Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets: Medicine and Martial Arts in South India

Paperback | June 15, 2015

byRoman Sieler

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Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets provides an ethnographic study of varmakkalai, or "the art of the vital spots," a South Indian esoteric tradition that combines medical practice and martial arts. Although siddha medicine is officially part of the Indian Government's medically pluralistichealth-care system, very little of a reliable nature has been written about it. Drawing on a diverse array of materials, including Tamil manuscripts, interviews with practitioners, and his own personal experience as an apprentice, Sieler traces the practices of varmakkalai both in different religious traditions - such as Yoga and Ayurveda - and within various combat practices.His argument is based on in-depth ethnographic research in the southernmost region of India, where hereditary medico-martial practitioners learn their occupation from relatives or skilled gurus through an esoteric, spiritual education system. Rituals of secrecy and apprenticeship in varmakkalai areamong the important focal points of Sieler's study. Practitioners protect their esoteric knowledge, but they also engage in a kind of "lure and withdrawal" - a performance of secrecy - because secrecy functions as what might be called "symbolic capital." Sieler argues that varmakkalai is, above all,a matter of texts in practice; knowledge transmission between teacher and student conveys tacit, non-verbal knowledge, and constitutes a "moral economy." It is not merely plain facts that are communicated, but also moral obligations, ethical conduct and tacit, bodily knowledge.Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets is an insightful analysis of practices rarely discussed in scholarly circles. It will be a valuable resource to students of religion, medical anthropologists, historians of medicine, Indologists, and martial arts and performance studies.

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Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets provides an ethnographic study of varmakkalai, or "the art of the vital spots," a South Indian esoteric tradition that combines medical practice and martial arts. Although siddha medicine is officially part of the Indian Government's medically pluralistichealth-care system, very little of a reliable nature h...

Roman Sieler has a PhD in cultural anthropology from South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University (2011). His research interests include siddha medicine and the transmission and practice of non-institutionalized forms of health care in India, especially bonesetting and other forms of manual medicine. Currently, Sieler is Assistant Prof...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9.09 × 6.1 × 0.98 inPublished:June 15, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190243864

ISBN - 13:9780190243869

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The vital spots1. Vital manifestations: marman, marmmam, and varmam spots2. The vital spots: Heterogeneous theories, consistent traditions3. Dispensary and training ground: Medicine and Martial Arts Intertwined4. Healing the Hidden: Somatic Modes of Attending to Bodies5. Virtue and Liability: The vital spots between concealment and revelation6. Embodying secrecy: A moral economy of learning and the transmission of tacit knowledgeEpilogue: From Tactility to Textuality, from Kanyakumari to the WorldBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"This is an outstanding and original study of the intersection of traditional medicine and martial arts in South India. The ethnography is sensitive and insightful, immersing the reader in the daily lives of specialists of bodily training and therapies. Sieler frames this rich local detail inbroad discussions of medical anthropology, tradition, secrecy, and martial arts. This is rigorous and cutting-edge scholarship." --Richard S. Weiss, author of Recipes for Immortality: Medicine, Religion and Community in South India