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Date(s) - 23/05/2019
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


Knowledge and Subjects: Situating Ayurveda through Life Narratives of Practitioners

Chapter 3. The Transgressive Potential of Narrative Tropes: Interplay of Knowledge and Caste

Chapter 4. Therapeutics to Cosmetics: Revival of a Knowledge Tradition

I had presented the outline of two chapters in my previous presentation. The first chapter was on significant scholarship on Ayurveda to sketch the patterns and trends in the study of indigenous medicine (nattuvaidyam/ayurvedas). While analysing the complex nature of diverse practices, most of the existing scholarship ends up dividing the practices as erudite, non-scholarly and marginalized. The very premise of the existence of such a division ends up preventing them from perceiving the ceaseless interaction amongst diverse ayurvedas. The second chapter explained the life narratives of select practitioners by looking at the different titles, degrees or endowment given to them or acquired by them in the course of time and its long-term significance and impact. In other words, how the figure of a practitioner (vaidyan/vaidya) emerges through a discourse around titles was looked into.

I will present a summary of my third and fourth chapter here. Some of the narrative tropes in the life narratives of the practitioners that I have analyzed show the potential to transgress the taboos and rigid norms set within a colonial and post-colonial historical context where the transition as well as the resistance to change, inhabited simultaneously. There were unique ways to deal with or circumvent the norms set by a social order in which corporeal behaviour had a distinct role in re-circulating the social order. Myths and stories played their role in circumventing many taboos set by the particular social order.

The fourth chapter looks at the endeavour of practitioners to preserve their knowledge traditions through means other than practising Ayurveda. They used some of the medicines to produce cosmetic products like soaps, shampoos, hygiene wash etc. When some practitioners became manufacturers and small-scale industrialists, some others started small and big pharmacies and sold medicines under their own brand names. Under what historical conditions does a practitioner move into the arena of production and selling of a cosmetic product, rather than practising vaidyam? What are the claims under which practitioners market their products? The chapter will address these concerns along with many others.

Through these chapters, I have delineated the modalities through which a vaidya figure evolves, solidifies and negotiates with society. The manuscript also elaborates the contribution of individual and ‘non-registered’ (officially ‘unqualified’) practitioners in the dissemination and preservation of knowledge in Ayurveda at a time when modern institutions were seen as the only sites of knowledge production, preservation and dissemination.