ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Medicine as Culture: Indigenous Medicine in Cosmopolitan Mumbai

Using the framework of medicine as culture and focusing on the indigenous medicine of ayurveda, this paper examines the relationship between health, culture and medicine, and its social reproduction in contemporary India. Specifically it deals with the cultural construct of "Kerala ayurveda", and the modes of its societal reproduction and recreation simultaneously as culture and as medicine in cosmopolitan Mumbai. Through an analysis of the historical and cultural roots of Kerala ayurveda and the role of community organisations in its translocation into a city, the paper shows the analytical fragility of the tradition/modern binary in the understanding of contemporary indigenous systems and questions the belief that state and market provide the foremost sites for institutional and secular practice of indigenous medicines.

The cooperation of the ayurveda practitioners in Kerala and Mumbai and the samajam officials in Mumbai is acknowledged. The Homi Bhabha Fellowship supported fieldwork in Kerala.

While examining the relationship between health, culture and medicine in post-colonial India, the dominant perspective in sociological and anthropological literature conceptualises medicine and culture as autonomous domains and views the relationship between the two in oppositional terms where culture (lay persons’ beliefs and practices) is seen largely as impeding the progress of biomedicine (allopathy, modern medicine). In this conceptual schema, all medical know ledge other than biomedicine is denied any valid medical status, clubbed as culture devoid of any cognitive content, and is seen coterminous with religion and s uperstition. Other related a ssumptions are that cultural influences on healthcare are p rominent in rural settings and less so among the educated in modernising s ocieties. This perspective largely ignores the ground r eality of the spread of indigenous medical systems and practices, their cognitive relevance, the complex reasons for p eople’s healthcare choices and the contribution of indigenous medicine to people’s health.

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