History and Thought of Siddha
Siddhars were originally devotees of Shiva.
They were wise men, who meditated, wrote poetry on the Lord, and professed
healing powers. Thus we find most of the original siddhars having religious poetry
alongside medical treatises to their credit. They were often called Sivachariars.
Much of the early medical classics such as Agathiya Vaidhya Rathina Churukkam,
and Agashtiya Vaidya Kaviyam have been attributed to sage Agasthiya, the patron saint
of Tamil. Agasthiya is said to have communed with the Gods and to
have been gifted with profound knowledge. He is said to have set down the rules of the Tamil language. Much
of early Tamil thought harks back to him for its origins. Medical Classics such as Agathiya
vaidhya Rathina Churukkam, Agashtiya Vaidya Kaviyam have been attributed to him.
There is controversy about the period in which the early siddhars
lived and practised. The history earlier than the Fourth century AD
cannot be traced. There is another problem in attributing books to individuals.
What is credited to one siddhar need not have been written by him completely.
It might have been compiled by his disciples and interpolations are likely.
This is because medicine was not practised at an institution.
Healers practised as individuals and their disciples lived as their sishyas,
in close proximity.
Tamil historians identify 18 medical practitioners who
contributed in a seminal way to the growth of Siddha medicine. These practitioners
lived in the tenth and 12th centuries AD.
These Siddhars are called the Moolavarga siddhars. There are many views on who
the Moolavarga Siddhars were. However, historians endorse the following list:
- Pambatti Siddhar
Here is a profile of a few Siddhars.
He is the most important of the Moolavargar Siddhars. His treatise Thirumanthiram
is a pioneering work in medicine. Myth has it that Thirumoolar found a shepherd's carcass close to
a herd of straying cattle. His spirit entered the carcass and he herded the cows to
their home. Mission accomplished, he returned to find his own body missing.
He went away and meditated for three thousand years, and
wrote one verse every year. The theme of his book is the attainment of
moksha, or oneness with the universal principle.
This also details medical procedures.
One school of thought has it that Bohar must have been a
Chinese traveller who studied Tamil medicine. Bohar's contribution
is in the field of pharmacology. Bohar Sarukka Vaippu
deals with manufacture of synthetic drugs. Bohar Karpam
deals with preserving the body and preparation of elixirs.
Bohar Vasiyogam is about pranayama or the science of breathing.
His contribution to the diagnostic and treatment methods
in Siddha are significant. He is said to have performed craniotomy to remove a
mass from the brain. Therar Neerkuri-Neikuri is a book that details urine examination
findings for diagnostic and prognostic purposes. Therar Thailavarga Charukkam is
a treatise on oil-based drugs for internal and external use.
Yugimuni specialised in clinical medicine.
He described and classified diseases, and their symptoms.
It is surprising that he was able to describe neoplastic growth of organs
like the rectum and prostate.
Pambatti means 'the snake charmer healer'.
He was an expert in toxicology and mystic cures. Unfortunately,
none of his books have survived.
Like all Hindu philosophers, siddhars believed, that all life
should seek oneness with God. They held that the body though mortal,
was the instrument with which to attain the divine goal. In fact, they
worked towards longevity and preserving the body and enhancing its powers.
Siddhars were monists. They believed in the immanence
of the divine force. "What is in the macrocosm is in the microcosm" says one Siddha tenet.
Man is a part of Universal Nature. What animates all nature also animates man.
Air, fire, and water are recognised as elemental forces present in a
certain proportion in man. Later, earth and space were also included.
Siddha acknowledges the power of Raja yoga. The serpent
power or kundalini believed to be dormant at the base of the spine,
in the sacral region (mooladharam). Siddhars are said to be capable of
releasing this power. This power is believed to control hormones
and lead to greater perception.
Even in matters of diagnosis and healing siddhars
are supposed to depend not just on the perceptions by the senses but also
by the power of their mind and yogic understanding.
What Makes a Good Doctor?
Siddha has specific rules to be followed by medical students and practitioners.
Code for Medical Students (as set down in Kaivalya Navaneetham)
Code for Doctors (from Thylavarga Churukkam)
- Control your senses and your mind.
- Do not be attached to material things.
- Control the eight passions.
- Have complete faith in your guru and practice according to his advice with confidence.
- Be polite, quiet, and active.
- Use your medical knowledge to serve the needy.
- Be thorough with your texts.
- Be spiritual.
- Have an indepth knowledge of the three principles: vatha, piththa, and kapha.
- Keep company with the intellectual elite.
- Be truthful and confident.
- Let the drugs that you prepare be of sound quality.
- Have love for all life.
- Have detailed knowledge of geography and seasonal changes.
- Wash your hands many times after examining a patient. Preferably have a bath. Once the patient is cured, give him a bath and sprinkle turmeric water (a disinfectant) on him.
- Dress in white. Do not wear silk, leather, and cosmetics.
- Develop a knowledge of astrology and numerology (Agathiyar sillaraikovai).