Ayurvedic Revivalism: Appropriating a Sense of “National” Identity through Modernity

By Natasha Sarkar.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Colonial India provided a unique setting for a study of comparative medical cultures, a place where one could find European practitioners, homoeopaths, hakims, and vaids. The early years of British rule saw the European physicians adopt a vast collection of drugs from the Hindu materia medica. With the passage of time, nevertheless, colonial medicine was to emerge as an authoritative scientific discipline, influenced by its changing perceptions of and interactions with indigenous medical learning. The paper examines the development of ayurveda within this colonial context, tracing the gradual decline in the study of ayurveda. The plague epidemics of the late-nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented enforcement of colonial plague measures, alienating western medicine. While the native press promoted indigenous medical practice and ayurvedic drugs, manuals for plague therapeutics were in circulation, indicative of attempts to create a renewed interest in ayurveda. The paper argues that, in the light of western medicine’s assumption of scientific authority, the efforts at popularising ayurveda were part of a greater agenda, that of reasserting ayurveda’s claims to scientific authority, if only to meet the professional and political ambitions of the western-educated intelligentsia who, influenced by nationalistic ideals, attempted to squeeze power and control from the empire back to the natives. The paper captures their call for incorporating the teachings of modern sciences with those of ayurveda. The results lay in multiple plague remedies and prophylactics that were debated by vaids over considerations of provings and poisonings. What remains to be seen is whether the indigenous community bought into this idea of ayurveda as national science.

Keywords: Ayurveda, Plague, Vaccination

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.93-99. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 306.695KB).

Dr. Natasha Sarkar

Graduate Student (PhD Soon to be Awarded), Department of History, Ohio State University, Ohio, USA

She has published a variety of articles on the modern plague pandemic and the social history of medicine in South Asia, exploring questions related to gender and disease, alternative medicine and cultural response to disease. Forthcoming articles include ‘The Outbreak: Traders and wandering Fakirs under the scanner in nineteenth century India’ (The Quarterly Review of Historical Studies) and ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Stem Cell Research: Questioning the Moral Status of the Embryo in India’ (Science, Technology and Society).