From the shadows of legitimacy problems and prospects of folk healing in India
M. D. Subash Chandran

Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore- 560012
Tel: 08386 223142; Cell: 09449813043

Citation : M. D. Subash Chandran, 2016. From the shadows of legitimacy problems and prospects of folk healing in India, J. Traditional and Folk Practices, Vol. 02, 03, 04(1): 74 - 95.


Contributions of Indian folk medicine towards Ayurveda, and vice versa, are examined through a case study of Ezhava medical traditions in Kerala, in historical context. Hortus Malabaricus, a masterly 12 volume ethnobotanical treatise, by Van Rheede, primarily based on 17th century Ezhava botany and medicine, captured the attention of European biologists, promoting modern systematic botany and probably binomial nomenclatural system by Linnaeus. Despite social backwardness, Ezhavas of yore excelled in indigenous medicine and Ayurveda, almost on par with celebrated Ashtavaidya Brahmin practitioners. A paradigm shift in indigenous medicine happened during late British period, with premium on Western biomedicine. However, compulsions on formal qualifcations for Ayurvedic practitioners became inevitable in free India, keeping folk healers and traditional Ayurvedic practitioners outside the zone of legitimacy. Results of a case study conducted in Uttara Kannada to evaluate the current status of folk healers show their important role in the society for curing a wide array of health problems of humans and livestock. More than 50% of healers studied were Brahmins. Most healers being elderly, fnd it hard to get successors, for lack of legitimacy and fear of punitive actions. In this dismal scenario for folk medicine, the Biodiversity Act, 2002 upholds the freedom of vaidyas and hakims to gather bioresources for indigenous medical practice and requires the local bodies to keep lists of vaidyas and hakims in People’s Biodiversity Registers. The Biodiversity Act and medical acts of the country should function complementarily so as to help resurrection of ethnomedicine to ensure health for all

Keywords: Folk healing, Ayurveda, Traditional medical knowledge, Ezhavas, Itti Achudan, Hortus Malabaricus, Uttara Kannada.