Case Studies of Medical Pluralism India

Modern Ayurveda

Ayurveda the Science of Life

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Leslie (1977) has conducted historical and ethnographic research on medical pluralism in India. He delineates five levels in the Indian dominative medical system:

(1) biomedicine, which relies upon physicians with M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from prestigious institutions;

(2) "indigenous" medical systems, which include practitioners who have obtained degrees from Ayurvedic, Unani, and Siddha medical colleges; (3) homeopathy, whose physicians have completed correspondence courses; (4) religious scholars or learned priests with unusual healing abilities; and (5) local folk healers, bone-setters, and midwives. In contrast to some 150,000 biomedical physicians, there were an estimated 400,000 practitioners of Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha in the early 1970s. Ayurveda is based upon Sanskrit texts, Unani on Galenic and Islamic medicine, and Siddha on South Indian humoralism. In addition to 95 biomedical schools, India has 92 Ayurvedic colleges, 15 Yunani colleges, and a college of Siddha medicine. Although homeopathy entered India as a European import, the opposition to it by the British-dominated biomedical profession spared it association with colonialism. Homeopathic practices have become a standard component of Ayurveda. Although the Indian state continued to support biomedi-cine after independence, in 1970 it established the Central Council of Indian Medicine as a branch of the Ministry of Health in an effort to legitimize the traditional professionalized medical systems and for the purposes of registering traditional physicians, regulating education and practice, and fostering research (Leslie, 1974). According to Leslie (1992, p. 205), "[Traditional] physicians ... are sometimes painfully aware that cosmopolitan medicine [or biomedicine] dominates the Indian medical system, yet a substantial market exists for commercial Ayurvedic products and for consultation with practitioners."

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