Siddha medicine is one of the oldest systems of traditional medicine originating in ancient Tamilakam in South India. It is believed that Siddhars laid the foundation for this system of medication. Traditional palm leaf manuscripts say that the Siddha system was first described by Lord Shiva to his wife Goddess Parvathy. Parvathy passed this knowledge to her son Lord Muruga who in turn taught it to his disciple, Sage Agasthya. Agasthya taught 18 Siddhars and they spread this knowledge to human beings for their health and well-being.
One of the best-known Siddhars is Rishi Agasthyar, who is believed to be the founding father of Siddha system. Siddha system of medicine is not only a curative system but also a preventive one.
Siddha believes that all objects in the universe including human body are composed of five basic elements- earth, water, fire, air and sky and replicate each other.
Like in Ayurveda, the Siddha system also identifies three basic functional units of the body Vatham (air), Pitham (fire) and Kapham (earth and water), which are responsible for kinetic, metabolic and lubricating aspects of the body respectively. These, Uyir (Life) Thaathukkal (building blocks) are formed by the combination of the five elements of nature and are attributed several vital functions in the body owing to their basic nature.
Siddha considers the human body as a conglomeration of three humors (Vatham, Pitham and Kapham), seven basic tissues and the waste products of the body such as feces, urine and sweat.
Vatham in the body is measured in 1 unit, Pitham in ½ units and Kapham in ¼ units. Maintenance of this ratio reflects health homeostasis. If there is any alteration in these units then Uyir Thathukkal are called as Kutrangal – faulty thathus.
The same aspects were also authenticated by Thiruvalluvar, latest Siddhar of the world as either an increase or decrease of these units, which led to various disease(s). For example, increased Vatham is known to cause constipation, decreased Pitham causes indigestion to sets in and increased Kapham results in early degenerative functions to set in.
Generally the basic concepts of the Siddha medicine are almost similar to Ayurveda. The only difference appears to be that the Siddha medicine recognizes predominance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in childhood, adulthood and old age, respectively, whereas in Ayurveda, it is totally reversed.
According to the Siddha medicine, various psychological and physiological functions of the body are attributed to the combination of seven body systems. These are ooneer (plasma) responsible for growth, development and nourishment; second is cheneer (blood) responsible for nourishing muscles, imparting color and improving intellect; the third is oon (muscle) responsible for shape of the body; fourth is koluppu/Kozhuppu (fatty tissue) responsible for oil balance and lubricating joints; fifth is elumbu (bone) responsible for body structure and posture and movement; sixth is elumbu majjai (bone marrow) responsible for formation of blood corpuscles; and the last is sukkilam (semen) responsible for reproduction.
Concept of Disease
It is understood that when the normal equilibrium of Vatham, Pitham and Kapham is disturbed, illness occur. The factors, which assumed to affect this equilibrium, are environment, climatic conditions, diet, physical activities, and stress.
According to the Siddha medicine system, diet and lifestyle play a major role, not only in health but also in curing diseases. This concept of the Siddha medicine is termed as Pathyam and Apathyam, which is essentially a list of “do’s and don’ts” for health and well-being.
During diagnosis, eight key elements are examined. These include:
- Na (tongue): black in Vata conditions, yellow or red in Pitha, white in Kapha, ulcerated in anaemia.
- Varnam (color): dark in Vata, yellow or red in Pitha and pale in Kapha.
- Svaram (voice): normal in Vata, high-pitched in Pitha, low-pitched in Kapha, slurred in alcoholism.
- Kann (eyes): muddy conjunctiva in Vata, yellowish or red in Pitha, pale in Kapha.
- Sparisam (touch): dry in Vata, warm in Pitha, chill in Kapha, sweating in different parts of the body.
- Malam (stool): black stools indicate Vata, yellow for Pitha, pale in Kapha, dark red in ulcer and shiny in terminal illness.
- Neer (urine): early morning urine is examined; straw color indicates indigestion, reddish-yellow color in excessive heat, rose in blood pressure, saffron color in jaundice, and looks like meat washed water in renal disease.
- Nadi (pulse): the confirmatory method recorded by checking the pulse. Any alterations in the three doshas are identified by the pulse. Under normal conditions, the ratio between Vatam, Pitham and Kapham is 4:2:1.
The drugs used by the Siddhars are mainly of three types: herbal products, in-organic substances and animal products. The drugs are further classified as:
- Uppu (water-soluble inorganic substances or drugs that give out vapor when put into fire)
- Pashanam (drugs not dissolved in water but emit vapor when fired)
- Uparasam (similar to pashanam but differ in action)
- Loham (not dissolved in water but melt when fired)
- Rasam (drugs which are soft)
- Ghandhagam (drugs which are insoluble in water, like sulphur).
According to their mode of application, the Siddha medicines fall under two types: Internal medicine : administered the oral way and further classified into 32 categories based on their form, methods of preparation, shelf-life, etc and External medicine: which include the use of certain drugs and certain application procedures including leech application, oil massage etc. It is also classified into 32 categories.
The treatment in Siddha medicine is aimed at keeping the three humors in equilibrium and maintenance of seven elements. So a proper diet, medicine and a disciplined regimen of life are crucial for a healthy living and to restore equilibrium of humors in any diseased condition. Siddha treatments are classified into three categories:
- Devamaruthuvum (divine method) medicines like parpam, chendoora, guru, kuligai made of mercury, sulphur and pashanams are used
- Manuda maruthuvum (rational method) medicines made of herbs like churanam, kudineer or vadagam are used
- Asura maruthuvum (surgical method) , incision, excision, heat application, blood letting, or leech application are used.
Varmam is a specialized branch of Siddha that is practiced in pockets of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This branch of Siddha science deals with traumatology and accidental injuries than the internal injuries, where no immediate symptoms are visibly seen. It deals with stimulating specialized pressure points distributed all over the body. Any injury to these points due to trauma or accidents creates problems of neuro-muscular, musculo-skeletal in nature, systemic diseases or even death based on the intensity.
There are about 108 of such vital points in the body, which are either junctions of bones, tendons, ligaments or blood vessels, and they are called Varma points. Practitioners use the knowledge of these points to regulate bodily functions.
Varma vidya is a highly specialized expertise that is passed on from teacher to disciple or as valued family tradition. The Varma experts used a special technique named as ‘Thokkanam’ to manipulate these points and relieve associated ailments.
Inputs by Dr Inde Thomas, a Sr. Research Fellow at I-Aim Healthcare Center, an NABH accredited Ayurveda Hospital in Bangalore.