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

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What Is ‘Modern’ about Modernised Ayurveda?

Doctoring Traditions: Ayurveda, Small Technologies, and Braided Sciences by Projit Bihari Mukharji, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016; pp xi + 374, US$45/UK£31.50.

The “modernisation” of Ayurvedic medicine, especially during the late 19th and early 20th century colonial India, has inspired many anthropological and historical studies. These studies have described modernisation in terms of “institutionalisation” of Ayurvedic training, “pharmaceuticalisation” of drug production, “professionalisation” of medical practice, as well as “biomedicalisation” and “creolisation” of Ayurvedic knowledge and therapeutics. The modernisation also entailed a process of compilation of knowledge and practice from diverse medical traditions across the South Asian region, under the singular identity of “Ayurveda.” While only some of the medical lineages belonged to the ancient Sanskritic textual tradition, others survived and transmuted as part of the general therapeutic repertoire of generations of medical practitioners. Furthermore, while the textual traditions were favoured in the making of modern Ayurvedic knowledge and practice, non-textual and non-Sanskritic elements were not entirely disregarded.

A few region-specific studies of the modernisation of Ayurveda reveal that what are generally seen as broad South Asian trends, have very distinct regional and sociocultural histories, which produced distinct regional Ayurvedic modernities. Projit Bihari Mukharji’s Doctoring Traditions: Ayurveda, Small Technologies, and Braided Sciences makes a significant contribution to the study of regional medical modernities. It is a fascinating account of the Ayurvedic modernity, led by a small group of practitioners, locally known as Kobirajes, who belonged to the Baidya caste, residing in and around the city of Calcutta in the latter half of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th century colonial India. Through meticulously carried out research, Mukharji traces the numerous and diverse therapies, ideas, material objects and expertise from Indic as well as Western, scientific and wider cultural sources, that the Kobirajes used in “braiding” a modern Ayurveda in the Bengal region.

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Updated On : 27th Nov, 2017
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