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Marunnum Mantravum - an ethnographic enquiry into the patterns of affliction and therapeutics in a traditional healing practice in Malabar, north Kerala

Bhaskaran Nair, Hari Kumar

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Abstract

The relevance of traditional healing systems in understanding, expressing, finding a meaning and treating human suffering and misfortune has been one of the focuses in medical anthropology. Among the three main sectors of health care delivery in all complex societies, namely the popular, the folk and the professional, the folk healing represents the intermediate position consisting of sacred or secular healers or a mixture of the two. By doing field work in a seemingly sacred folk healing practice in north Kerala, namely Poonkutilmana, and engaging participant observation and non-structured open ended interviews as methods, I have attempted to throw light on the broader aspects of folk healing existing in this part of India. Poonkutilmana is a high caste Nambudiri Brahman family situated in Malappuram a district in Kerala with a predominantly Muslim population. The male members of this family practice the traditional art of healing which they do only inside their old mana, the traditional family house. This house also holds temples for the deities, Devi the Goddess and Ganapathi the elephant headed God, the destroyer of obstacles which they worship. Their clients are mostly from the same district but they also receive clients from far off places these days due to the publicity gained through the print media and internet. The clientele consists of a sizable number of Muslims and the healers declare their openness showing the open gate, which according to them is never closed. They have a specific healing tradition which combines Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine with mantravada (translated often as sorcery or witchcraft but literally the use of mantras). They practice a non-institutionalized form of Ayurveda, because they are trained at their homes by apprenticeship and have not gained qualifications from any teaching institutions. The field work revealed that there are a multitude of afflictions present at this healing practice. The most important of them was Brahmaraksas which has been classically mentioned in Ayurveda as a malevolent graham or possessing agent which could be identified by spontaneous interest in learning Sanskrit scriptures and worshiping. But this affliction is identified today as the spirit of a dead Brahman dwelling on lands causing ill health first to the cattle and poultry and then to the humans, if not contained annually by worship. The other predominant afflictions were petiyilpetuka to get trapped in an insidious fear followed by a visual experience, sathru dosam the wrong doings of an enemy which indicated sorcery and alternately mentioned as kaivisham or hand poison, and sthala virodham a spatial incompatibility. Though spirit possessions (ettukutal) were not suggested or promoted by the healers, few clients, especially women identified themselves as possessed. Both possession and the wrong doings from an enemy were found to be mediated by astrologers. Another important feature of this healing practice was the presence of a large number of pregnant women and infants for the healing ritual as they were vulnerable and thus to be protected. The healing consisted of the ritual called uzhinjumattal, literally to remove by rotating around, chanting of mantras and giving a sacred thread or amulet with holy ash. The ritual treatment was combined with homemade medicines such as handmade pills, ghee for internal use and oil for application on the head and the prescription of certain Ayurvedic formulations including patented capsules. The rituals and the medical work occurred in tandem with their good words full of empathy and motivation. Though this traditional healing practice could be shown as a model of sacred folk healing practice, it has its own secular elements. It does not completely fit into the theoretical framework of Ayurveda, or mantaravada or astrology, but still remains popular. They have adapted their own methods of healing which are unique and indigenous. The possibility of multiple idioms of expressing the illness and multiple therapeutic options in the same practice provide the clients with different meanings for their sufferings and different methods of dealing with them.

Document type: Master thesis
Date: 2010
Date Deposited: 19. October 2010
Faculties / Institutes: Universitäten / Institute > South Asia Institute / Department of Ethnology
DDC-classification: Medical sciences Medicine
Controlled Subjects: Kerala <Nord>, Heilung, Krankheit
Uncontrolled Keywords: Kerala <Nord> , Heilung , Krankheit, Malabar , affliction , traditional healing , therapeutics
Subject (classification): Medicine
Countries/Regions: India
Series: Health and Society in South Asia Series
Volume: 9

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