Siddha medicine is a traditional medicine originating in Tamil Nadu in India.
The Supreme Court of India and the Indian Medical Association regard Siddha medicine as quackery.
Practitioners of alternative medicine, including those practicing Siddha medicine, are not authorized to practice medicine in India unless trained at a qualified medical institution, registered with the government, and listed as physicians annually in The Gazette of India. Identifying practitioners of Siddha medicine, the Supreme Court of India stated in 2018 that:
“unqualified, untrained quacks are posing a great risk to the entire society and playing with the lives of people without having the requisite training and education in the science from approved institutions”.
The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy of the Government of India coordinates and promotes research in the fields of Ayurveda and Siddha medicine. The Central Council of Indian Medicine, a statutory body established in 1971 under AYUSH, monitors higher education in areas of Indian medicine, including Siddha medicine.
To fight bioprospecting and unethical patents, India set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library in 2001 as a repository of 223,000 formulations of various systems of medicine common in India, such as Ayurveda, Unani medicine, Siddha medicine, and homeopathy.
History of Siddha medicine
Siddha is a traditional treatment system generated from Tamil culture. Siddha is focused on “Ashtamahasiddhi“. Those who attained or achieved these powers are known as Siddhars.
There were 18 important Siddhars in olden days and they developed this system of medicine. Hence, it is called Siddha medicine. The Siddhars wrote their knowledge in palm leaf manuscripts, fragments of which were found in parts of South India.
It is believed that some families may possess more fragments but keep them solely for their own use. According to Manikandan, there were 22 principal Siddhars. Of these 22, Agasthya is believed to be the father of Siddha medicine. Siddhas believed that a healthy soul can only be developed through a healthy body. Men and women who dedicated their lives to developing the system were called Siddhars.
Most Siddha medical practitioners are traditionally trained, usually in families and by gurus (teachers). When the guru is a martial arts teacher, he is also known as an ashan.
Traditionally, it is taught that the Siddhars laid the foundation for this system of medication. Siddhars were spiritual adepts who possessed the ashta siddhis. Nandhisar is considered the first Siddha and the guru of all Siddhars.
Concept of disease and cause
When the normal equilibrium of the three humors — Vaadham, Pittham, and Kapam — is disturbed, the disease is caused. The factors assumed to affect this equilibrium are the environment, climatic conditions, diet, physical activities, and stress. Under normal conditions, the ratio between Vaadham, Pittham, and Kapam are 4:2:1, respectively.
According to the Siddha medicine system, diet and lifestyle play a major role in health and in curing diseases. This concept of Siddha medicine is termed as pathiyam and apathiyam, which is essentially a rule-based system with a list of “do’s and don’ts“.
In diagnosis, the examination of eight items is required which is commonly known as “enn vakaith thervu“. These are:
- Na (tongue): black in Vaatham, yellow or red in pitham, white in kapam, ulcerated in anaemia.
- Varnam (color): dark in Vaatham, yellow or red in pitham, pale in kapam.
- Kural (voice): normal in Vaatham, high-pitched in pitham, low-pitched in kapam, slurred in alcoholism.
- Kan (eyes): muddy conjunctiva, yellowish or red in pitham, pale in kapam.
- Thodal (touch): dry in Vaatham, warm in pitham, chill in kapam, sweating in different parts of the body.
- Malam (stool): black stools indicate Vaatham, yellow pitham, pale in kapam, dark red in ulcer and shiny in terminal illness.
- Neer (urine): early morning urine is examined; straw color indicates indigestion, reddish-yellow color in excessive heat, rose in blood pressure, saffron color in jaundice, and looks like meat washed water in renal disease.
- Naadi (pulse): the confirmatory method recorded on the radial artery.
The herbal agents used by the Siddhars could be classified into three groups: thavaram (herbal product), thadhu (inorganic substances) and jangamam (animal products).
The thadhu agents are further classified as: uppu (water-soluble inorganic substances that give out vapor when put into fire), pashanam (agents not dissolved in water but emit vapour when fired), uparasam (similar to pashanam but differ in action), loham (not dissolved in water but melt when fired), rasam (substances which are soft), and ghandhagam (substances which are insoluble in water, like sulfur).
Siddha medicine today
The Tamil Nadu state runs a 5.5-year course in Siddha medicine (BSMS: Bachelor in Siddha Medicine and Surgery).
The Indian Government also gives its focus on Siddha, by starting up medical colleges and research centers like National Institute of Siddha. Commercially, Siddha medicine is practiced by Siddhars referred to in Tamil as vaithiyars.
Since 2014, the Supreme Court of India and the Indian Medical Association have described Siddha medicine as quackery, and there is no governmental recognition of Siddhars as legitimate physicians.
The Indian Medical Association regards the Indian institutions that train people in Siddha medicine, the supposed degrees granted, and the graduates of those programs as “fake“.
Since 1953, the Indian national government has not recognized Siddha medicine or any alternative system of medicine as valid, and there is no proposal to integrate Siddha medicine into conventional medicine practiced in India.
There may be as many as one million quack “doctors“, including Siddhars, practicing medicine in the rural regions of India, a condition not actively opposed by the Indian government out of concern for serving some health needs for the large rural population.
The Indian Medical Association emphatically opposed this position in 2014. In 2018, licensed Indian physicians staged demonstrations and accused the government of sanctioning quackery by proposing to allow rural quacks to practice some aspects of clinical medicine without having complete medical training.