South India: Evolution of Siddha Medicine

Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of diseases. The practices under Traditional Medicinal System (TMS) have been a companion to the mankind to fight against diseases and to lead a healthy life. Indigenous people have been using their unique approaches to TMS practice; the Chinese, Indian and African TMSs are renowned worldwide. India has a unique Indian System of Medicines (ISM) consisting of Ayurveda, Unani, Halopathy, Naturopathy, and Homoeopathy.


But there is another traditional medicine named “Siddha Medicine” that originated in South India (i.e., in Tamil Nadu) with the strong foundation laid by the spiritual adepts possessing the “Ashtamahasiddhi” (eight supernatural powers), commonly known as Siddhars. It is believed that the Siddha system was first passed on from Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati. Parvati gave this knowledge to her son Lord Muruga. He taught all these knowledge to his disciple sage Agasthya. Agasthya taught this practice of medicine to 18 Siddhars, who were given the task to teach it to human beings.  Thus, Agasthya in Tamilnadu is known as the founder of Siddha medicine.



However, the historical records reveal a different story, an ancient system of medicine prevalent in Tamil Nadu, South India. The word Siddha comes from the Tamil word for perfection. Those who attained an intellectual level of perfection were called Siddhars. Based on linguistic evidence from preserved Tamil texts, the best estimated time this medicine was originated was in the 16th century C.E. Most of these texts are written on palm leaves, and are no older than 250 years, as the climatic conditions and the hunger of insects hasten the deterioration of the delicate palm leaves.

Moreover, the content of these texts states that Siddha medicine borrowed ideas and techniques from both Ayurveda in the form of a humour-based aetiology and the Arabic-based Unani medicine in the form of diagnosis by examination of the patient’s pulse and urine. Although the origin of Siddha’s alchemical medicine remains a mystery, its technique of Varma-massage, entailing a type of acupressure on selected points on the body, and its method of bone-setting represent probably two of the most indigenous parts of the medical system. For most Tamilians, Siddha medicine has been a part of Tamil culture and civilisation from beginning of time.



Basic Concepts and Principles

The human body, drugs and food, are the model of the universe. Matter and energy are considered to two main components of the universe. They are known as Siva (male) and Shakti (female). Their nature makes them dependent on each other and they cannot exist separately. The experts in Siddha medicine also have the knowledge of four fields, Alchemy (Vaatham), Medicine (Vaithiyam), Yoga (Yogam) and Philosophy (Thathuvam).They should should treat the diseased without seeking fame or fortune from healing.

Metals used for treatment is the most notable feature of Siddha Medicine. Gold, silver, iron, lead and mercury, and extracts of corals and pearls are used for treatment of diseases that are long-lasting in nature.

  • Mercury is antibacterial and antisyphilitic
  • Sulphur is used against scabies and skin diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, spasmodic asthma, jaundice, blood poisoning, and internally as a stool softener
  • Gold is effective against rheumatoid arthritis, and as a nervine tonic, an antidote, and a sexual stimulant;
  • Arsenic cures all fevers, asthma, and anaemia;
  • Copper is used to treat leprosy, skin diseases, and to improve the blood; and
  • Iron is effective against anaemia, jaundice, and as a general tonic for toning the body.


Siddha Medicine believes that every human consists of three elemental energies or humors: Vāyu/Vāta (air & space – “wind”), pitta (fire & water – “bile”) and kapha (water & earth – “phlegm”)

Ayurveda and Siddha

Most of the knowledge about Siddha medicine comes from modern-day practitioners, who often maintain a historically unverified development of their own tradition tend to make fantastic claims about the age and importance of Siddha medicine vis-à-vis its closest rival in India, Ayurveda. But unlike Ayurveda, which has a long and detailed textual tradition in Sanskrit from around the beginning of the Common Era, Siddha medicine’s textual history in Tamil is vague and uncertain until about the 13th century C.E., when there is evidence of medical treatises. Based on the evidence thus far marshalled by means of written secondary sources and the reports of fieldworkers in Siddha medicine and informed by my own observations, it would appear that Siddha and Ayurveda share a common theoretic foundation and might well have derived from one or a combination of the older traditions, but they differ most strikingly in their respective forms of therapeutics. Further investigation into each system in relationship to Indian alchemy could reveal important connections between Indian and other systems of alchemy and medicine.

While Ayurveda, as stated by our co-writer Arshi Dokadia in the article “Evolution of Ayurveda: From Faith to Commercialization“, is gaining popularity through changes in art of practicing and evolving with the changing times and the developing sciences, Siddha has lost its popularity and is compelled to follow the same course. However, the health minister of Tamil Nadu in 2007 claimed that Siddha medicine is effective for chikungunya. There has been renewed interest in Siddha, now-a-days as many started feeling modern medicine is not complete and changing its stands/theories frequently. There are endless possibilities of what will happen to Ayurveda. Is it possible that it’ll be now a competition to Ayurveda, or even take over the Ayurveda? Will they be rivals or work together towards achieving a common goal? Share your opinions!

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Further tripping….


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