The Newsletter 65 Autumn 2013

A medicine in loss of identity

Brigitte Sébastia

The association of the term siddha with medicine seems a relatively recent phenomenon. The Sanskrit word siddha means ‘realised’ and refers to yogis endowed with supernatural powers called siddhi. In the reports of committees appointed by the British colonial government to evaluate the relevance of traditional medicines, the term siddha was first used to refer to traditional medical practices in South India in the Usman report of 1923. Previously, committees’ reports, travellers’ accounts and old Tamil medical books used terms such as ‘Tamil medicine’ or ‘Tamil Ayurveda’. The word siddha, introduced in the 1920s, could result from the Dravidian movement that opposed brahmanical cultural hegemony in South India. Siddha medicine was and is considered to be a glorious achievement and symbol of Tamil culture. This is mirrored today in the discourses of siddha practitioners and the promoters of siddha medicine.

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