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Why Traditional Medicines Like 'Siddha' Are Still Relevant

'Siddha' a traditional form of medicine has its roots in South India. The people practising this form of medicine are known as 'Siddhars' or 'Vaithiyars' in Tamil. Adivasi Awaaz creator Kavipriya writes about this traditional form of medicine which has been a part of the Kuravar tribe for a long time.

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Most traditional forms of medicine are usually practised in the rural parts of India and are closely associated with the local tribal populations. Siddha medicine serves more than 50% of the rural population and is an important contributor to rural medical care. While the modern world relies on modern medicine, the local population of our village rely on the Siddha medicine taught and practised by the Kuravars of our village. In the absence of proper hospitals, medical care and modern medicine, Siddha has proved to be an important alternative. Moreover, during our study and survey on medicine, we came across individuals complaining about how modern medicines were efficient in curtailing chronic illnesses, chronic pains and other problems, but for a short period of time. Many had been prescribed painkillers, nonetheless, their pains would return once the effects of the medicine wore off. These respondents then turned to Siddha medicine and were satisfied with the results. This encouraged us to travel to Sithathalai village in Thirumangalam, near Madurai district, Tamil Nadu; a place where Siddha medicine has existed for a long time. The Kuravars of this village have been practicing this form of medicine as an ancestral occupation and are known as 'healers', 'Siddhars' or 'Vaithiyars'.

During our visit, we interviewed and talked to both the healers and the local population. One amongst them was Vengaiyan Ayya. He talked about the ailments that the Siddha medicine could treat. It included headaches, back pains, joint pains, digestion-related problems, fever, cold, etc. He also added that after treatments, the ailments did not return, unlike other forms of medicine. He was certain that the younger generation and the coming generations required learning this form of medicine. The core of Siddha medicine is based on maintaining the equilibrium of the body. According to the Kuravar healers of the Sithathalai village, the body is comprised of three elements 'vaadham' (air), 'pittham' (fire) and 'kapam' (water), which are collectively known as 'mukkuttram'. They further explained that diseases are caused when the balance between these three elements gets disturbed due to varying factors like bacteria, pollution, climatic conditions, diet, stress, etc. Natural elements like herbs, extracts from plants and animals, and inorganic chemical compounds like sulphur and mercury are used for treatment in this form of medicine.

Ayya Vengaiyan, Thirumangalam, Siththalai village; Image Source: Kavi Priya

"The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy of the Government of India regulates training in Siddha medicine and other traditional practices grouped collectively as AYUSH" (Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India. 2017.) Individuals receive formal education and degrees in Siddha medicine, just like modern medicine, implying they are well-trained and educated. They can receive Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Siddha medicine, along with a PhD; akin to degrees in modern medicine. The degrees are known as BSMS (Bachelor in Siddha Medicine and Surgery) and MD (Medical Doctor, Siddha).

However, the Indian Medical Association does not recognize this form of medicine. While the health and safety of individuals should be a priority, it cannot be denied that traditional forms of medicine like Siddha have been an age-old practice of the tribals. In every part of India, the tribals have used natural elements like herbs and plants to treat themselves for centuries. It also cannot be denied that these treatments have been and are still working. They have proved to be an important alternative, especially for people who are still unable to access modern medicines. Hence, it is crucial to recognize the importance of these forms of traditional medicine, without putting the safety and well-being of individuals at risk.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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