Book Review: Ayurveda Unmasked

Ayurveda Unmasked
by Ranganayakulu Venkat Potturu, Ph.D.
Pangea Publishers (India, 2015), Kindle E-Books edition

This is an important book that should be read by anyone concerned with the future of Ayurveda, although when I began reading this book I did so with a pre-existing bias: I disliked its title intensely. If something is to be “unmasked” that more than implies that it is wearing a mask, that it is presenting a false version of itself to the world, and hiding a true face that is unsuitable for public viewing or in some fashion unacceptable.

To be sure, Dr. Putturu, a physiologist on the faculty of the Sri Venkateswara Ayurvedic Medical College of Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh, has many criticisms to make of Ayurveda as it is contemporarily taught and practiced in his homeland. Some of his criticisms are valid and well-taken, particularly as they relate to a system of Ayurvedic education that he sees as corrupt, stagnant and overly-emphasizing Ayurveda’s literary canon and Sanskritic tradition while sorely wanting in scientific substance and methodology. Others are not so well-founded and in a few instances are simply factually incorrect.

Dr. Putturu is a firm proponent of “cosmopolitan medicine,” i.e., a hybridized healing art consisting of a diminished armamentarium of Ayurvedic procedures – those validated by contemporary biomedical research data – that would be practiced alongside allopathy, with the latter taking pride of place. The ideal Ayurveda envisaged by the author would resemble nothing so much as osteopathic medicine as it is currently practiced in the United States: in other words, allopathy with an Ayurvedic “add-on.”

This will annoy and even alienate many readers whose Gold Standard of clinical evidence consists not of the collected results of double-blind, placebo controlled studies but of “Traditional Knowledge” (TK), with data gleaned at patients’ bedsides in an immeasurably large number of individual cases, occurring in a vast population, over a wide expanse of territory, covering a span of centuries if not millennia wherein Ayurvedic procedures and remedies have been repeatedly proven efficacious.

The author lays out the purpose of his writing Ayurveda Unmasked: “… to explore the evolution of ideas in Ayurveda and the rationality of those ideas. Now the world looks at Ayurveda with renewed interest. Many believe in the foundations of Ayurveda as unfathomable and indisputable. I wish the prospective teachers and physicians of Ayurveda in India to be saved from the fallacies that were deliberately shoved [into] their minds.” The author enumerates among those fallacies the ideas that “Ayurveda is a consistent, complete and scientific medicine [and] believe in myriad mythological stories and in the divine origin of medicine … created in a flash of time, not evolved over the course of centuries.”

Dr. Putturu is at his best (and incidentally probably at his last controversial) in his discussions of Ayurvedic education in India and its desperate needs for reform.

There is much in Ayurveda Unmasked to disagree with and much to agree with, but with something to both engage and offend nearly everyone. Notwithstanding that, it is an important book that deserves a fair and attentive reading whether one allies oneself with the shuddha (purist) or mishra (hybridizing) tendencies within Ayurvedic praxis.

Review provided by William Courson, BVSA, D. Ayur., an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.

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