Old Potions, New Bottles: Recasting Indigenous Medicine in Colonial Punjab 1850–1940
Kavita Sivaramakrishnan
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

Old Potions, New Bottles is a study of how indigenous medical learning and practices were recast and reformulated with the coming of western medicine and western medical ideas through colonial rule. Analysing local responses to global enforcements in a specific yet massive terrain—namely, colonial Punjab—Kavita Sivaramakrishnan explores the processes by which this region’s Ayurvedic practitioners and publicists set about reordering ideas and mobilising networks in response to the claims of western medicine and its implicit validation of colonial rule. She shows that vaid practitioners engaged with the scientific authority of western medicine in the colony through writings and other efforts in a print-based public sphere. Facing both threat and competition, local practitioners were forced to address and propagate new forms of medical reason to legitimise and revalidate the indigenous scientific basis of their learning. In part, this meant reinterpreting Ayurved’s claims to status and authority. This book also explores the engagements between Ayurved and Yunani indigenous practices, thereby looking beyond the confining binaries of Asian and western medical systems. It argues for an understanding of the contextual politics of indigenous medicine as a fluid and complex body of ideas as well as representations of religious identities and linguistic alignments. Vaid claims to patronage and representation now meant nothing less than recasting vaid identity in Punjab; and this was marked by irregular alignments and multiple imaginings. In showing this, the author suggests new perspectives on Hindu reformist politics, its ambiguities and fractures. Patrons and publicists in the medical public sphere were forging new forms of Sikh community identity and a Hindu nation-in-the-making, even as they were, simultaneously and disparately, projecting an altered vocabulary of Ayurvedic learning in Hindi and Gurmukhi. Drawing upon years of fieldwork across Punjab, Kavita Sivaramakrishnan examines, alongside the standard archives, a vast number of vernacular pamphlets, tracts and magazines—many for the first time. This is supplemented and enriched by interviews with Ayurvedic practitioners and families of hereditary practitioners, as well as data from private collections and diaries that have never been accessed until now.

Kavita Sivaramakrishnan studied history at St. Stephens College, Delhi, and Trinity College, Cambridge. Her Ph.D. is from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
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