The 5000-year old Traditional Indian medicinal system is attracting a number of young students today

Posted on August 17, 2010


Not considered as a serious branch of medicine until recently, The 5000-year old Traditional Indian medicinal system is attracting a number of young students today, Informs

Strictly speaking, the traditional Indian medicinal system is synonymous with ayurveda. However, today when people in India refer to traditional cures they allude to diverse forms of healthcare that broadly include ayurveda, homeopathy, unani, naturopathy, chiropracty and Chinese and Tibetan medicine, among others. These traditional cures can be grouped under the umbrella term ‘alternative medicine’.
The biggest difference between western medicine and alternative medicine is the manner in which they view the body. While doctors and surgeons in the west treat the body as a conglomeration of organs and systems, doctors from the alternative medicinal field look at the body, mind and spirit as a whole. Unlike most medical practices in the west, alternative medicine often seeks a deeper cause of illness, instead of simply addressing the symptoms. “The basic foundation of alternative medicine is simple – it is about harmony of the body, mind and spirit in order to promote health. This idea of balance is as old as the healing arts themselves,” says Dr Radhika Goyal, a homeopath who owns a private clinic in South Delhi. Alternative medicine practitioners usually do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery. “They believe in nature and the body’s ability to heal itself. Consequently, the focus is on illness prevention and doctors in this field are as much engaged in the prevention of illness as they are in its treatment. In addition, patients are counselled in terms of required lifestyle changes that can reduce or eliminate the risk of illness,” explains Dr Goyal. She is of the opinion that the theory of harmony and balance, which is the ethos of alternative medicine, is both its biggest strength as well as a formidable disadvantage. She explains, “This theory, at one very important level, means that diseases cannot be examined and treated at a mere molecular level. This relegates the scope of scientific research (at least in a straitjacketed sense) in this domain. On the other hand, western medicinal systems like allopathy that have originated at a much later period, have always been characterised by extensive and invasive research. It is human psychology to accept systems and processes that have a scientific explanation. This probably is one of the reasons why while allopathy has propelled mass acceptance globally, till recently traditional medical systems were considered obscure, esoteric and shrouded in mysticism.”
However, of late there has been a perceptible shift in this opinion across the world. “While it is difficult to pinpoint exact reasons, it can be safely said that the growing awareness among people across the world to rely less on chemicals and toxins and more on nature is a major reason that has attributed to a resurgence of interest in these age old systems,” says Dr Anuradha Majumdar, a homeopath, who runs a clinic in Guwahati. “Today the healing methods of the east are gaining acceptance world over not just as an alternative line of treatment. They are also being integrated into mainstream healthcare as complementary systems,” she adds.
“Although traditional medicine cannot replace modern medicine as far as diagnosis, investigation and emergency care are concerned, certain alternative systems, which focus on overall health, have shown remarkable and swift results even in chronic illnesses such as diabetes and leucoderma as well as hard to cure diseases like arthritis, asthma and even AIDS,” informs Dr Partha Dutta, a Delhi-based unani practitioner.

Incidentally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has assessed the total world market for alternative medicine at a whopping Rs 51,210 crore. The market for herbal remedies alone is pegged at five trillion dollars with an annual growth of 11 per cent. “This translates to a vibrant future for India as far as alternative medicine is concerned. Home to over 15,000 medicinal plants and one of the 12 leading bio-diverse countries of the world, India is undoubtedly sitting on a veritable green mine. Awakening to this potential, the government announced a separate national policy for the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM&H) a few years ago. This was done
with a view to boost and promote
indigenous medicine. Plans are
also afoot to modernise the
hospitals specialising in
Indian Systems of Medicine
(ISM),” informs Dr Dutta.
“However, the lack of
formulation and standardisation is a major problem that plagues this fledgling industry. For instance, there are as many as 4,000 recorded ayurvedic formulations, combining different herbs and metals. These need to be identified and analysed and put through a series of tests before they can be released in the market. However, in recent years, extensive research and development has been initiated to address this problem,” says Dr Majumdar.
Alternative systems of medicine are beginning to offer a range of career opportunities in research as well as in practise. “But like any other profession, success depends on a multitude of factors and the job scenario at the time of graduation. Private practice is a popular choice for those specialising in these systems. However, homeopathic and ayurvedic practitioners, for instance, can seek employment under the Central Government Health Scheme and in state government and municipal hospitals and dispensaries all over the country. If one is hesitant to start off on one’s own, working with an established practitioner or clinic for a while is a secure alternative,” says Dr Goyal. “Combining two or more of these complimentary systems can also add to one’s repertoire. But one must be prepared to face competition from other systems of medicine, particularly allopathic,” she cautions.
Drug and pharmaceutical companies and research institutions also hire consultants and research scientists to work in their respective fields.
“With several recognised institutions offering full-fledged courses of study, there is considerable opportunity in the teaching and academic sector as well. In this industry, rewards are directly commensurate with the initiative one displays, the effort one invests and the results that one achieves. In other words if one is ambitious and hard working, he/ she can quickly move up the ladder,” opines Dr Majumdar.
Some of the major centres in
India that are playing a
pivotal role in improving
teaching, patient-care and
research in terms of
alternative medicine
include National
Institute of Unani
Medicine Bangalore,
National Institute of
Homoeopathy, Calcutta, National Institute of Naturopathy, Pune, Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, New Delhi, National Institute of Siddha, Chennai and Rashtriya Ayurveda Vidyapeeth, New Delhi.
“Like other forms of medicine, the minimum qualification for most courses in traditional medicine is +2 with PCB (physics, chemistry and biology). However, for unani, siddha and Tibetan medicine, arts and humanities students can also apply. Additionally, for pursuing a course in ayurveda one needs to be well-versed in Sanskrit/ Hindi, while for unani some knowledge of Arabic/ Urdu is a must. Similarly, for studying the siddha system, one requires at least a working knowledge of Tamil,” concludes Dr Goyal.
Myth – Alternative or holistic healthcare is steeped in evil and harbours on the darker side of the occult sciences.
Truth –This misconception particularly exists in societies in the western that have been taught to rebuke and fear native and indigenous cultures where the original medicines of the earth actually originated. It is important to remember that in ancient cultures the spiritual leaders were often the most well educated members of society. Further, these holistic methods are founded on the concept of creating harmony of the mind, body and spirit.
Myth – Alternative or holistic healthcare is just a trend that will eventually fade away.
Truth – Alternative or holistic healthcare is a tradition and not a mere trend. It is important to note that almost all people in the world have resorted to alternative or holistic health cures at least once during their lifetime. Herbal remedies and/ or vitamins are often taken in conjunction with allopathic prescriptions. Further, a majority of these alternative healing practices are derived from centuriesold healing practices that have been practised around the globe.