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Lecture by Dr S.A.S. Sarma (EFEO Pondicherry) at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim
03 MARCH 12
S.A.S. Sarma (EFEO Pondicherry) presented a paper at the international symposium "Religion, Science, and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change" organized by the International Society for the History of Religions, Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies - Norwegian University of Science and Technology, from 1st to 3rd March 2012.
Title: Medical treatments described in the Ritual texts of Kerala: An interaction between Religion and Science
Summary: India has a unique history of cultural traditions which reach back, unbroken, to almost four thousand years. Though these traditions have changed and evolved, many ancient practices and beliefs survive even today. The Vedas, the earliest religious documents of an ancient priestly group, are an ancient Sanskrit liturgical literature, which, apart from the praise and worship of the gods, also include prayers for health, long life, healing and other sciences. In fact, according to some historians of science the Vedas also transmit information on traditional medicine, geometry, astronomy, philosophy, and other subjects. Many texts belonging to the later traditions such as the Dharmaśāstra and the Arthaśāstra, also continue to comprise of information related to scientific subjects. On the other hand, texts which deal exclusively with Āyurveda, such as the Caraka and the Suśruta, and are known as vaidya texts, also seem to give great importance to Mantra. Thus we see how, in one way or other, religion and science are related.
Kerala, which lies at the tip of the Indian sub-continent, has a long tradition of enlightened scholarship and has contributed a lot towards both religion and science. The textual corpus of Kerala consists not only of literature on poetry, drama, religion and philosophy but also a vast collection of writings on technical subjects like astronomy, medicine, architecture, music, dance, law, polity and even horticulture and cosmetics along with an important collection of ritual texts.
Most of the ritual texts produced in Kerala are confined to Kriyā and Caryā, relating to temple worship and religious rites which are unique in that they are multi-oriented and take into consideration the many deities worshipped in the land, in contrast to limiting themselves to one school and one deity. Certain ritual texts of Kerala, deal not only with rituals but also with topics other than rituals, such as architecture, iconography, toxicology, treatment for insane, treatment for different kinds of fevers, treatment for children's diseases, infertility etc. Among these ritual manuals, the Īśānagurudevapaddhati of Īśānagurudeva, Yogaratnāvali of Śrīkaṇṭha, Tantrasārasaṅgraha of Nārāyaṇa and Prayogasāra of Govinda particularly deal extensively with medical treatments.
Kerala is well-known for its prevalent tradition of toxicology (viṣavaidya) which consists of two types of treatments, namely Viṣavaidya and Viṣavidyā. While the former, Viṣavaidya, is a purely medical practice which uses medicinal plants and mineral drugs for treatment, the latter, Viṣavidyā, includes the recitation of mantras and other ritual practices in the process of treatment for poisoning. It is worth noting that these treatments are a living tradition, still being followed in Kerala.
The practice of including medical treatments in ritual texts is not only limited to Kerala. Texts which belong to the tantras, such as the Bhūtatantras and the Gāruḍika also deal with medical treatment. While the Bhūtatantras are exclusively concerned with curing possession and related illnesses, the Gāruḍika texts deal with the classification of snakes, treatment for snakebite, and illnesses caused by other venomous creatures.
Thus, as per the above, this paper will try to exhibit the interaction between science and religion, with particular reference to the field of medicine in the ritual manuals of Kerala.