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Indian health traditions: October 08, 2000

Siddha - a unique system

Dr. R. Kannan

The author is the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee (Siddha) of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha.

Medicine is not merely a science but an art as well. The science of medicine is of fundamental importance to man's well-being and survival.

Sage Agasthya is considered the patron saint of the Siddha system of medicine. He authored various texts in Siddha medicine which are available even today.

The Siddha system of medicine is the oldest and was derived from the vegetable kingdom. There are two ancient systems of medicine in India - the Siddha which flourished in the South and Ayurveda which was prevalent in the North. These practices deal not merely with the body of man but also with the inner soul. The art of medicine is based on truth and as such it is a divine art not to be adulterated for the base purposes of money.

The word Siddha comes from Siddhi which means an object to be attained or perfection of heavenly bliss. Siddhi generally refers to the Ashtama Siddh i.e. the eight supernatural powers. Those who attained or achieved these powers are known as the siddhars.

The siddhars were a class of popular writers in Tamil in all branches of knowledge and many of their works were written in what is called High Tamil. The poetry, in which medical and other scientific tracts have been expressed, is much admired by specialists in that field. The siddhars were also great scientists. They were men of high culture, intellectual and spiritual faculties combined with supernatural powers. Some of the siddhars like Bogars visited Arabia, Persia, Turkey, China and other places where they propagated the Siddha system of medicine.

After proper purification and calcination, the prepared Bhasma should not possess any metallic lustre.Here we see a copper wire and beside it the bhasma prepared of copper i.e. Thamra bhasma

The paramount aim and object of siddha science is to assure the full span of 100 years of healthy life to enable man acquire knowledge, cultivate good character and conduct with which they could enjoy their legitimate worldly pleasures and ultimately attain salvation.

The three systems that are in practice in India are Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani, all of which are based on humoural pathology or, in other words, on the same physiological doctrine that air, bile and phlegm are the three supports of the body. They all advocate that, without these three humours, the individual cannot exist and that if those humours are not in proper balance diseases or death will be the result.

Fundamental principles of Siddha

Nature is man and man is nature and therefore both are essentially one. Man is said to the microcosm and the Universe is Macrocosm, because what exists in the Universe exists in man. Man is nothing but the Universe in miniature containing the five elements and the various principles which constitute the mineral, vegetable and the animal kingdoms.

The Puta system of making metallic preparations.

The Universe consists of two essential entities - matter and energy - which the siddhars call Siva and Sakthi. The two co-exist and are inseparable. The Universe consists of five elements which should not be confused with the elements of modern chemistry. They are primordial elements (Bhootas). They are Munn (solid), Neer (fluid), Thee (radiance), Vayu (gas) and Aakasam (ether). All created or evolved matter in the world, whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral, falls under these categories. The human anatomy and physiology, the causative factor of disease, the materials for the treatment and cure of diseases, the food for sustenance all fall within the five elemental categories.

Basis of treatment

The three physical elements of the external world i.e. air, heat and water form the three fundamental principles on which the constitution of the human being has been based. The three elements are known as "humors" as they enter the body. They are called tridosha. These three humors viz wind, bile and phlegm represent respectively the air, fire and water of the five elements which form the connecting link between microcosm or man and macrocosm or the world. The three humors maintain the human body through their combined functioning. When in imbalance they bring about diseases. The normal order of vatha, pitta and kappa is in the proportion of 1:1/2:1/4 or 4:2:1 respectively.

This is the burning process in the preparation of Periya Arumuga sindooram - a Siddha metallic preparation.

If all the factors work properly, the body will be healthy. Imbalance due to astral influences, poisonous substances and psychological and spiritual factors may also be important in causing imbalance.

1. Classification according to the variations in three humours
2. Clinical signs
3. Cause
4. The disease caused by worms, parasites and microbes
5. Varma and Accident
6. Parts affected
7. Inherited, and 8. Psychiatric illnesses."

Medicines are prescribed to set right the imbalance in the life factors either by addition, reduction or neutralisation, since all matter (herbs, minerals and metals) contain the five elements and hence the three factors. The presence of a particular factor in a substance is found by the taste of the latter. The five elements in different combinations form six tastes.


The words Noai nadal, Noai mudhal nadal indicate the approach to the process of diagnosis. Noai nadal means the approach to the disease. Noai mudhal nadal denotes determination of the etiology of the disease. To diagnose, the physician investigates the cause of the disease, the signs and symptoms, complicated if any, and pathological tissue (dhatu) changes. The siddhars look at body and the disease together to arrive at a conclusion regarding the condition or diagnosis of the case. This conclusion is an essential pre-requisite for treatment.

Gairika, or red ochre, which is used as a Haemostatic as well as in fever.

Diseases are diagnosed mainly with the help of signs and symptoms. In addition there are eight other important factors which help in finding out the disease and imbalanced life factors. They are pulse (nadi), touch (sparism), tongue (naa), colour (niram), speech (mozhi), eyes (vizhi), faeces (malam) and urine (moothiram).

The five elements of the body and their life factors: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata consists of Akash and Vayu. Pitta consists of Thee and Kapha consists of Prithvi and Aapa.

In scientific parlance, vata comprehends all the phenomena which comes under the function of the central and sympathetic nervous systems. Pitta consists of the function of thermogenesis and heat production, metabolism within the limits, the process of digestion, colouration of blood, excretion and secretion. Kapha looks after the regulation of the heart and the formation of various glands and structures. These eight factors are widely described by the siddhars who classified the diseases into 4448 varieties. Etiology, signs and symptoms and treatment were explained for all the varieties by different siddhars.

Pulse recording

The science of pulse is peculiar to the Siddha system of medicine. Traditionally this science of pulse was taught by the guru to his disciples. Diagnosis of disease by the pulse requires great skill and experience. According to the siddhars, the pulse is the manifestation of prana in living beings - Prana being the cosmic energy responsible for the evolution of the universe. It penetrates, surrounds and seeps through everything.

Siddha Physiology

The physiology in the Siddha system involves 96 basic factors, seven body factors, 14 reflexes, three malas (water), and four body fires and important features.

Materia medica

The materia medica consists of herbs, minerals and animal products. Innumerable varieties of herbs are mentioned in Siddha literature. Many of these were described in a manner very difficult to understand. The siddhars dealt with 11 metals, 64 pashanam (mercurial, no-mercurial), 120 uparasams (salts and other minerals) and animal products in preparing medicines.

There are 64 types of medicines. Of these, 32 varieties are internal medicines and other 32 are external. Some varieties of internal medicines once prepared can be used for many years. They have a long life time and their potency will not be lost.

The siddhars were the pioneers in the use of metals and minerals in the treatment of diseases. There are a number of pharmaceutical preparations common to both Siddha and Ayurveda. The common preparation are Bhasma (calcined metals and minerals), Churna (powders), Kashaya (decoctions) Lehya (confections), Ghrita (ghee preparations) and Taila (oil preparations). The preparations in which the siddhars specialised are Chunmna (metallic preparations which become alkaline, Mezhucu (waxy preparations) Kattu (preparations which are impervious the water and flame).

For a medicine to be effective, the inorganic substances have to be brought to their atomic form. The siddhars developed the knowledge of bringing inorganic substances into atomic and into atomic and ionic form which can be easily absorbed in the system when ground with herbal juices and put in the fire with a calculated number of cowdung cakes.

Lakhs of formulations are available in Siddha literatures. Though a few are printed, many are still in manuscripts and palm leaves.

Siddha Chemistry

The siddhars' knowledge of Iatro-chemistry, minerals, metals and plants was stupendous. This was successfully used by them from time immemorial. Processes like calcination of mercury minerals and metals and the preparation of a super salt known as muppa - animated mercury pills with high potency possessing marvellous properties of transmuting metals and capable of rejuvenating the entire human system bear ample testimony to the fact that, even in the remote past when knowledge in chemical technology was not fully developed, the siddhars had an unparalleled knowledge of medicine. The process of Muppu (universal salt) and other calcination processes of minerals and metals are special features of Siddha system of medicine and are not known to other medical systems in India or other countries.

The Siddha system included not only medicine and alchemy but also yoga and philosophy. Yoga literally means union. It is the means by which is obtained omniscience and the power of achieving and controlling mighty things. It is an applied science, a systemised collection of laws applied to bring abut a definite end. Siddha science acknowledges 64 kinds of Yoga. There are eight elements in Yoga - eyama, niyama, asana, pranayama, prathyagara, tharani, thiyanam and samadhi. It is said by the siddhars that there is no yoga without concentration or fixedness of mind. There are no miraculous powers without rousing the kundalini. There is no wisdom without mind; there is no body without repression of respiration.

The Siddha science of breath is known as vasi (the practice of correct breathing). There are different phases in science of breath - physical, mental and spiritual. The kind of controlled breathing is the scientific method of charging one's self with vitality and personal magnetism and it is known to the ancients as pranayama. Poorakam (inspiration), rechagam (expiration) and kumbagam (suppression) are the three inevitable steps in pranayamam.

Siddha science also tells us that man generally takes 15 breaths a minute and thus makes 21,600 breaths a day and at this rate he can live for a period of at least 120 years.

Besides the treatment by medicine, there exist Siddha works in Tamil on alchemy or kaya kalpa. As some of the alchemical processes leading to kaya kalpa treatments were dangerous in their administration, the siddhars did not want to teach them to everyone. Although the Siddha system might have evolved in Tamil Nadu at an early period, there is reason to believe that it spread to Northern parts of India and is known as Tantric science.

In olden days, the siddhars devoted more time in finding out suitable remedies rather than describing the causes of a disease in detail. The scope of kaya kalpa treatment is two-fold: one, to cure diseases and the other to prolong lifespan. The kalpa drugs served as a constructive medicines too.

Kalpa treatment is a weapon, preventive as well as constructive. The methods prescribed in Siddha medical science in the treatment of kaya kalpa are as follows:

1. Preservation of vital energy of the body by diverting the internal secretions to the circulation of blood by control of breathing through yoga. 2. Conservation of sperm by using it for regeneration. 3. Use of universal salt such as Muppu prepared by certain Siddhic process for rejuvenation. 4. Use of calcined powders prepared from metal and minerals such as Mercury, Sulphur, Mica, Gold, Copper, Iron, etc.

5. Use of drugs prepared from certain rare Indian herbs.

Many rules and regulations were adopted by siddhars while consuming kaya kalpa drugs. Some other general methods like cleansing of throat, enema, laxation and oil baths were also detailed.

Varma treatment

Varma is a separate science prescribed by the siddhars. According to the Varma texts, like "Odi Murivu Sari Nool", there are 108 varma points in our body. A varma point is a place where the life force is acting. If it is hurt in a particular manner and with force, signs and symptoms develop according to the site of the point. If these signs and symptoms are not set aright within the stipulated period, death will occur. So these are emergencies. For these varma emergencies - which can be called orthopaedic emergencies according to recent medical science - specific physiotherapy was indicated for each type of varma. In addition internal medicines were also indicated.

Varma science described the various kinds of fractures which occur in the body and their cures. This science seems to be the basis for the different types of martial arts like Kalari, Judo and Karate.

Application of Siddha system in other fields

Siddha medicinal science has a wide range of application in medical and non-medical fields. 1. To preserve ecological balance and retain green cover of earth, herbs play a very major role. Social forestry needs to be based on medicinal value of the plants.

2. For water treatment: The modern methods of purification of water have drastically failed to provide safe potable drinking water for the masses. Herbal medicines like cleaning nut, stem of emblica officianals, Indian sarasapilla are under trial for better water treatment.

3. Fire: When herbs, twigs, and roots are used to kindle fires, the environment is purified by eliminating the germs.

4. Trees like Neem, Vilva, Pungam purify the air. Ruta graveolence (Sathappu) prevents radiation hazards.

5. In the field of civil engineering, Siddhas concepts of Vasthu Purusha is widely accepted because it is scientific.

6. Bio-pesticides and the fertilizers using herbs have made agriculture sustainable.

7. In veterinary medicine, a wide range of herbal products are already in the market.

8. In astrology, the relationship between the planets and the human body as mentioned in Siddha science is fascinating.

9. In research: (a) Herbal antibiotics are widely researched to find a viable alternative to the antibiotics for which germs are becoming resistant. (b) Herbal anaesthetics are at present being investigated. (c) Newer drugs for metabolic disorders are also identified from herbs. These researches are definitely attracting biochemists, pharmacologists, microbiologists and endocrinologists.

The use of herbs in cosmetics is now clear and needs no description.

With increasing awareness of herbal medicines, scientists from all faculties and business houses are showing keen interest in the herbs of the Siddha system.

Copper sulphate, or Thutha, which is used in lepas (ointments) and also in thailas as a disinfectant.

Present status

The development of Siddha, Ayurveda and Unani has gained a considerable tempo since Independence. The Tamil Nadu Government and Government of India have been providing more funds progressively for the development of the Indian systems of medicine. Due to popularity of the Indian systems of medicine among the masses, the Government of India decided that allopathy and Indian systems of medicine should contribute towards the development of the National Health Services. In addition, Indian systems of medicine have also been recognised for purpose of reimbursement of medical treatment under the Central Services. Facilities for treatment in Siddha system have also been provided for Central and State Government employees through Central Government Health Services (C.G.H.S.) Schemes.


The efficacy of Indian systems of medicine captured the interests of the elite and modern medical scientific world. Hence the Government of India set up a Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homoeopathy in 1969 to conduct research on scientific lines in Ayurveda, Siddha, Uanani, Yoga and Homeopathy. This council was the first and only one of its kind to be established to carry out multifaceted research in these systems on modern lines.

Keeping in view the imperative need to permit these systems develop independently according to their own doctrines and philosophy, this composite Council was dissolved and four separate Councils - one each for Unani, Homeopathy, Yoga and Naturopathy and Ayurveda and Siddha - were established in 1978, so that each Council can play more useful role to provide medicare to the country's population.

The Central Council is executing its research programme in Siddha through the Central Research Institute, Regional Research Institute, Clinical Research Units, Mobile Clinical research Units, Medico-Botanical Survey Unit, Literary Research and Documentation Department, Standardisation Research Unit and multi-disciplinary drug research scheme. For the research into the Siddha system, many research units were started at Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Palyamkottai, Trivandrum. The Tamil Nadu Government also started Siddha Wings in Government headquarters hospital, Taluk Hospitals and primary health centres all over Tamil Nadu. There are two Siddha Colleges in the State - one at Palayamkottai, another at Chennai. Postgraduate courses were also introduced in the above Government Siddha medical colleges.

Subject for the post graduate course M.D.(S): (1) Maruthavam (Medicine), (2) Cunapadam (Materia Medica). (3). Sirappu Maruthvam (Special Medicine). 4. Pillaipini Maruthavam (Paediatric). (5). Magalir Maruthavam (Obstetric Gynaecology).

Thus the unique Siddha medicine answers to a number of incurable diseases while other systems fail.

The folklore of snakebites

There is an interesting legend about the life of the great Tamil poet Kamban who composed the Ramayana. One day he saw a child who succumed to snake bite. The following conversation he had with the parents of the child give us a picture of the knowledge of snake bite and its treatment.

Kamban asked - "How did the child die"? They said - "By snake bite. We tried to get rid of the poison by the kutari technique and we tried Mani, Mantra and Aushadis, but it did not work". Kamban examined the child and said - "If he bears the mark of only one, two or three fangs, it would have been okay. But this seems to be asadhya (i.e. not amendable to cure), since all the four fangs - Kali, Kalatri, Yama and Yamaduta are seen. If one beats the body with a cane and produce no swelling, they say that it is a sadhya condition. Did you try it?" They replied - "Yes we tried it. There was just no sign of swelling". One of them said - "Sir, the child was bitten while he was having an oil massage for bath - that is why it was so difficult to save him". Kamban said - "True. If one has taken an oil bath or has consumed liquor the poison spreads very rapidly". Kamban then prayed and recited verses belonging to the "Naga pasa" section of his Ramayana where he had described how Rama and Lakshmana who had swooned with Indirajit's Naga pasa were revived by Garuda. This recitation revived the poisoned child.

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