The Siddha System Of Medicine: Towards Immortality
Siddha (meaning “perfection” or “achievement”) is an ancient system of medicine from South India.1 Part of the holy trinity of Indian medicine (Ayurveda and Unani being the other two), Siddha considers the body, mind, and spirit to be equally important. According to folklore, the body of knowledge that makes up Siddha medicine is divine in origin, passed on from the gods to “Siddhars” or masters of Siddhi (paranormal knowledge).
The Siddha system conceptualizes human beings as a microcosm of the universe, so they are an amalgamation of three humors – vatham, pitham, and kabham – which are associated with the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. A person is said to be healthy when the three humors are in balance; any imbalance leads to disease. Diet, meditation, the control of breath, and yoga are all aspects that contribute to maintaining this balance.2
The Three Humors
Siddha shares the conceptual framework of the three humors with Ayurveda. An important distinction, however, is that Siddha considers kabham, pitham, and vatham to be associated with the stages of old age, middle age, and childhood (and the functions of destruction, protection, and creation, respectively).3 In Ayurveda, this association is reversed – kabham is predominant in childhood, pitham in adulthood, and vatham in old age.4
- Vatham is dominated by the elements of “space” and “air.” It is associated with all movements in the mind and the body and governs sensory and motor activities.
- Pitham is dominated by the element of “fire.” It is responsible for maintaining body heat.
- Kabham is dominated by the elements of “earth” and “water” and is associated with strength and endurance.
Prevention Is Better Than Curing
The Siddha system places more importance on preventing diseases than curing them. There is a detailed system of rules for prevention, known as Pini anugaa vidhi. These address various aspects, like the environment you live in, the season, the time of day, and diet. For instance, according to Siddha, people living near the seashore are prone to vatha diseases like swelling of the liver and must take preventive measures. Similarly, the year is divided into six seasons, and diet and lifestyle should be altered depending on the season. For example, during winter, sweet, sour, and salty foods are recommended, along with wheat. It’s also advised to have an early breakfast, dress in warm clothing, and apply oils on the head and body that minimize the element of “air.” Siddha also recommends ideal times for getting up and taking a bath, and encourages beneficial practices like having a glass of cow’s milk before going to bed, taking a walk after a meal, and avoiding exposure to the sun.
Siddha literature also contains detailed descriptions of a healthy diet, with specific ingredients recommended according to an individual’s constitution. For example, people with a vatham constitution would do well eating bitter gourd; those with a pitham constitution may want to try cucumber; and those with a kabham constitution should try adding eggplant to their diet.5
Therapies In Siddha
The therapies used in Siddha are mainly Kayakarpam, Varmam, and Thokkanam.
- Kayakarpam: This discipline details drugs and methods for rejuvenating the body and enhancing longevity. It uses both nonpharmacological and pharmacological methods. The pharmacological approach (karpa avizhtham) uses drugs that are formulated from plant, animal, or mineral materials. The nonpharmacological approach (attanga yogam) uses many yogic practices and details a number of specific postures. Kayakarpam describes general methods and medicines that enhance memory, strength, and intelligence, and promote a long and healthy life, as well as medicines and procedures that tackle a specific condition. Kayakarpa procedures and formulations have been found to be useful in treating many degenerative and chronic conditions; the plants used are often rich in antioxidants.6
- Varmam: According to Siddha, the vital energy of the body (prana vayu) is stored and transmitted to the rest of the body through certain specific points. Stimulating these points by applying pressure can heal disease, increase energy flow, and improve immunity. However, Varmam needs to be done carefully by an experienced practitioner or it can cause disease or even death.7
- Thokkanam: Also called marthanam, this therapy uses special massage to promote health. Nine different massaging techniques are used to tone muscles, increase circulation, reduce body pain, improve sleep, as well as treat humor-based ailments (especially chronic vatham disorders).8
The Scientific Validity of Siddha
The Siddha system is thought to be effective in treating diseases of the skin, liver, and prostate, as well as helping manage rheumatic problems, peptic ulcers, hemorrhoids, and anemia.9 Many remedies recommended by Siddha have been verified through scientific research. For instance, Siddha recommends the Malabar nut (Adathoda vasica Nees) for bronchial issues, which can be caused by an imbalance of kabham.10 Studies show that alkaloids in Malabur nuts can protect against bronchial obstruction induced by allergens.11 Another example is Semecarpus Lehyam (a herbal medicine with Semecarpus anacardium, commonly known as marking nut), which is recommended in Siddha to fight cancer. Research has found it to be a powerful anti-tumor agent in breast cancer.12
Living In Harmony
Like Ayurveda, Siddha believes that the human body is integrated with the cosmos and that the balance of elements in nature must be reflected within. It advocates living in harmony and balance with a focus on a balanced diet and exercise. By incorporating the practices advocated in Siddha, we can tap into the benefits of a comprehensive, natural, and harmonious lifestyle.
|↑1||Pranavananda, Yogi, and Tony Rodriquez. Pure yoga. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2000.|
|↑2, ↑4, ↑9||Karunamoorthi, Kaliyaperumal, Kaliyaperumal Jegajeevanram, Jerome Xavier, Jayaraman Vijayalakshmi, and Luke Melita. “Tamil traditional medicinal system-siddha: an indigenous health practice in the international perspectives.” TANG [HUMANITAS MEDICINE] 2, no. 2 (2012): 12-1.|
|↑3||Frequently Asked Questions, National Health Portal. 2015.|
|↑5||Preventive principles, National Health Portal. 2016.|
|↑6||Introduction, National Health Portal. 2016.|
|↑7||Introduction, National Health Portal. 2016.|
|↑8||Special Therapies in Siddha, traditional Knowledge Digital Library.|
|↑10||Rao, Kalavathy Kamalakar, and G. Veluchamy. “Siddha medicine and its usefulness in Day-Today Life.” Subramanian, SV, Madhaven, VR (Eds), Heritage of Tamil Siddha medicine. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Madras, India (1983): 171-184.|
|↑11||Dorsch, W., and H. Wagner. “New antiasthmatic drugs from traditional medicine?.” International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 94, no. 1-4 (1991): 262-265.|
|↑12||Sowmyalakshmi, Srinivasan, Mohammad Nur-e-Alam, Mohammed A. Akbarsha, Subbiah Thirugnanam, Jürgen Rohr, and Damodaran Chendil. “Investigation on Semecarpus Lehyam—a Siddha medicine for breast cancer.” Planta 220, no. 6 (2005): 910-918.|