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Somatic Lessons

Narrating Patienthood and Illness in Indian Medical Literature

By Anthony Cerulli

Publication Year: 2012

Looks at narrative in the history of ayurvedic medical literature and the perspectives on illness and patienthood that emerge. In ayurvedic medical practice, the ways in which and the reasons why people become ill are often explained with stories. This book explores the narrative aspect of A÷yurveda, the dominant medical ideology and practice mode in India for over 2000 years. Looking at narratives concerning fever, miscarriage, and the so-called “king’s disease,” Anthony Cerulli shows how these shift from clinical to narrative discourse and how stories from religious and philosophical texts are adapted to the medical framework. Cerulli discusses the ethics of illness that emerge and offers a genealogy of patienthood in Indian cultural history. Using Sanskrit medical sources, the book excavates the role, and ultimately the centrality, of Hindu religious thought and practice to the development of Indian medicine in the classical era up to the eve of British colonialism. In addition to its cultural and historical contributions, the book’s Indian models contribute fresh perspectives to the very notions of health and illness.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book has been in the works for a long time. All the while, I have acquired many debts, and I am happy to begin to repay them here by thanking those people and institutions that helped me in the process of researching, writing, and editing this book. To begin, I want to thank two...


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pp. xv-xvi

Note on Transliteration, Pronunciation, and Translation

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pp. xvii

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Chapter 1: Introduction: Narrativizing the Body

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pp. 1-12

Everyone gets sick. Physical and mental fluctuations between wellness and illness are par for the course of being human. Types of illness are too numerous to count, yet the ways that people ail usually happen in three ways: psychologically, somatically, and psychosomatically. This book is about what..

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Chapter 2: The Patient’s Body in Indian Medical Literature

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pp. 13-48

The Sanskrit word åyurveda means “knowledge for long life.” This translation reveals the objective (longevity), the means for achieving that objective (knowledge), and the breadth of coverage (life) of the medical system it so names: ≈yurveda. Nothing less than the life of the human organism—a four-part aggregate composed of body, sense organs, mind, and self—...

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Chapter 3: Fever

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pp. 49-72

Few diseases in Sanskrit medical literature are more forbidding than fever (jvara). In Chapter 2 I explained that in the literature of classical ≈yurveda, diseases typically assail just the body, just the mind, or just the sense organs. The Carakasaṃhitå advances this general principle with few exceptions. Fever,..

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Chapter 4: Miscarriage

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pp. 73-104

To what extent do we control the ways we use our bodies when we act in the world? Are our actions deliberate? Do we act with complete and mindful intention? Or are our actions products of an ever-present social programming, an...

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Chapter 5: The King’s Disease

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pp. 105-122

Like the narratives of fever and miscarriage in the previous two chapters, the ayurvedic narrative of the “king’s disease” (råjayakṣman) that I examine in the present chapter portrays a pathology in which an ethical transgression brings about a biophysical affliction. The affliction in this case severely emaciates the body by drying up its vital fluids and attenuating its tissues...

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Chapter 6: The Joy of Life of Ānandarāyamakhin

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pp. 123-146

Medical narratives in Indian medical literature both reflect and direct social perceptions of disease. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in ≈nandaråyamakhin’s (hereafter ≈nandaråya) seven-act allegory, The Joy of Life (J¥vånandanam). As in Chapter 5, in this chapter the king’s disease is..

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Chapter 7: Conclusion: Medical Narratives and the Narrativized Patient

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pp. 147-160

Each of the medical narratives in the preceding chapters in its own way formulates a chain of causation linking self-understanding and action to illness and well-being. From these narratives we learn that a person’s grasp of his or her social and religious roles, collectively captured in the notion...


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pp. 161-168


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pp. 169-192


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-211

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781438443881
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438443874

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Medicine, Ayurvedic -- History.
  • Medical literature -- India -- History and criticism.
  • Sanskrit literature -- History and criticism.
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