Ayurvedic Interiors: Person, Space, and Episteme in Three Medical Practices

Essay Excerpt

In this article, I focus on three practitioners' points of engagement with particular projects of enframing. It should not be inferred that their interpretations of Ayurveda are collapsible into an encounter with modernity. Nonetheless their interpretations are certainly shaped by an encounter with modernity that takes place on various fronts, from the purely medical to the socio-moral. I will argue that each of these physicians resists modern modes of knowledge at different levels, Vd. Sharma at the level of medicine itself, Dr. Karnik at the level of social science, and Dr. Shukla at the level of neo-orientalist commodification. My original research intent was to study the ways in which the corpus of Ayurvedic knowledge had been changed by or preserved from modern disciplinary modes of knowledge. My proposed methodology was a comparison of the practices of physicians ranging from older-generation vaidyas (Ayurvedic practitioners) who had been trained by their gurus to vaidyas who had been trained in modern university settings. My interviews and observations were designed to collect data about diagnosis and treatment procedures that would reveal the underlying models of body and illness being used by each group of practitioners. In this way, I expected to be able to trace the effect of modern institutional procedures on Ayurvedic phenomenology. In a sense, my research was intended to diagnose the extent to which the disease of modernity had invaded the corpus of Ayurvedic knowledge. The biomedical metaphor here is useful because it reveals that such a methodology is itself deeply embedded in a modern epistemological framework. What follows is an account of three practitioners' strategic constructions of Ayurvedic knowledge within a politically charged field of actors that includes biomedical doctors, government agencies, ambivalent patients, social researchers, and non-Indian consumers of Indian "culture." The purpose of this article is to suggest that Ayurvedic knowledge may be reformulated not only through institutional practices but through the discursive maneuvers of Ayurvedic doctors who seek to evade the tidy (en)closures of modern epistemological frames (334-335).

Langford, J. "Ayurvedic Interiors: Person, Space, and Episteme in Three Medical Practices." Cultural Anthropology 10.3(1995): 330–366.

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