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Dec 2001

"All mankind must be healed"

- by Emmanuelle with Shankar as translator

Tribal Adivasi Healers of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh give medical consultations in India's cities. Recently they came to Pondicherry.

Guruji P. Srinivasaraju reading the pulse of a patient.

Traditional herbs used by the Adivasi healers

India has a great variety of traditional healing systems. Over the centuries, the tribal Adivasis of Andhra Pradesh have developed their own system. A decade ago, a group of its healers decided to create awareness amongst the public about 'the divinity of Adivasi medicine' by travelling all over the country and setting up camps in different towns. Since September 2001, this group of Adivasi healers, hailing from Gandasiri village, in the Khamam district of Andhra Pradesh, has set up their clinic in Pondicherry. The group is headed by the tribal chief and leading medical practitioner, Guruji P.Srinivasaraju and his father and Guru B.Sahadevaraju.

Until some fifteen years ago, the tribal Adivasis of the Khamam district lived in the deep forests, like their forefathers remaining naked except for the lower parts of their bodies, which they covered with bark, animal skin or loin cloth. It was only recently that the Government allotted them land, where they started cultivating chillies. Although some of them have accepted 'modern civilization' to some extent, they still follow their traditions and their children are still taught the old ways, including the use of bow and arrow. They have their own systems of governance and organization. Votes are cast orally, and the candidates get elected as leaders when they have a majority. They do not depend on the police or judiciary system to solve problems and settle conflicts. Although about five villages, out of the eleven tribal villages of the region have merged with neighbouring towns, there are many Adivasis who refuse 'modernisation' in all its aspects. Oralaraju, Guruji P. Srinivasaraju's brother, is one of those, who, with his wife and child, continue living in their native forest. The Adivasis worship Vanadevi, the Goddess of the Forest.

The indigenous Adivasi system of medicine has been handed down orally from generation to generation. There are no written records on this branch of medicine. The knowledge and skills are usually transmitted from father to son. The children watch their elders diagnosing and treating patients from a very young age, and are taught to prepare medicines. All the ingredients for the medicines are derived from nature. Besides herbs, seeds, roots and barks, various minerals, metals and other natural matters in their powdered form, are used for the preparations. The healers themselves gather all the necessary plants and herbs that grow wild in the forests intoning special prayers. The medicines are mostly prepared using a mortar and pestle to pound the various ingredients together.

The Adivasi healers touring the country speak about five Indian languages, including Tamil. Their mother tongue is Telugu. The Telugu name for their branch of medicine is "Erhulu Patchala Mulighalu".

The Adivasi healers claim their medicine can cure over three hundred and fifty diseases, including different types of colds and headaches, skin and eye ailments, various types of paralysis, asthma, tuberculosis and certain cancers, diabetes, problems of infertility and impotency.

The system of diagnosis is through the reading of the pulse. The healer then makes a brief commentary on the patients' constitution and prescribes treatment, which is then prepared by the youngsters of the group. Many of the patients they have successfully treated over the years had previously been seeing allopathic doctors, who had not managed to find a cure to their ailments. The Adivasi herbal medicines have absolutely no side effects. On diagnosis and prescription, the Adivasi healers pay more attention to the individual patient's physical constitution and nature than to the specific symptoms of the disease.
The Adivasi healers do not charge a fixed rate for the treatment given. Their livelihood depends on 'dakshina', or offerings, which they accept from patients, who give according to their wishes or means. Although they stress the need for more awareness on this branch of medicine, the Adivasi healers do not want to 'sell their tradition', and they are against the commercial cultivation of medicinal herbs. Chemical fertilizers would be used to increase the yield and they feel this would seriously affect the efficacy and healing powers of the herbs.
Traditional herbal medicine in general is of late facing a new threat. The modern pharmaceutical companies are plundering the herbal wealth of the forests for manufacturing their medicines. This endangers the very survival of the species and makes it more difficult for traditional healers to find the herbs they need for their medicines. Measures must be taken to prevent this from happening before irrevocable damage has been done. Another great danger is deforestation, and the Adivasis have already held many protests against this practice, as for them, the forest is their whole life.

The Adivasi healers tour the country and set up camps in various states and different towns for six months in a year. For the remaining six months, they return to their native village to gather the herbs necessary and to prepare medicine. They also gather herbs from forests in other states. For the last decade, during their touring, they have met with many important personalities, such as successive presidents, prime ministers and other ministers and have treated some of them.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had visited their settlements when Guruji P. Srinivasaraju's grandfather was the tribal leader and was received with great pomp and celebration. His daughter Indira Gandhi later came to visit their village and expressed the wish that their indigenous system of medicine be spread throughout the country because of its great efficacy. Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, N.T. Rama Rao was also greatly impressed by their system of medicine, and during his tenure, he allotted them forty acres of land so they could cultivate their medicinal herbs, without the use of chemical fertilizers and set up a centre for manufacturing their traditional medicine. He too expressed his wish that they propagate and create awareness amongst the public of their traditional medicine, which they had , until then, only practiced within their own community. That is how the program of creating awareness on Adivasi medicine was initiated and the tribal healers began touring the country. They have also traveled abroad and set up camps in countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Today, a great number of people have discovered this unique system of medicine, a great number of the diseased have been cured, and they are all grateful to those tribals who have come out to offer their ancient medical knowledge.
In the future, the group of Adivasi healers plans to return to their native village and set up an Adivasi Institution there, while cultivating medicinal herbs on the land allotted to them by the Government. The camps being held throughout the country would then stop. The new generation would become the Adivasi healers' representatives. They would continue to travel the country, and while the medicines would now be prepared in their native village, they would bring them to the patients. The elders hope that the youth, who is presently being educated will, in the future, document their system of medicine, so that this precious knowledge is not lost for the next generations. As Guruji B. Sahadevaraju was quoted as saying in "The Hindu", in 1999,"Nature is an abundant store of herbs with magical properties, but not many are aware of this. We, who are brought up in the lap of nature, know it."

One can only applaud Guruji P. Srinivasaraju and his group, for their dedication to keeping their ancient medicinal traditions alive and making their medicines and cures accessible to all. For, notwithstanding the so called 'progress and development,' more and more people are becoming aware of the shortcomings of 'modernisation' and are looking for alternatives, in life styles and in systems of healing. The Adivasi healers help ensure that the traditions and knowledge from the ancient past are not forgotten and discarded by mankind and that modern city dwellers keep a contact with nature.

Guruji P. Srinivasaraju and his group can be contacted at 81, Kamaraj Salai, Thattanchavady, Pondicherry.


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