Folklore - New World Encyclopedia
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Even before medical knowledge was codified into the canonical texts of Ayurveda, there were abundant sources of medical knowhow in the subcontinent. Healing is practiced by people from all levels of society who live and work in intimate relation with their environment. They range from home remedies related to nutrition and treatment for minor illnesses, to more sophisticated procedures such as midwifery, bone setting and treatment of snake bites and mental disorders. There were also specialists in blood letting, experts in physical medical practices and others with intimate knowledge of medicinal plants. All these areas of folk practices have their particular folklore that preserved and transmitted such knowledge. Some healing practices were considered to be sacred and were associated with rituals that helped safeguard them. It is interesting to note that in folk traditions there is considerable overlap between healing plants and sacred plants, and certain healing plants were venerated.
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There are other formal systems of medicine such as Unani, Rasashastra, Siddha, and Sa-Rigpa that have been practiced in the subcontinent. Unani is an Arab medical tradition that has its origin in the Greek Ionian medicine (the word Unani being an Arabic adaptation of the word Ionian). During its development in India, Unani incorporated elements of indigenous materia medica from Ayurvedic and folk sources. It is still practiced and popular in India and Pakistan. Rasashastra is an ancient tradition of healing that uses medicines incorporating metals, especially Mercury and gold, purified using complex procedures. The tradition maintains that Rasa formulations in association with yogic and tantric practices give extraordinary powers like arresting the process of ageing. Certain Rasa medicines were incorporated into Ayurveda and Siddha. The Siddha tradition is an ancient south Indian system that developed especially in the Tamil speaking region and continues to be popular there. It integrated elements of Ayurveda, Rasashastra, Yoga and Tantra and uses alchemically prepared metals along with medicinal plants. Siddha system is said to have been influenced by contacts with Chinese and Arab medicine. The Sa-Rigpa tradition practiced in Tibet and Himalayan regions is an amalgam of Ayurveda derived from Vagbhata’s Ashtangahrdayam and folk practices along with a strong influence of Tibetan Buddhism.