Recipes for Immortality: Healing, Religion, and Community in South India

Hardcover | March 5, 2009

byRichard S. Weiss

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Despite the global spread of Western medical practice, traditional doctors still thrive in the modern world. In Recipes for Immortality, Richard Weiss illuminates their continued success by examining the ways in which siddha medical practitioners in Tamil South India win the trust andpatronage of patients. While biomedicine might alleviate a patient's physical distress, siddha doctors offer their clientele much more: affiliation to a timeless and pure community, the fantasy of a Tamil utopia, and even the prospect of immortality. They speak of a golden age of Tamil civilizationand of traditional medicine, drawing on broader revivalist formulations of a pure and ancient Tamil community. Weiss analyzes the success of siddha doctors, focusing on how they have successfully garnered authority and credibility. While shedding light on their lives, vocations, and aspirations, Weiss also documents the challenges that siddha doctors face in the modern world, both from a biomedical systemthat claims universal efficacy, and also from the rival traditional medicine, ayurveda, which is promoted as the national medicine of an autonomous Indian state. Drawing on ethnographic data; premodern Tamil texts on medicine, alchemy, and yoga; government archival resources; college textbooks; andpopular literature on siddha medicine and on the siddhar yogis, he presents an in-depth study of this traditional system of knowledge, which serves the medical needs of millions of Indians. Weiss concludes with a look at traditional medicine at large, and demonstrates that siddha doctors, despite resent trends toward globalization and biomedicine, reflect the wider political and religious dimensions of medical discourse in our modern world. Recipes for Immortality proves that medicalauthority is based not only on physical effectiveness, but also on imaginative processes that relate to personal and social identities, conceptions of history, secrecy, loss, and utopian promise.

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Despite the global spread of Western medical practice, traditional doctors still thrive in the modern world. In Recipes for Immortality, Richard Weiss illuminates their continued success by examining the ways in which siddha medical practitioners in Tamil South India win the trust andpatronage of patients. While biomedicine might allev...

Richard S. Weiss is Senior Lecturer of South Asian Religions at Victoria University.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9.21 × 6.1 × 0.91 inPublished:March 5, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195335236

ISBN - 13:9780195335231

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"This lucid and engaging volume will be of value for those who study the history and religion of South India, and for those with a more general interest in religion and healing." --Frederick M. Smith