This is a video series on twenty “Paramparika Vaidyas”, often known as local health practitioners, in and around the district of rural Bengaluru. Through this series, a brief glimpse is offered into their stories and lives in their own words.
About the Study
This study focused on understanding the contexts and healing traditions of local health practitioners (Paramparika Vaidyas (PV)) in and around rural Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. In particular, the study attempted to understand PV’s conceptions of and approaches to well-being and healing, and how these have remained/transformed/adapted within their lived spaces in response to biomedical supremacy, transformed eco-spaces and changing health seeker expectations.
Focus Topic: Changing Contexts And Approaches To Healing Amongst Paramparika Vaidyas In And Around The Rural Bengaluru District
It is well known that diverse healthcare traditions have coexisted across centuries in multicultural and pluralistic societies like those in India. The World Health Organization estimates that around 80% of the Indian population depends in some way on ‘alternative’ health systems for their primary healthcare needs. The term ‘alternate’, however is a giant, loose, umbrella term often used to refer to any of the formalized AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy, and Sowa-rigpa) systems as well as a vast network of informal healthcare traditions such as Visha Vaidyas, bone setters, Dais etc. Many such ‘informal’ healers in Karnataka, however, prefer to call themselves Paramparika Vaidyas (PVs). This video series is an attempt to understand more about the diverse spaces that PVs occupy, through the lens of their own words.
About the Series
This series was made as part of a study titled ‘Changing Contexts And Approaches To Healing Amongst Paramparika Vaidyas In and Around the Rural Bengaluru District’. It was supported by the Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS CSP) and the NIAS CSP – Tata Trust Project on Indigenous Healing Traditions. This study was carried out in the Rural Bengaluru District, Karnataka, India. A total of twenty interviews were conducted in different villages, amongst PVs belonging to different castes, religions, genders, ages, traditions/lineages of praxis, and linguistic and socio-cultural backgrounds.
Interestingly, very few Vaidyas came from familial traditions, but stumbled upon their teachers and instructors at different points in their lives. Some began their journeys into healing with great skepticism, but found meaning as they went on. The series explores Vaidyas’ diverse notions of health and well-being which are often non-anthropocentric and situated in multidimensional physical, social, and spiritual eco-spaces. These intangible foundations were found to construct healers’ understandings of disease and illness, and inform their engagements with the land, herbs, and healthseekers.
In an era where healthcare narratives are directed by biomedical, standardized, industrialized and commercialized discourses, the diverse and decentralized praxes of PVs have come to occupy troubled and contested spaces. Increasingly stringent regulations by the Forest Depts. have severely restricted PVs’ access to forests, that have historically been vital to their philosophies and traditions of praxis. Many Vaidyas also seemed to believe that Paramparika Vaidyam is the only healthcare option accessible to and affordable by a majority of poor, rural healthseekers. As a result, many practice free, or are engaged in other professions that serve as their primary income sources.
Many Vaidyas also experience an increasing pressure to commercialize their products and services. Often, a lack of such monetary and material signs of ‘success’ negatively impacts how PVs are perceived by their social and often rural contexts due to constant comparisons with ‘big’ and aspirational biomedical and institutional establishments. However, such endeavours are complicated by their complete lack of recognition (and therefore monitoring/licensing) by the State or bodies such as the AYUSH. This has also resulted in instances of propagation of false and dubious claims, quackery, unethical practice and medicine adulteration. In this regard, it was also of interest to understand, how intangible philosophies and alternate, holistic approaches to health and well-being that have historically been foundational to PVs engagements with the land, herbs, ecospaces and healthseekers, have remained/transformed/adapted within the troubled and often volatile contexts they occupy.
What the series DOES NOT do
The series is not a description of ‘indigenous’ healing techniques or a documentation of herbs used therein. It is not an attempt to ‘validate’ or ‘invalidate’ PVs and their praxes. It does not seek a path ahead toward integration of any kind, or to compare PV systems to the AYUSH systems, Allopathy or any other healing traditions.
About the Researcher
The study was conceptualized and carried out by Pushya A Gautama, a Doctoral Scholar in the Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, under the supervision of Dean and Programme Head, Prof. Sangeetha Menon. She has had the opportunity of studying Ayurveda both institutionally from a well-known college in Karnataka, and unofficially from ‘informal’ Vaidyas.