over laboratory results. (Langford 30) This vaidya is truly the most traditional of the three interviewed by Langford, as well as the oldest.
In sharp contrast, the second vaidya is a product of a generation that utterly embraces biomedical approaches. He relies heavily and unabashedly on modern technology and diagnostic tools. There is a fairly rigid distinction between the Ayurvedic, holistic view of the human body and the biomedical, anatomical view of the body. Langford notes that for the second practitioner “the anatomical body was the bottom line.” (Langford 39) Here, the practitioner seems more a biomedical doctor than a vaidya. He is ready to criticize the use of traditional Ayurveda in a modern world, claiming that “the changed environment, prevalence of pollution, [and] the noncircadian rhythm of modern schedules” (Langford 40) makes it nearly impossible for today’s patient to rely on a practice that was born in a starkly different era.
This vaidya insists upon the necessity for plasticity and transparency between allopathy and Ayurveda. There is no “holistic versus atomistic” duality, no “whole body, half body.” (Langford 43) Looking at Ayurveda as an anthropological specimen, an object to be studied by science degrades it from its place as science. To say that Ayurveda is better than biomedicine in some regards and that biomedicine is better in other ways creates a barrier to information that isolates the two practices. In my interview with Dr. Loganathan, he discusses a similar problem with this comparison. Both practitioners imply that modern Ayurveda are part of a globalized world. As part of this global world Ayurveda belongs to the same “Universal Tradition” as biomedicine and Western practice.
The third practitioner detailed by Langford is from the most modern generation of vaidyas. Langford points out that if the first physician focused his diagnoses on “darsan,” and the second on “modern technologies,” this final practitioner could be said to focus on “conversation.” (Langford 48) This vaidya seems to practice a form of Ayurveda that is equally integrative of traditional and modern approaches. Langford explains that he will assess a patient’s dosa and then define the findings in modern disease terms. This younger practitioner will incorporate the holistic components of diet and psychology into diagnoses, something the middle generation vaidya omitted from his treatments. In this way the third practitioner values the deep interaction of traditional Ayurveda over the hectic and brief relations advocated by the biomedical approach. The deep interaction with patients and the psychological assessments are neglected by the second, modernized vaidya.
Interestingly, when describing the practice of the third vaidya, Langford points out that modern Ayurveda is operating in “a time when the confidence of urban and many rural Indians seems to have turned away from Ayurveda towards biomedicine. Ayurvedic physicians employ different strategies to win it back. [The second doctor] attempts to erase the differences between Ayurveda and biomedicine. [The third], however, assembles those differences into a marketable commodity.” (Langford 53) This commodification of Ayurveda may be essential to the modern revival of traditional Ayurveda, but as Dr. Loganathan emphasizes, it may not be in the patient’s best interest.
During my interview with Dr. Loganathan I noticed a great deal of overlap with his thoughts on modern Siddha in the face of a globalized world and the second vaidya interviewed by Langford. Both favor integration in their fields of practice. Dr. Loganathan was adamant about incorporating the best method available for treating illness, regardless of where in the world it originated. He cites the global use of the Madagascan periwinkle in leukemia treatment and the integration of Korean ginseng into Indian practice as prime examples. The idea of a “universal tradition,” as proposed by Dr. Loganathan, infers that no one culture can (or should) claim a successful healing strategy as its own. According to Dr. Loganathan there are now over 150 drugs in “global medicine,” used by practitioners across the globe in all different cultures. Sharing successful medicinal strategies and information as part of a globalized tradition may have some unexpected repercussions. Before I continue with Dr. Loganathan’s assessment of the future of Siddha, I want to look at the possible consequences of globalization. To do this I will briefly investigate arenas, both in and outside of medicine, where globalization and its aftermath have already taken place.

Part Four: Impact of Globalization on Siddha Practice – Intellectual Property Rights/Biopiracy, Institutionalization/Professionalization, Standardization, Commodification for the West

There is scarcely a sanctuary left on this planet that remains free from the impact of corporate globalization. Siddha and other traditional practices are now viewed as products ripe for global consumption. My investigation hopes to determine what effect this has had in shaping modern Siddha. I am also interested in describing the likely future of this traditional practice.
The word Ayurveda has come to embody different meanings. In order to increase credibility among international health practices, Jean Langford notes that the definition of Ayurveda has been altered from “the knowledge of life” to “the science of life.” (Fluent 4) Another student of the practice poignantly and concisely describes Ayurveda as “anything that heals.” (Pavan Kanwar speech) I like this definition because it does not bow down to the supremacy of Western health standards. Rather, this definition integrates all health practices, including biomedical, into the broad umbrella of Ayurveda. Regardless of how the term is defined, encompassee or encompassor of biomedicine, the forces of globalization are changing the face of modern Ayurveda from its traditional practice.
The question to ask now is not if changes will happen, but rather, what will the future of this altered tradition look like The scenario that Langford’s second (biomedically-influenced) vaidya proposes is that the practice will hold stubbornly to its ancient roots. In his opinion, this will create stagnation in the practice and will likely transform Ayurveda into a cultural relic (Fluent 53). Further repercussions could be the sale of Ayurveda’s scientifically testable components to the “universal tradition,” neglecting the holistic approach that was once imperative to the practice. The West has money and power in today’s medical market. This gives the West an advantage in scientifically researching traditional strategies. It is this scientific testability that compromises the non-drug aspects of traditional practices. Patients (and many practitioners) today place increasing importance on clinical research. For this reason, there is a challenge to integrate the important parts of Ayurveda, such as “deep interaction”, into the “universal tradition.” (Loganathan interview) This is a shortcoming that the universal tradition must remedy if it hopes to realize its position as the most effective treatment for a global population.
Another scenario that Langford touches on is seen in the third (conversationalist) vaidya interview. This attempt to equally integrate the traditional and modern elements into a cohesive practice is increasing in popularity. I believe that it is in the best interest of every patient to seek a practitioner of a globally integrated tradition. Dr. Loganathan makes it clear that a tradition with a 4,000 year history does not survive by being stubborn. Siddha is always evolving, and can only survive by including new approaches. Recent inclusions have been biomedical diagnostic tools and effective treatments from other cultures, such as Korean ginseng and Madagascan periwinkle. (Loganathan interview) I believe that the best tradition is the one that maximizes health, regardless of what culture's texts claim the practice of their own.
In Loganathan's "Universal Tradition," there are two essential rules:
1) No patient should be prevented from receiving any effective medical treatment. Stated simply, "Every human being has a right to the best medicine."
2) Doctors from every tradition require links and correlations to all other current practices. (Loganathan)
It is my opinion that physicians from every medical tradition should be working toward creating this functional, Universal Tradition. This does not necessitate the demise of Ayurveda or Siddha or biomedicine. Rather, it can be a tool for enhancing the repertoire of treatments available to every practitioner in the world.
First, it is important to step back and look at the Indian history which has brought Ayurveda to such a critical point. In Jean Langford’s view, the British control of the subcontinent in colonial times is key to understanding the modern pressures being exerted on Ayurveda. In 1757, it was the first global corporation, The East India Company, that changed from merchants into the rulers of the continent as Bengal fell. (Shiva, 28) With the British in control, Langford sites 1836 as the significant moment of medicinal takeover, marked by the symbolic “fifty-round cannon salute to celebrate the first dissection of a cadaver by a group of Indians.” (Fluent 5) In fact, as Langford continues, these blasts marked only an end to British interest in studying Ayurveda side-by-side with European practices, as a policy of conducting all higher education in English was subsequently instituted. Even though the British had, by this time, been studying the Ayurvedic texts for years, the officials ordering the salute must have forgotten that those ancient texts refer specifically to the performance of surgeries millennia prior to this festive occasion. This booming temporal boundary is essential because it sets the stage for the later mimicry of the European educational system that occurs in the postcolonial era as India began organizing its own Ayurvedic institutions.
These new institutions, founded in postcolonial India, were similar to the British schools that preceded them. Equipped with “drug companies, colleges, and textbooks” Ayurveda had “a new authority,” (Fluent 8) that had become substantiated by its “place in the World Health Organization’s compendium of ethnomedicines.” (Fluent 8) Langford believes that it is this partial or “metonymic” mimicry of the Western institutions that granted Ayurveda leveraging power in dialogues on medical procedure and the opportunity to “redefine science itself.” (8) With schools and drug companies operational, Ayurveda is poised to be taken seriously by the global community. Economically speaking, this puts the marketable fruits of Ayurveda (namely medications), in perfect position to be appropriated by profit-driven companies, as has been evidenced by the controversial misuse of neem medications.
Though beneficial for the global power standing of Ayurveda, I believe that this shift toward institutionalization has led directly to a decrease in the practice’s “sustainability”. Here, I define sustainability as the ability for the practice to be perpetuated without negatively impacting the environment, now or in the future. An upsurge in the number of Ayurvedic drug companies necessitated new laws by the Indian government on standardization of products. Foreign importers also required a guaranteed product, which further necessitated this standardization.
What impact will this standardization have on the sustainability of producing these drugs en mass? Historically, vaidyas collected and prepared their treatments on a patient-to-patient basis. After diagnosis, the physician would scour their garden or forest for the necessary herbs, and take what they deemed to be a sufficient amount. The vaidya took into account how much of the specific herb was available, and would never harvest all that was available. This was a means of conserving the medicinal plants so that they could continue to proliferate naturally. (Loganathan)
Central to the process of mass producing herbal treatments is a technique of aforestation and mono-cropping popular plants. Shiva places these modern techniques in a historical context when she refers to the closing of the commons. The “commons” are places where all individuals are free to make use of the land. This system was famously utilized in England's history. This setup benefits the poor who would otherwise not have access to land. On this land one could raise animals, find fuel or cultivate agriculture. “In the colonial period, peasant were forced to grow indigo instead of food, salt was taxed to provide revenues... and forests were enclosed to transform them into monopolies for commercial exploitation.” (Shiva 26) I draw an analogy between the commons and the unfettered availability of traditional herbs. TNCs are reenacting the enclosure of the commons by patenting and mass producing these plants. Such practices have a negative impact on the environment. The impact is not only in the reduction of biodiversity. On the human level, the impact to the environment is in the creation of barriers to block access by “present day commoners” (or those who would otherwise have free access to the plants).
This is a good illustration of the difficulties in attaining Loganathan's Universal Tradition. The problems that occur in globalizing any practice have already been seen in the industries of food, fuel and water production. Divides in wealth funnel resources away from poorer nations into markets where TNCs can extract higher profits. This leaves the poorer regions with an unequal share of the world's resources. The imbalance of global wealth may make it impossible to satisfy the first essential rule in the Universal Tradition (every person's right to the best medicine). There are already examples of the Loganathan's essential rules being broken.
Acts of biopiracy are a growing problem in the pharmaceutical world. One article published on the Third World Online Network's website discusses why this recent trend has come about.
The recent tremendous interest in Western societies about natural remedies has prompted transnational corporations (TNCs) to hunt for indigenous plants to produce drugs and cosmetics and to exploit related traditional knowledge in Asian countries. Studies have revealed that more than 40 per cent of Western pharmaceutical products contain Asian plant extracts, but these Asian countries have earned little, if anything, in return. (TWN Online)
This provides a good look at how the second essential rule has been broken. In this interaction, the TNCs do not establish links with another tradition. Rather, as the term 'biopiracy' suggests, they act as takers, or pirates. What results is not beneficial for both parties. The Western societies receive gains and the Asian traditions go unrewarded.
Another example of biopiracy is the attempted patenting of the neem plant by Western pharmaceutical companies. Neem is a species native to India that is known as a wonder-drug on account of its medicinal versatility. The neem controversy was taken on by Vandana Shiva, author of Earth Democracy, (a book I relied on for the formation of this paper) and a vocal opponent to corporate globalization. In a judicial victory for Shiva, "the European Patent Office upheld a decision to revoke in its entirety a patent on a fungicidal product derived from seeds of the Neem." (Organic Consumers Association website) This ruling and others like it are great wins for the anti-exploitation contingency, but it is unlikely that they will stop the onslaught of capitalists seeking to benefit by claiming objects of the natural world as their own private property.
This problem of intellectual property rights (who patents what) has fostered a modern space race. This time the competition is not between nations, but between TNCs. The race is not to the moon, but to the patenting of everything that exists on the planet – both inanimate and alive. Patents were distributed in the past as a reward for “inventiveness and creativity.” (Shiva 41) I feel that patents are now used as a corporate tool to lock in possible markets by seeking to control everything that exists. Shiva points to the sad revelation that “not only could cells, genes, plants, sheep, and cows be owned as intellectual property, life had to be owned. That's what Article 27.3(b) of the intellectual property agreement of the WTO imposed on the world.” (Shiva 41) Humanity has seen a change in our view of the world. Once a living system that sustained life, the world (and all within) has become a commodity whose limbs are being systematically claimed.
Shiva illuminates the possible outcome nicely when she says that, "diverting natural resources from directly sustaining human existence to generating growth in the market economy destroys the sustenance economy." (Shiva 18) There is little good to be gained by patenting the neem plant. In my opinion, all that can result from this patenting is the deprivation of an ancient remedy from the culture and region where it originated. When a company tries to increase profits by patenting a living, medicinal plant or its constituent parts, it is in direct contradiction to the promotion of global health.
I can conceive of a counter-example to my claim that biopatenting is frivolous and has only negative repercussions. One could argue that to bring the knowledge of a plant that has positive properties to other parts of the world, a TNC must have the rights to that plant. This could allow the TNC the freedom to properly develop the product for implementation in its new environment.
An anecdote shared with me by Loganathan illustrates clearly the level of corporate deception that results from biopatenting. Medicinal companies in India have begun marketing neem treatments in different parts of India under foreign names. In the north, the product is sold under the name used by southern Indians, and vice versa. Both products are sold by the same company. (Loganathan) The reason this is done is to keep the consumers from knowing what is in the product they are using, since they could conceivably walk into nature and acquire the treatment for free from a nearby tree. The companies do not want their consumers using the readily available natural product. It is in the best interest of the company not to provide the consumer with information, but to create confusion. In this way the consumer will pay for something they do not need and the company will make money. “Corporate globalization... gives rights only to corporations and... sees human and other beings as exploitable raw material or disposable waste.” (Shiva 8) It is my view that this is the case with most instances of biopatenting.
While this last example clearly violates Loganathan's first essential rule, it also violates Vandana Shiva's fourth principle of Earth Democracy, which says, “All beings have a natural right to sustenance.” (Shiva 10) The consumers, duped by money-motivated companies are having their right to sustain themselves with free (or less costly) medical treatments violated.
When I examine cases of corporate greed, I do not think it is not enough to assess the amorality inherent in a company that slaves only to the increase of its profits. I have no problems with an individual or a company striving to make money. It is important for me to assess “sustainability” (especially in the context of research based in Auroville). How sustainable will the outcome be if traditional treatments are packaged, for profit, by globalized health corporations? I alluded earlier to the problems created by the privatization of the food, fuel and water industries. Privatization is analogous to enclosure. Privatization in the water industry has turned water into a commodity. When a resource is commodified, it must be purchased. Therefore, if one privatizes water, the result will be that people will now have to pay for what was once free. This “creates the possibility of excluding others from access to that which is necessary for living.” (Shiva 43) It is my fear that the same result will occur in medicine as traditional practices are globalized, privatized and commodified
Predicting the future of any industry is difficult. The best way to hypothesize about the future is to look at the past for examples. In the past there were extreme problems with globalizing and privatizing agriculture. No child in India suffered death by starvation until the food system was opened up to the global market. (Shiva 34) Since that time unprecedented famine has been the only return for the Indian people. When water was privatized, all that emerged was more debt for poor nations and conflicts over water rights. Though I hope traditional medicine will not be appropriated by corporate globalization, I fear that it is heading in that direction.
One saving grace is that the government of India has invested money into preserving its system. Seed-saving efforts by concerned citizens and public interest groups protect against the possible consequences of corporate farming in the food industry. Similarly, this investment by the Indian government could be a safeguard for Siddha medicine. The fact is that traditional Ayurvedic therapies are being saved as cultural relics. Regardless of the reason for salvation, this saving is invaluable. 4,000 years of medical knowledge would be lost if Siddha were to vanish. At this time the Universal Tradition that I believe to be the ultimate goal of medicine is still tragically flawed. To try and homogenize all practices now would be foolish. The world must wait until the forces of corporate greed are remedied enough to perfect the Universal Tradition.
At that time, provisions can be put in place and the two essential rules can be enforced and protected. Until that happens, diversity in the medical system is the only way to protect against total failure. The same is true in nature and for all systems.

Works Cited

Kanwar, Pavan. Lecture. 3 Mar 2007. College Guest House. Auroville,Tamil Nadu. India.

Loganathan, Dr. Interview. 5 Mar 2007. 24 Anna St. Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu. India.

Langford, Jean. Fluent Bodies. Duke University Press. 2002.

Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace. South End Press: Cambridge, MA. 2005.

Thottam, Paul Joseph. Siddha Medicine: A Handbook of Traditional Remedies. Penguin Books: New Delhi. 2000.

Organic Consumers Association. “EU Patent Office Revokes USA "Biopiracy" Patent on Fungicide Derived from Neem Tree Seeds”. Press Release. Viewed 23 Feb 2007. 8 Mar 2005. .

Pleumaron, Anita. “The Hidden Costs of the ‘New’ Tourisms”. Third World Network Online. Viewed 23 Feb 2007. Third World Network Briefing Paper for CSD7, No.1, 1999. .


This interview was conducted via email with Niika Quistgard, CAS

Niika has been practicing and teaching Ayurveda for individuals and groups since 1996. She has taught yoga in the U.S., Europe and India. She's been a regular contributor to Yoga Journal on the topic of Ayurvedic wisdom (see Writings), and was founder, editor and publisher of Inside Ayurveda, the first international journal of Ayurvedic Medicine.
Niika spent most of 2006 in Kerala, India, exploring the birthplace of Ayurveda and related healing system, Siddha Vaidya, while writing, studying and teaching.

Niika had the good fortune to spend abundant time observing and learning from Dr. Reghu Harichandran, a 9th generation, traditionally-trained Siddha Vaidya doctor and herbal pharmacist in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

For more information about her work, go to this website: www.mayashakti-ayurveda.com

Jake: I'm curious about the transmission/translation of Ayurveda and Siddha
outside of its local and indigenous place of origin. What do you think
changes when it travels to the US, what is lost and what challenges arise?

Niika: That is a huge question. On many levels, it changes very much. I'll try to address only some aspects of the practical level here.

Internal Siddha medicines are limited to patented products here in the West, or some small amount of choornams, kashayams and some oils that can be hand-carried in airline luggage. In India, fresh medicines can be made per a patients needs as required.

Siddha external treatments are not usually applied daily for 5, 7 10 or 40 days in the U.S. People just don't typically have the time and money for what would be seen as a normal series of treatments, in India.

Another profound difference is that the therapy ingredients used in India, are just not available in the West. In Ela Kizhi, for instance - the leaf pouch treatment - we cannot, in the U.S., venture outside the morning of the treatment to pick the correct leaves for the pouches. That doesn't mean we don't have effective alternatives, but a change of ingredients does create
differences. Here, we use dried grains and herbs, or ground coconut and lime. The oils, though - in this case Vatarajangam - are easier to import, and some can be made here.

The attitude of the therapists is very different, as well. In India, the treatment atmosphere is much more casual. Treatment time is seen as more matter of fact, although some therapists feel it's important to lift the mood of the patient. There is no thought of creating the kind of womb-like environment we've come to expect when receiving body work in the West. Of
course, each person is seen as sacred and everyone is treated with respect, but not with soft New Age music and the kind of sometimes sentimental preciousness we are used to in the West. In India, there may be noise, or cooking smoke or some other distraction, and more likely than not, lots of joking going on. (In fact, I found I had to rename the SV clinic I
go to "Chiri Vaidya Clinic," in honor of the therapists who are always laughing and inspiring patients to do the same. (Chiri means laughter in Malayalam.)

Treatments often happen in open air coconut thatch structures, so the sounds of the crows and the sight of the coconut palms is part of the experience. This offers a healing feeling of oneness with nature that doesn't happen so readily in the West.

Our level of skill is not on par with most of the therapists from India, as well. We are learning, but some Indians have a lifetime of experience!

Also, Westerners are used to learning in very structured, formal ways. While there are universities now for the study of Siddha, in India, many feel that the traditionally trained practitioners are best. In fact some Siddha practitioners don't even know they are such. They simply do what their father taught them in the course of daily living - how to make medicines for
family and friends, from plant and animals materials found in the local, natural environment. We, on the other hand, tend to lead with the mind. We usually need to think through material, rifle through binders of notes, etc.

The knowledge just isn't as integrated in us if we've learned in a classroom situation, as it is if we've had an opportunity to learn in a more personal way, and especially in the land it's come from. But over time, we'll absorb much of what is relevant and helpful to our western clients.

Finally, there is little understanding of the value or even the existence of Siddha medicine in the West. Practitioners here are pretty much pioneers, and usually practicing in relative isolation from other Siddha practitioners. That's a big reason your efforts to create a Siddha community on-line are so valuable!

Jake: Why do you think Ayurveda has become so popular in the US?

Niika: Many factors have ripened public interest in Ayurveda here. A recognition of the value of yoga has really become mainstream, and once a person has practiced and understood something about yoga, learning about Ayurveda is a natural next step. Originally, the main purpose of Ayurveda was to support physical and mental health so a person could pursue spiritual develop through hatha yoga or other practices. It's hard to meditate when you have chronic migraines or other symptom of imbalance, right? So, as many more people discover the value of ancient Indian or Vedic wisdom in the yogic path, they are getting curious about what Ayurveda has to offer, too.

Another factor bringing Ayurveda into the spotlight now is a widespread dissatisfaction with, and growing distrust of allopathic medicine - especially in areas such as chronic illness. People don't feel their doctor spends enough time with them to really get to know them, to understand their complaints completely. Every day there is more negative press about the dangers of many pharmaceutical drugs. People everywhere are turning to holistic alternatives, especially for prevention (which western medicine doesn't address), stress-reduction and management of chronic diseases. The Ayurvedic system of natural medicine is comprehensive, and excellent at addressing these basic health needs.

Some people are drawn to Ayurveda because of its association with the spa experience. Just as some people come to yoga at first for purely physical exercise and end up finding a spiritual path, some people come to Ayurveda the first time looking for a pleasant warm oil massage. But if they come to a knowledgeable practitioner, they will likely find a much more comprehensive experience that touches on all areas of life, and will inspired to take not only treatments, but practical, customized action with diet, herbs, etc. toward establishing deep wellbeing and balance.

Finally, all things Indian are rather in vogue right now, so there is general openness to trying out what ancient India has to offer us today.

Jake: As a practitioner, how do you negotiate using western diagnostic tools with therapies not based on western ontology and epistemology?

Niika: Honestly, I pretty much don't. In Ayurveda, we don't treat conditions. We treat patients. Allopathic condition diagnoses and lab or scan test results can be useful, but primarily, as a practitioner of Ayurveda, I seek to understand the full picture of a person's health situation, and how each area of life contributes to the whole. In Ayurveda, we want to create the experience of balance in a person, rather than focusing on the eradication of a specific pathogen or symptom.

A few weeks ago, a woman came to see me for the first time. She was curious about Ayurveda, and was hoping Ayurveda might help relieve the debilitating headaches she'd been experiencing daily for about three weeks.

As part of the intake process, we learned (I always work in partnership with those who come to me) that she was particularly stressed over her boyfriend's recent unemployment. We discussed the nature of the relationship, and mentioned that she had been calling him from her place of work several times a day to "check on him" and his progress toward getting a job. Well, just hearing about this gave ME a bit of a headache! I told her this, and she agreed. She felt the same way, but hadn't realized her fixation until we talked about it.

After we had a good laugh, I suggested that she experiment with a different behavior. Instead of calling her boyfriend every time she felt anxiety about his unemployment, maybe she could put that same energy into an activity that would enrich her own work experience, or somehow improve her direct experience of life. We also practiced some deep breathing and simple
meditation together so she'd have the tools to connect with her deeper experience of being if she was feeling stressed.

I didn't offer any herbal medicines or other advice right away. As a precaution, I referred her to her MD for further assessment or tests if the headache continued or worsened, but when she returned a week later for her report of findings, she walked in, sat down and said with a wide smile, "I haven't had a single headache since I walked out of here 7 days ago."

When a manifesting imbalance is just emerging, a return to homeostasis is often as simple as becoming aware of our actions, and learning to choose a balancing response.

All this said, there are times, however, when I will recommend a particular herbal formula based partly on a known condition, but only when it also makes sense from a dosha-balancing point of view as well.

Jake: What do you enjoy most about being a practitioner, and where do you see your practice heading in the next 5-10 years?

Niika: Working with women for their health and happiness is my passion. This is for it's own sake, but I also see the role of women in a larger context. Of course men deserve wellbeing too! But the old saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." is oh, so true! And in both Ayurveda and Siddha Vaidya, the health of each newborn child is understood to be dependent on the health of the mother. And as a child grows, the state of the mother will influence the child. At every life stage, whether or not a woman is a mother, women embody the power of shakti - that creative energy that is based on seeing how all life is naturally connected to life.

Also, women seem to easily grasp the truth of our interconnectedness, that feminine natural ability to understand the natural connection between herself and others. Every woman, whether she is a mother or not, nurtures other people, beings and growing things according to the quality of their energy. So the health of women affects everyone. Healthy, happy women are a primary cause and indication of health and happiness across a family, a community, a society.

An important aspect of my work, and I feel essential to healing, is restoring the responsibility and the JOY of health to the individual, as embodied in the term "svastha." We westerners have gotten too used to turning to others or to some outside source of information for answers to our problems, hoping others may be able to "fix" us. It's very healing when women recognize their innate power to embrace balance, and the principles of Ayurveda and Siddha Vaidya can illumine that possibility beautifully.

Jake: Any other goals with Siddha?

Niika: Oh - I have big visions! There is so much to learn and share.

I hope to spend much more time in India each year. My dream project is to establish a women's retreat and herb conservation and crop farm in a somewhat rural location in south India, where Western women can come to restore themselves and learn Ayurvedic self-care, and also interact with local women to enjoy cultural exchange around issues of self-care and healing. This will involve cooking and herb growing/harvesting/use.

For starters, I'll hope to begin leading small groups of women on these kinds of travel experiences, starting next year.

I'd also like to foster a program that promotes backyard herb growing and fresh herb use among women across South India. Many herbs are being "strip-mined" from the landscape by corporations as Indian medicine ingredients become more sought after all over the world. As Ayurveda and Siddha Vaidya become more commercialized, local people are having a harder time using their native ingredients for their own health.

I'm interested in discovering more about women practitioners of Siddha in India. Who are they? Where are they? How are they practicing?

I have a basic understanding of course, but I'm very interested in learning more details about Ayurvedic and Siddha approaches to treating mental illness, which is so common in the West. Many traditional practitioners do not treat it, considering mental illness a karmic disease. But I'd like to explore what more there is to learn from those who have the compassion to treat those who suffer mainly in the mind.

And of course, pursuing some writing projects goes without saying...

I may have to undergo Kaya Kalpa - the mystical 90 day longevity boosting process - to extend my life long enough to learn and do all I'd like! Like most humans, my joy comes from helping and inspiring others, and enjoying a positive hands-on relationship with our good Mother Earth, so I'm hoping to do a lot more of these things over the years to come.

Jake: Thank you so much, I really appreciate your insight and willingness to share your experience and vision. I hope that you are able to manifest all of your goals – may you have all the resources and health you need to accomplish them!


Interview with SIDDHA VAIDYA P.S. NARASIMHA SWAMY from Mysore

Narasimha Swamy has been engaged in promoting, propagating and preserving ancient Siddha wisdom for the past 20 years. He belongs to a hereditary Siddha family and his ancestors have alleviated many kinds of health problems through Siddha medicines, serving the needy poor for the past 14 generations.

Besides treating clients, he is also engaged in the translation of palm leaf manuscripts from various Indian languages into English. He has a charitable trust registered under the name "AGASTHYA SIDDHA CHARITABLE TRUST" through which he takes care of the medical (herbal) needs of the poor.

Over the next few months he will be publishing a magazine entitled Herbal Heritage, to be circulated widely among those who are interested in Siddha medicine.

If you are interested in learning more about his work and publications, please refer to the following website:

For more information please email:

This interview was conducted via email.

Jake: First, I would like to know about the way you pluck the plants – you mention saying a prayer to mother earth. How do you understand the relationship between humans and plants?

Narasimha Swamy: There are specific seasons to pluck the parts of specific plants. It is believed that during certain seasons the plant parts exhibit high potential to be used for various indications of human ailments. There was a specialized subject in the past known as “VRIKSHAYURVEDA,”dealing with the medicinal plants uses, the time for collecting the parts of the plant and the ‘MANTRA’S”(hymns and prayer and rituals through which the property of the herb is potentiated) to be chanted before plucking.

During the period of Siddhars there was not even a microscope, let alone a fully equipped laboratory. At that time Siddhars were able to identify as many as 6500 herbs, their properties, purification processes, with what kind of vehicle (anupanam) the drug should be administered and they documented all these things in the form of poems written in ancient scripts as jugglaries. They were able to achieve this only through their yogic expertise and intuitive intelligence.

Siddhars have also mentioned that plants were talking to them about their usage and also specify the time and day the particular patient comes to the Siddha to take treatment. Such was the dedication and selflessness of our Siddhars.

About the relationship between man and the plants it is a proven fact that humans can not survive without vegetation-the source of oxygen-photosynthesis. Believe it or not there are some facts even beyond this explanation.

J: A major global issue right now is deforestation and aforestation (the planting of only one type of species), especially in regard to medicinal plants. Have you noticed in your lifetime the loss of certain species of plants?

NS: As you have mentioned rightly the global issue right now is to preserve, promote and propagate about the endangered species. You will know the details of it when you receive my magazines.

I am now aged 53 and I have seen many plants extinct due to the negligence of society and also because of the government policy of making high statements and failing in the strict implementation of their plans. It is really a pity that neither the politicians nor the establishments recognize the right people for the right job.

J: What do you do when you cannot find a specific herb? Are there substitutes in Siddha medicine which you can use instead of herbs?

NS: In siddha literature there are some herbs used as an alternative to another according to the availability.

J: Do you only take plants for a specific patient or do you take larger quantities to make medicine in advance? For example, if you expect a number of patients with diabetes, do you take a large quantity of the plant you need to treat them, or only a small amount at a time? Do you also cultivate herbs?

NS: Regarding collection of herbs I collect only the required quantity and only when needed and no question of hoarding! This helps in conservation of bio-resources. When the bark of the tree is required only a little part of it is chipped to ensure that there is no permanent damage to the growth of the tree. If I find 5 plants of my requirement I pluck only 3 and leave the rest to grow there and multiply. I have also cultivated some herbs in the waste lands of many of my friends cultivation lands and farms.

J: How did you learn about the herbs/plants used in Siddha medicine? Your family lineage stretches back many generations – were you taught by your grandfather and father alike? Are the women in your family also involved in Siddha medicine?

NS: I am born and brought up by my great grandma who was 70 years when I was studying in 4th standard at the age of 7. I used to help her getting the leaves, fruits, berries, roots and root barks of many plants from the nearby forest. My actual schooling of siddha started from there. I learnt from her making decoctions, choornam, lehyam, various kinds of oils and many things related to the purification processes, the quantities of items etc. After my grandmother died I continued my studies and finished my graduation. As I completed my bachelor of science degree (B.Sc.,) I continued to prepare Siddha medicines and give them to the needy.

Then the actual form of livelihood question crept in, and by that time in India Allopathy had already made a very good impact. People were in need of immediate results with an injection rather going through the monotonous and tedious herbal medication. There were no takers of my Siddha experience.

Since there was a need for me to learn more about Siddha, I joined a multinational pharmaceutical company as an executive and requested them to post me at Tamil Nadu and Kerala states, so that I can have interaction and collection of materials from the hereditary Siddha practitioners who were only available in these two states at that time.

After 5 years of search I have done my livelihood and have also contacted many proficient people in Siddha in Tamil Nadu. In that time I did a formal course in Siddha medicine after learning the Tamil language. Unfortunately I had to return back to my place (Mysore) after my father expired. Ours was a big family at that time and I was the only earning member in our family of 6 brothers and two sisters all younger to me.

I continue here at Mysore to work again for the same company and whenever possible giving Siddha medical treatment to those who visit me. In the part where I am living there are hardly people who know about Siddha or Siddhars.

This shifted when a senior correspondent of a news paper-“THE HINDU” (which is the largest circulated news paper in India) came to me asking relief for his health problem which could not be solved by many eminent physicians. He was suffering from “ameobic colitis” and “irritable bowel syndrome.” He was shown the way out by telling that there is no permanent cure for this ailment in Allopathy. The person become totally disease free in just 3 months of Siddha treatment and the same correspondent wrote an article about me and Siddha which circulated and then people started getting curious about Siddha in our area. Many more newspapers and magazines conducted interviews with me about Siddha wisdom. From then I left the job and started full time practice and more than that started write ups to magazines which made me little more popular and I still give preference for writing and doing charity since I had to suffer a lot and to undergo lot of humiliations for many reasons during the past so many years.

J: Do you work with bio-medical doctors at the government hospitals and clinics? How do you view Western medicine in general? What do you think of doing clinical research on Siddha medicine? Have you met with any people who represent Siddha at the governmental level – i.e. AYUSH or Siddha medical college practitioners.

NS: Regarding western medicine, in spite of many inventions, breakthroughs, major medical institutions in India and the West are integrating holistic techniques into their course work and practical experiences. They include relaxation, diet and nutrition, exercises, herbal medicine, homeopathy, yoga and support groups. This clearly proves that even developed countries with high tech medicinal weapons in their armory, sincerely accept that no single system of medicine offers comprehensive treatment to certain chronic diseases. Multiple approaches, including those of Indian systems of medicine, offer better management.

I have contacts with most of the Siddha doctors attached to hospitals in Tamil Nadu. While all appreciate my efforts nothing concrete has been done by anyone to continue my academic and further research work. I am all alone doing everything without anybody’s help in any of its kind since it is destined for me to carry on with this saga. Siddhars have given me enough strength to carry on propagating their message globally.

J: Is the knowledge in the Siddha medical texts applicable to our current lifestyle and illnesses that are in society these days such as cancer, AIDS and so on?

NS: There is mention of AIDS and CANCER-like symptoms of diseases in the ancient literature written thousands of year back which are relevant even in today’s context.

J: What is the relationship between Ayurveda and Siddha?

NS: Regarding the relationship between Ayurveda and Siddha, Siddha predates Ayurveda. Siddhars mainly originated in South India and metallurgy and alchemy came into existence during the time of the Siddhars. After some years this materia medica of the Siddha pharmacopoeia was included in the Ayurvedic materia medica. Siddhars specialized in the transmutation of metallic preparations into ash to form medicinal products known as “parpam”.

J: Who are your clients? How do they hear about you? Do you collaborate with other Vaidyas or do you work independently? Do you treat the clients directly with the medicines or does someone help you prepare the bhasmas, leghyams, etc.?

NS: I have clients all over the world. They know about me through my articles, publications and magazines and through my website. I treat my patients alone and do not take anyone’s help either preparing or for collection of herbs. Mine is purely a one man show and I am quite comfortable and happy with what I am doing, with the Siddhars blessings.

J: Are there any Siddhars who are alive today? What is your connection to the Siddhars? What is your family’s connection to the Siddhars?

NS: Siddha-literally means conquering death. Siddhars are still alive and bless those who wholeheartedly have belief in them. Siddhars still live in their place where they have gone to “samadhi” and attained “perpetual consciousness.” The preparations of ‘NAVAPASHANALOHA’ (An idol of Lord Muruga at Palani in taminadu is done by the alloyed compound of nine heavy metals, which also acts as a potent medication for many chronic ailments). Siddha system was developed by 18 Siddhars who have contributed at different times and different places. There are different schools of thought about the time when they lived. But it should be around 400-300 B.C.

My family has no connection with any of those great Siddha souls or probably I may not be able to trace it. But what I have experienced personally while at thick wild infested forests can not be explained in words. In some places I had even gone to my previous birth place and fainted.



Jake Pollack: “What is your background in Siddha?”

Dr. Sivaraman: “I am a Siddha graduate from the Govt. siddha medical college, Tirunelveli. I finished my Doctorate from Dept of Siddha medicine, Tamil University, Thanjavur. I finished the certificate course in palm leaf manuscripts reading in 1990 from Thanjavur Sarfoji Library.

Since 1994 I have been running my Arogya Siddha hospital at Chennai. Since 1997 I have been running the registered Siddha Pharmaceuticals (Arogya Healthcare Pvt Ltd).

We have registered nearly 6000 cases in our hospital. Though we have only general practice, we are having good experiences in the chronic ailments like Psoriasis, Asthma, Arthritis, Hemorrhoids, Male/Female infertility treatment.

I have also submitted 8 scientific papers and written two books. I have worked in the field of Siddha Functional foods development for the past five years and traveled to a few countries (US, France, Canada, China., Thailand, Australia, Malaysia) to visit academic and research institutions.”

Jake: “How would you define Siddha medicine to someone who’s only familiar with biomedicine?”

Dr. Sivaraman: “Siddha medicine is one among the ancient traditional Indian systems of medicine, mainly practiced in the Tamil (An Indian language) speaking population. Siddha is based on Tridosha theory and Pancha pootha pancheekarna (five element theory). It is a life style. Medicine is a part of siddha philosophy.

The scope of practice for Siddha medicine is good nowadays. The increased number of patients for these clinics shows the demand. But the awareness about this system is limited to urban residents. The government support is not much. Prejudiced thoughts and ’unscientific’ initials given by modern science people are still confusing the people.

There are a few functional food concepts of this system and life style practices which need further study. Some translation works are going on in the government side. But many books are not yet edited, standardized or translated. Much more work is needed.”

Jake: “What is the relationship between Siddha medicine and yoga? Ayurveda?”

Dr. Sivaraman: “Thirummolar, one among the 18 Siddhars, who are the founders of Siddha medical system, wrote a lot about Yogasanas. Pathanjali yoga, importance of pranayama, suryanamaskar, and meditation were well dealt in Siddha. Yoga is the part of 96 basic Siddha fundamentals (96 thaththuvams) Ayurvedha is a brother system of Siddha medicine. There are many similarities with Siddha and a few fundamental differences. Both are from the same roots.”

Jake: “Who do you think would benefit from Siddha medicine? Can you describe some of the practices and their effects?”

Dr. Sivaraman: “The entire society would receive benefit. I should write dispassionately, but after 15 years of my interest and experience with Siddha, I could say Siddha is the way of healthy living. Those who really want to live (not just exist) should know about Siddha and should explore the possibilities of Siddha. Siddha medicine is a way and not a destination. Blind fold application is not essential. For me its not a hidden agenda or mythic trait or complex philosophy. It’s an experience of those who want the future society to be healthy.

By understanding Siddha, One can understand the rationale behind life and life force. One can enjoy the internal happiness. One can also really help the other with his/her ailment. One can also understand the Prabanja.

Siddha philosophy is amalgamated with Sankya philosophy and blended with Buddha Thammapata. For me, Siddhars, who makes the experience into a system, were highly dispassionate and they are not the mere followers of any religion/path. They blend the best and leave the rest.”

Jake: “What direction do you see Siddha medicine going?”

Dr. Sivaraman: “What is needed is not happening. Honestly, in my personal view, because of globalisation, modernization, and also in the name of standardization, Siddha science is often dissected / extracted without knowing its synergy and concepts.

Revamping the system for the benefits of society is not happening. Some are seeing this as an opportunity for emerging herbal business. Some are thinking of novel concepts of practice. Some are seeing the thirst of contemporary medical research. Some are thinking of it as an unexplored good source of market. Unfortunately many in the society are the sum of these ‘some’. “

For more information about Dr. Sivaraman and Arogya Health Care, please visit the following website:


This article is a biographical study of the alchemist and tantrik siddha
Iramatevar alias Yakoppu based on his original work in medieval Tamil.
In the arduous process of knowledge acquisition and production Yakoppu
took the remarkable step of visiting Mecca and converting to Islam. He
was a prolific writer and in many works describes the imperative and
mechanism of the realigning of his personal identity in fascinating detail.
The intrepid persona of Iramatevar or Yakoppu is not a simple juxtaposition
of two traditions, Hinduism and Islam, but a veritable alchemical


Note: Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author.
Kanchana can be reached via email at: kanchana237@gmail.com

“Time was when I despised the body; but then I saw the God within. The body, I realized, is the Lord’s temple; and so I began preserving it with care infinite.”
- Tirumular

“If the physical body perishes, it is a doom to the soul and one would not attain the true knowledge firmly. So by knowing the technique of tending and nourishing the body well, I not only tended and nourished the body, but the soul too. “
- Tirumular

“Anyone can offer a green leaf for worship of God; Anyone, can offer a mouthful of grass for a cow; Anyone, can spare a morsel of food for a crow; Anyone, can offer a kind word to others.”
- Tirumular

“Oh Lord of Life. What is the use of repeating my humble desires when you know my mind? When will all the world, realizing the universal spiritual communion, enjoy eternal happiness devoid of miseries and death? When shall I, on seeing their joy, be happy?”
- Ramalinga Swamigal

”The ignorant say that love and God are two. They do not know that love itself is God. Whoever knows that love itself is God, shall rest in love, one with God.”
- Tirumular

“Oh God! The Eternal Love, just to bestow upon me the golden body, you, the universal love have merged with my heart. Allowing yourself to be infused in me, Oh Supreme Love, You with the Light of Grace have alchemized my body.”
- Ramalinga Swamigal

“O you who proclaim yourself the yogins of knowledge, who search after knowledge in books! You do not know your own hearts! There you should search for the light of knowledge!”
- Civavakkiyar

“It is not good,” it is not “bad.”
The One Thing is right in the middle.
If you say It is good – it is good.
If you say, It isn’t good, it’s evil – it is evil.
Seeking that One Good, just say The Name.”
- Civavakkiyar

“Ascend the Path of True Wisdom. Search for pure Vedanta in the Absolute Void. Forsake the way of ignorance and doubt. Reveal to your friend the Way of Bliss.”
- Katuveliccittar

Silence, unmoved and rising,
Silence, unmoved and sheltering,
Silence, unmoved and permanent,
Silence, unmoved and brilliant,
Silence, broad and immense like the Ganga,
Silence, unmoved and increasing,
Silence, white and shining like the Moon,
Silence, the essence of Shiva.
- Civavakkiyar
Interview with Kanchana Natarajan, Part I


Kanchana Natarajan is a full-time Associate Professor at Delhi University teaching Indian Philosophy, and has been working on the historical aspect of the Siddhas.

She is presently looking at Pokar, who had Chinese connections, either he was Chinese and lived in South India or he visited China like Ramadevar.

This informal interview was conducted over email:

Jake Pollack: “What is your background with Siddha philosophy and how did you come to the work?

Kanchana Natarajan: “My entry into siddha philosophy is through popular Tamil siddha mystical as well as esoteric poetry, the word siddha in Tamil culture referred to someone who had "attained" the "fullness" of experience, or "reached the destination". the popular myth is that siddhas keep moving around in subtle bodies helping the practitioners to attain the state of realization, perhaps like the bodhisattvas.

What was intriguing about the siddhas was their language, which revealed something and yet hid much thus motivating the readers to know more about them and their works.

Statements like –
"Hey, if one has climbed the heights of the mountains to drink the mango juice, will he interested in mere coconut milk of the plains?"

Basically what intrigued me and intrigues me with the siddhas is their impenetrable language which simultaneously offered some point of penetration and decoding the language was like walking on the uncharted path, and this was for me the most exciting challenge siddha poetry offered.

I always carry "siddhargal padalgal" a collection of siddha poetry with me whenever I travel and keep looking at them at new places with renewed enthusiasm.

This is about the mystic siddhas, and this is my entry point, however, I didn’t know much about alchemical siddhas, except knowing them as "Ceppadai viddai kararkal" which in Tamil means ‘those frauds who pretended to transmute copper into gold,’ such derogatory statements have some advantage in that one's curiosity is aroused, and one wishes to know more about these practices.

When i was in SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies
http://www.soas.ac.uk/] in
London, on a commonwealth fellowship, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Dr Dominik Wujastyk who was at Wellcome Center giving a course on Ayurveda to the undergraduates. I audited that course and was fascinated by the Wellcome library and its very rich resources.

Dr Dominik informed me about the Tamil section, a large collection from Roja Mutthaia's library and also some early Tamil palm manuscripts. He also told me that I could see them and perhaps read them and out them to use. When I saw those collections I was really baffled and it was hard for me to extricate myself from the material.

The very next year I applied for a travel grant and went to Wellcome for 6 weeks. I again had the opportunity to look into the material, and as I came across text after text, I was surprised to see the siddha's lives embedded in their works, they were autobiographical, and I decided to pick up on Iramatevar, who was a tantric yogi as well as an alchemist, who for the sake of knowledge decided to undertake this long journey to Mecca under hostile conditions. This fascinated me a lot, and I looked into all available source material on Iramatevar alias Yakoppu and constructed his biography.

My special advantage was knowing Tamil very well to read the primary material, translate and construct his life and his travel. I now wish to work on other siddha alchemists like Pokar, Kalangi, etc. who have Chinese origin, or went from Tamil Nadu to China. There were also siddhas of Egyptian, Sri Lankan, and Roman origins. I am interested in working on their lives, based on their works.


Mission Statement of SiddhaMed non-profit organization:

SiddhaMed is a collaborative team of practitioners, scholars and clinical researchers who work together to preserve and practice Siddha Medicine in various settings, locally and globally.

This includes the following projects:

creating resources for the study of Siddha medicine, such as articles, journals, books, and curriculum for students;

hosting conferences and other educational events;

researching the efficacy of Siddha medical practices in clinical settings;

preparing Siddha medicines, herbal and otherwise;

operating clinics which offer Siddha medicine

Some of the topics discussed in SiddhaMed forums include:

Philosophy of the Siddhas
Hagiography of the Siddhas
History of Siddha Medicine
Alchemy in Siddha Medicine
The Pharmacopoeia of Siddha Medicine
Issues in Intellectual Property Rights/Preservation Of Indigenous Knowledge
Yoga in Siddha Medicine
Current Practice and Research

If you would like to participate in this organization, please contact Jake Pollack at:
pollack.jake@gmail.com or call (415) 368-4171



In an article written last July in The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspapers, the Director of the Central Research Institute for Siddha Medicine, G. Veluchamy, expressed concern over the preservation of traditional knowledge and the “prevention of granting patents for non-original inventions in our traditional knowledge system at the international level” (http://www.thehindu.com/2005/07/25/stories/2005072509300300.htm). Furthermore, J. Venkatesh, a member of an exposition of traditional medicines called “Ayush 2005,” expressed concern over “the growing trend in western nations to patent drugs and compositions that have been traditionally used in India by Siddha and Ayurveda practitioners” (Ibid.).

The ethical issues around bio-piracy and the power of pharmaceutical companies must be addressed. Sue V. Rosser’s writing on Postcolonial Feminist Critiques is useful in understanding this issue:
“Currently the pharmaceutical companies remove plants from the rainforest in the developing country and take them to Europe or North America. In the Northern continent the medicinal properties of the plant are extracted, synthesized and patented to be sold by the pharmaceutical company for an exorbitant profit… For example, Shiva (1997) states that 75% of the 120 active compounds currently isolated from higher plants and widely used in modern medicine were known in traditional systems” (Rosser 2000, 56-7).

Within the current model of globalization, there is a lack of discourse about intellectual property rights and accountability. In many ways, the dominant power of biomedicine continues the trajectory of colonial and imperial expansion due to its neglect of moral responsibilities. There is great inertia in this regard, particularly because of the enormous political and economic power that the system of biomedicine still holds, as well as the exorbitant profits to be made through pharmaceuticals.

One significant challenge to the commoditization of Siddha medicine is the materia medica itself, and the concerns over safety and standardization. From a chemical perspective, Siddha medicine is a fascinating example of the use of inorganic compounds for the treatment of disease, often called iatro-chemistry. This includes the use of salts, minerals, mercury and other chemical compounds generally considered to be toxic to the human body. Little research has been done on the psychological and physiological changes caused by these medicines.

The role of academic research institutions in preserving Siddha medical knowledge might also be understood as a movement towards commoditization of indigenous knowledge. Many of the scholars cited in this work and the author hail from institutions that have designated fields of knowledge which spawn funding, employment opportunities, courses on the subject, conferences, publications, and other formal group affiliations.

These discursive fields are worth noting because they not only draw interest and recognition to the topic of Siddha medicine, but also resources, researchers, and research which may or may not lead to the further commoditization of Siddha medicine. Whether or not these discursive fields contribute to imperial domination of Siddha medicine has yet to be determined. Ethnographical accounts of Siddha practitioners themselves might be useful to understand the way in which they perceive the activities of non-practitioner scholars or other “outsiders” to the tradition.

At this point, the patenting of Siddha medicines is still a relatively recent phenomena which is only beginning to cause concern among practitioners. Economic expansion, one of the agendas of imperialism, is certainly a common characteristic among all corporations. Yet what are the implications of an Indian corporation patenting Siddha medical preparations? Again, it is too early to chart the final outcomes, but judging from previous historical events, it would not be far-fetched to expect that imperialism will continue under the guise of “globalization” and “free-market trade” in this arena.

The WHO has written extensively on this matter in its “Review of Traditional Medicine in the South-East Asia Region.” In a somewhat chilling account of recent policies, the issues around intellectual property rights, patents, and health disparities are outlined:
“Before 1995, patents for drugs (which are now a part of intellectual property) were decisions that countries made in their national interest. With the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement, which included a section on TRIPS, intellectual property became a part of the multilateral agreement. This severely limited the option for countries to obtain medicines that would improve the health of their people” (WHO Project No.: IND EDM 050 2004, 18).

It is remarkably unjust that a system could at once steal knowledge, re-package it and then sell it to the person it stole it from without any significant legal barriers. Yet that is precisely what the legacy of colonial and imperial power instructs: to take and take without exchange in any sense of the term. In actuality, the medicines which will be researched and developed may only rarely benefit those who originally “owned” them:
“At present, the market potential appears to determine which medicines are developed. This is to the detriment of diseases found predominantly in the developing world, for which very few medicines have been developed. Less than 1% of new drugs developed in the past 25 years were for diseases of the developing world, which constitutes 80% of the world’s population” (WHO Project No.: IND EDM 050 2004, 18).