Great Book on Ayurveda

Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms by Frederick M. Smith (Author), Dagmar Wujastyk (Editor)

Modern and Global Ayurveda is a collection of papers presented at a 2004 conference convened by the Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic Research at the University of Cambridge edited by Dagmar Wujastyk, an independent scholar in Indology at the University of Bonn and Frederick M. Smith, Professor of Sanskrit and Classical Indian Religions at the University of Iowa.

Modern and Global Ayurveda provides an overview of the recent history of Ayurveda in its modern and globalized forms and the antecedent events and processes leading up to them, offering its readers far more than the usual conference proceedings volume. Rather, it provides an excellent overview of contemporary Ayurveda that is both broad and deep: the British occupation of India; the colonial transformations; the formation of Ayurvedic colleges, institutes, and associations in response to the allopathic influence; the market-driven considerations that affect the packaging and distribution of Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals and the commodification of Ayurvedic training; the global outreach into the Western world; and the impact of Ayurveda on "New Age" religion and thought with a special focus on the activities and institutions founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In their introduction, the editors state that the goal of the book is to present "an account of recent developments in the long history of Ayurveda . . . in the face of three major challenges: (1) British colonialism and the dominance of allopathic medicine, (2) the pressures of modernization, and (3) Ayurveda's diaspora into the world beyond the boundaries of South Asia." They very ably, and readably, meet those challenges.

Contributors to this volume include both Indian and Western scholars and practitioners of Ayurveda. The wide range of perspectives they offer include the philosophical, anthropological, sociopolitical, economic, biomedical, and pharmacological. Issues such as the ideological clashes between "classical" (suddha) and "modernized" (misra) Ayurveda, the "export" of Ayurvedic medical lore to Western countries, and the possible "reimport" of its adapted and reinterpreted contents are covered and prove particularly relevant to contemporary discussion on the integration of complementary and alternative health care.

Of particular interest to Western students and practitioners of Ayurveda will be accounts of the unfortunate state of Ayurvedic education, practice and research in India, the land of its birth. Ayurveda's struggles have not been confined to the West, nor are they limited to promoting public awareness of itself.

Aspiring Western vaidyas will be surprised to learn of Ayurveda's decidedly "second class" status (comparable to that of Osteopathy in the USA circa 1960) in the world of academic medicine (at least insofar as allopathic academic medicine is concerned), the almost willfully poor quality of instruction and pervasive corruption in many Ayurvedic medical colleges, the near-omission from the BAMS curriculum of such Ayurvedic staples as pulse diagnosis and marma vidya, the rudimentary state of research into Ayurveda (outside of the one exception of pharmacognosy research) and the propensity of Ayurvedic graduates in India to forsake their tradition and training for the far more lucrative practice of what has come to be called there "Cosmopolitan" (i.e., Western) medicine. It seems only with the export from and re-import into India of Ayurveda that the practice has been accorded a portion of its due, and that only grudgingly in some governmental, scientific and academic quarters.

I emphatically recommend this very readable and very enlightening volume for all students, practitioners and teachers of Ayurveda. It will shine a very bright light upon some facets of Ayurveda that are little known and most deserving of attention and action both in India and abroad.

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

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