What is it about?

Both Indian and Western Herbal medicines are poly herbal. Unlike biomedicine, which are often and ideally single drugs, with antibiotics being a good example, herbal medicines are composed of many drugs. This is also true of Ayurveda, where the composition can have anywhere from 2 to 108 drugs, put together according to a sophisticated therapeutic logic. Increasingly, newly composed Ayurvedic medicines, called proprietary medicines, are sold as poly herbals directly to consumers. And more importantly, they are sold for diseases like sinusitis, diabetes, or osteoporosis. But none of these diseases are part of the nosology (disease classification) of Ayurveda. And neither is the medical logic of composing Ayurvedic drugs similar to Western poly herbals. Hence, such compositions have interesting and serious consequences as one system of medicine - Ayurveda - is being used to address diseases in another system of medicine. This appears to radically alter the traditional logic of the composition of Ayurvedic drugs. This results in what I have called creolization: the production of a new system of medicine that is neither Ayurvedic nor biomedical, nor like the Western Herbal. The paper grapples with this phenomenon and it's consequences, which are problematic to say the least.

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Why is it important?

It is important because the world at large blithely presumes that biomedical disease categories are universal. And that other systems of medicine and their drugs can effortlessly address, and in fact do address, the disease categories that most of us are familiar with. This naive assumption may have serious consequences. Other systems of medicine, in attempting to make good this tacit assumption, are often radically transformed in ways that may be detrimental to them and to epistemic diversity. Like species death, they too, along with their unique cognitive premises and therapeutic logic, may die out, making the world poorer for alternative ways of conceptualizing disease, health, and cure.


It is important not to reduce other systems of medicines to their drugs and pharmacopeia. They are not merely herbal cookie jars into which one can dip to address our (biomedical) diseases. They are cognitive systems in their own right, based on different founding axioms, and see the body, the world, disease and health differently. We should be open to them in their entirety, including their disease categories. Unfortunately, under the press of biomedicine and the desire for profit, their curriculum and prescriptive practices have been transformed and has resulted in a kind of "mixopathy", with problematic consequences. While change is universal and all things change, some changes, like the production of creoles, happen in dire historical circumstances. The creolization of Ayurveda is one such example. This is an invitation to pay close attention to the creolization of all alternative systems of medicine, and their consequences for all of us on the planet.

Harish Naraindas
Jawaharlal Nehru University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Of Shastric ‘Yogams’ and Polyherbals, Asian Medicine, December 2014, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15734218-12341326.
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