A team of physicians and researchers is on a mission to document indigenous medicine

For a villager, finding inexpensive, effective and accessible medical care is perhaps more difficult today than in the past when villages had their own traditional health practitioners. The number of local healers is fast diminishing, and with this might die a wealth of knowledge.

The key to cure

“We can’t let it happen. For instance, a healer in Vellore uses the vellarugu herb to cure certain skin diseases; another uses the saravaangi herb for certain types of arthritis; use of such herbs is largely unknown in mainstream medical care. Such herbs might hold the key to new and effective medicines,” says T. Thirunarayanan, Centre for Traditional Medicine and Research (CTMR), the Chennai-based NGO of scientists and medical professionals. Founded by retired scientist and traditional medicine activist S. Usman Ali; horticulturist V. Sundaravalli; Siddha physician R. Padmapriya; industrialist and management expert S. Ramesh; and Dr. Thirunarayanan, CTMR is on a quest to revive and tap into our indigenous medicine legacy. The volunteers of this NGO have embarked on an ambitious project to document, demystify, and strengthen indigenous medicine, and also iron out inadequacies in it. “This traditional knowledge is the country’s inherited intellectual property and is extremely valuable,” says Usman Ali.

Genuine healers

Dr. Thirunarayanan estimates that there are approximately 3,000 genuine local healers in Tamil Nadu today. This system has worked well for a long time, and still does, in many places.

“Some of these healers don’t even take money for their services. Of course, we do need allopathic care for surgeries, acute emergencies and trauma, but for the likes of skin diseases, bone setting, poisonous bites, lifestyle and nutritional disorders, local healers can do a great job. They make medicines from plants available locally; they harvest these plants on a sustainable basis,” he says.

For evaluating and ensuring quality in local healers, CTMR has been holding workshops with the support of the Central Government’s Department of Ayush, Quality Council of India, and IGNOU. In a pilot project in Vellore, 355 healers were evaluated, of whom 135 were found and certified to be genuine.

They were also trained in safety measures such as sterilisation, and most importantly, in discerning what ailments they should treat, and what ailments they should refer to allopathic specialists.

(For details, call If you would like to be part of the CTMR mission, contact 2253-3399 / 94440-18158. To know more, log on to www.siddhactmr.blogspot.com)

Palm leaves go digital

CTMR digitises ancient palm-leaf manuscripts that have a wealth of information on indigenous medicine. For instance, a 300-year-old manuscript secured from a healer in Vellore describes the varma kalai and pulse diagnostic techniques of eight authors such as Dhanvantari, Agasthiyar and Thirumoolar. So far, CTMR has digitised and catalogued 17,000 palm-leaf folios and passed it on to the Department of Ayush, for incorporating in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, and to the Central Council for Research in Siddha. CTMR is also training people to decipher the script in these manuscripts. Says Usman Ali, “We have no idea how many such palm manuscripts have already been lost, but what survives can still be an ocean of exciting knowledge that can be researched upon for developing new medicines and cures.”