Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets

Medicine and Martial Arts in South India

by Roman Sieler

This book consititutes one of the first ethnographic studies of siddha medicine in general and of its sub-specialization, varmakkalai, in particular. As such, it provides a much needed counterweight to traditional studies of Indian medicine by using in-depth ethnographic research in addition to textual analysis.

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 pluralistic health-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 are among 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 will be of interest to students of religion, medical anthropologists, historians of medicine, indologists, and martial arts and performance studies.

praise for the book:

“[T]his book makes an excellent scholarly contribution that will be valuable to scholars of Indology, South Asian religions, Hinduism, martial arts, traditional medicine, and anthropology.”–Asian Medicine


“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 in broad 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

Roman Sieler, 2015. Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets: Medicine and Martial Arts in South India. New York: Oxford University Press.

take a peak into the book:

https://books.google.de/books?id=GVpMCAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=de&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Link to publisher’s website:

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/lethal-spots-vital-secrets-9780190243852?cc=de&lang=en&

Roman Sieler

I am a Medical Anthropologist interested in non-codified and manual medical practices in South Asia. My interests also include Tamil Studies and the history of medicine. Currently, I am a full-time postdoctoral researcher and part of a collaborative research centre at Tuebingen University.

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New Publication on Siddha medicine and Digitization of Siddha texts and items

Sébastia, Brigitte 2019. From siddha corpus to siddha medicine. Reflection on the reduction of siddha knowledge through exploration of manuscripts, In: Mishra A. (ed.). Local Health Traditions: Plurality and marginality in South Asia, Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi, pp. 129-155,  ISBN: 9789352876617, URL: https://orientblackswan.com/details?id=9789352876617. Download: Sébastia (2019).

Brigitte Sébastia has recently published a chapter in Arima Mishra’s edited volume on Local Health Traditions: Plurality and Marginality in South Asia. Continue reading New Publication on Siddha medicine and Digitization of Siddha texts and items

Roman Sieler

I am a Medical Anthropologist interested in non-codified and manual medical practices in South Asia. My interests also include Tamil Studies and the history of medicine. Currently, I am a full-time postdoctoral researcher and part of a collaborative research centre at Tuebingen University.

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Mercury: Life-giving Medicine or Deadly Poison? An Interview with Vaidya Shri Egilane Lebel

Within the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre 1070 “ResourceCultures”[i], anthropologist Roman Sieler conducts research in South India on resource understanding and resource use in traditional medicine. While Ayurveda for example is known worldwide for oil massages and medicinal herbs, Siddha medicine is often characterised by the use of various minerals and metals. Mercury, in particular, plays a special role. Siddha medicine is part of a complex, centuries-old tradition which, in addition to medical methods, also includes philosophical currents, astrological teachings, yogic practices and tantric and alchemical influences, which can be traced back to the Siddhars, a group of mystics whose origins may be dated back to roughly the 8th century. Today, Siddha medicine is one of India’s officially recognized medical traditions and can be studied as a medical degree in India. Siddha medicine is therefore practiced today by traditional healers trained by gurus as well as by doctors who have studied in modern universities. Roman Sieler spoke[ii] with the traditionally trained Siddha physician Egilane Lebel, 48, about the meaning, effect and preparation of mercury in Siddha medicine.

Continue reading Mercury: Life-giving Medicine or Deadly Poison? An Interview with Vaidya Shri Egilane Lebel

Roman Sieler

I am a Medical Anthropologist interested in non-codified and manual medical practices in South Asia. My interests also include Tamil Studies and the history of medicine. Currently, I am a full-time postdoctoral researcher and part of a collaborative research centre at Tuebingen University.

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Conference: Medicine, Religion and Alchemy in South India – Resources and Permutations of Siddha Traditions and Siddha Medicine

SFB 1070 ResourceCultures: Socio-cultural Dynamics and the Use of Resources

An International Conference
Medicine, Religion and Alchemy in South India
Resources and Permutations of Siddha Traditions and Siddha Medicine
 
25 – 27 July 2019 | Hohentübingen Castle | Tübingen University

Continue reading Conference: Medicine, Religion and Alchemy in South India – Resources and Permutations of Siddha Traditions and Siddha Medicine

Roman Sieler

I am a Medical Anthropologist interested in non-codified and manual medical practices in South Asia. My interests also include Tamil Studies and the history of medicine. Currently, I am a full-time postdoctoral researcher and part of a collaborative research centre at Tuebingen University.

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Siddha Studies Network

These pages are designed to serve as a platform for researchers from all disciplines working on Siddha and related traditions in South India, as a platform for exchange and networking, and as a platform where scholars can present their completed and ongoing work and research results. In this way, we hope to provide a unique opportunity to publicize and discuss South Indian traditions and practices in their diverse and multiple forms. While this platform is open to contributions from all disciplines, its main focus is on social sciences and humanities, especially on research in cultural anthropology, indology, history, sociology and religious studies. This platform will hence function as a map of what is going with regard to research on South Indian medicine and its history, alchemical traditions and related philosophies and as a way of getting to know of research and researchers interested in Siddha traditions.

   

Roman Sieler

I am a Medical Anthropologist interested in non-codified and manual medical practices in South Asia. My interests also include Tamil Studies and the history of medicine. Currently, I am a full-time postdoctoral researcher and part of a collaborative research centre at Tuebingen University.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn