Siddha is one of the oldest system of medicine practiced in India. This system was developed in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. It is supposed to have been conceived by the Siddhas or evolved souls (numbering 18) who lived in the past. The word 'Siddha' comes from 'Siddhi' which means an object to be attained or perfection of heavenly bliss.
Siddhas or Siddhars were great doctors of medicine, philosophers, men with deep knowledge of anatomy and chemistry and savants noted for their wide travel, simple living and high thinking. The Siddhas have their own manuscripts or basic works, written in secret code. Some of the treasured treatises on medicine are poems in palm leaf manuscripts
which are now preserved in the Saraswathi Mahal Library, Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu. They were the pioneers in the use of metals and minerals in the treatment of diseases.
The systems of Siddha and Ayurveda are very much similar. In both systems, the basis of treatment is the three element theory or 'tridosha' (three humours). The three humours are Vatha (air), Pitta (bile) and Kapha (phlegm). It is believed that without these humours an individual cannot exist and imbalance of these may cause diseases. There are number
of medicines common to both Siddha and Ayurveda. In both systems medicines are prescribed to set right the imbalance in the three life factors.
In Siddha, diseases are diagnosed mainly with the help of signs and symptoms of diseases. Other factors that help to diagnose diseases are touch, examining the pulse, tongue, colour, speech, eyes, faeces and urine.
The main aim of Siddha is to assure a healthy life to man kind.
Siddhars or Siddhas
Siddhars had an unparallel knowledge of medicine. They had the knowledge of processes like the calcination of the mercury minerals and metals and transmuting them for use as medicines even in the remote past when chemical technology was not fully developed.
Siddhas are said to have supernatural powers. They were capable of performing alchemy-the act of converting base metal into gold. Their ability includes the art of making dead persons enter the body of the living for a few minutes, to give expression to certain ideas. Being men of vision who know the past, the present and the future, the Siddhas are supposed
to be capable of living and dying at will. They are reputed to have used certain herbal leaves to intoxicate themselves and get into a trance or hypnotic state.
It is on record that the Siddhas who lived in Kanjamalai converted base metal into gold and experts certified that the gold made by the Siddhas with their miraculous powers contained seven parts of Gold as against ten parts of gold recovered in gold mines.
Certain Siddhas have powers even to nullify the fatal effects of snake poison.
The use of 'Yantras' for curing diseases is widespread. These are certain mystic magical diagrams engraved on the arm or with the chain around the neck. A special prayer is held to instill divine powers into it. The Yantra is then assumed to be able to protect the worshippers from evil and to bestow on him health and wealth.
The first two of the 18 Siddhas, Nandi Thevar and Agasthya are said to have found out the medicinal value of herbs by a process of trial and error. And when the herbs turned out to cure diseases, the Siddhas planted the seedlings of the herbs in high altitudes and other inaccessible places. Bogar was another famous Siddhar who used chemicals for treating diseases.
Folklore belief is that there is no disease which cannot be cured by them. They are credited with the ability to confer longevity and eternal youth.
Medicines in Siddha
In Siddha medicines are based mostly on herbs and metallurgy. Metals are converted by them into medicinal compounds in powder form or solid components of high potency. Some Siddhas make use of a saltish substance ('muppu' or universal salt), to prepare medicines. This universal salt is capable of rejuvenating the entire human system. Siddhas dealt with metals, salts, minerals and animal products.
Fractures of the bone are set right by traditional bone -setters, who have learnt the art orally from generation to generation. It is a separate science prescribed by the Siddhars. It is known as 'Varma Treatment' by them. It deals with the various kinds of fractures and their cure.
There are about 64 types of medicines in Siddha. The common preparations are Bhasma (calcined metals and minerals), Churna (powders), Kashaya (decoctions), Lehya (confections), Ghrita (ghee) and Taila (oil).
Oil is used for external application by Siddhas. Bathing regularly after being anointed in the oil (in which the essence of the herb 'Karisilanganni' is added) is an antidote to skindiseases. For body pain, Marma Thailam, an oily preparation from herbs is applied to the body before going to bed. After a hot bath in the following morning, symptoms of relief are said to be marked.
Herbs are used to treat Asthma. According to mythology, some of the herbs are stated to have the power to transform old men into youth.
Powdered gold, silver and other metals extracts from pearls and corals, and juices of herbs are made use of by the manufactures of Siddha medicines. Even today, people are said to consume 'Thanga Bhasmam' or powdered gold to get over the handicaps of old age.
Cooked raw flour mixed with turmeric powder is boiled and used as bandage material to cure abscess formed in any part of the body.
Piles and eczema are cured by the Siddhas.
The Siddha system included not only medicine and alchemy but also yoga and philosophy. Siddha science acknowledges 64 kinds of yoga.
Some common home remedies
A few drops of castor oil are let into the nose to cure cold.
For various bodily ailments, gingerly oil is boiled with small quantities of chillies and turmeric and the body is anointed with this liquid compound and given a warm bath.
Boiled nutmeg is powdered and consumed with a plantain -fruit to stop dysentery.
The skin of the fox is heated in the oven and devoured with honey to relieve whooping cough.
For sore-throat, leaves of the drumstick tree are powdered, the juice extracted and applied to the throat along with 'chunam' -the lime consumed with betel leaves.
Ginger, turmeric, onion, mustard, nutmeg, cloves and other spices are consumed along with food for their medicinal properties.
The water content of rice kept overnight is drunk with salt, turmeric and asafoetida every three hours as a tonic.
The stem of the banana plant is used for urinary troubles and prostrate enlargements.
Cow-dung is used as a disinfectant in house holds.