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Contention and collaboration: the tenuous encounter of modern Ayurveda and Western medicine in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

Abstract

Complementary medicine systems are ascending to rapid popularity as the twenty-first century progresses. Often adapted from ancient systems of healing such as Ayurveda, these modern alternative medical movements reappraise millennia-old health traditions that found their inception at the confluence of religious philosophy and herbal healing. Naturally, contemporary global economic forces and a desire to market traditional medicine products in an enticing fashion have characterised how historic traditional medicine systems are presented in the modern context. By establishing a vision of complementary medicine born from ancient traditions, it becomes clear how traditional methods of healing can contend with Western biomedicine—the prevailing standard of care around the globe. The claims made by both sides parry along a line of scientific validity, efficacy and regulatory purview. India, the birthplace of Ayurveda and an epicentre of contemporary medical education, is a prime arena to study the friction between biomedicine and traditional medicine. In this piece, I focus on the modernisation of Ayurveda and how it has found conflict with allopathic medicine. I posit that Ayurveda has re-emerged since the early twentieth century as a key tenet of Indian modernity: and in doing so has found contention with Western medicine. I furthermore argue that despite existing discord, the two medical traditions are not inherently antithetical. They can be synergistic, so long as healthcare delivery and education recognise the limits of each and focus on coaction rather than contradiction.

  • medical anthropology
  • Medical humanities
  • ancient medicine

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All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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