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Journal Article

Medical Culture in Transition: Mughal Gentleman Physician and the Native Doctor in Early Colonial India

Seema Alavi
Modern Asian Studies
Vol. 42, No. 5 (Sep., 2008), pp. 853-897
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20488046
Page Count: 45
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Medical Culture in Transition: Mughal Gentleman Physician and the Native Doctor in Early Colonial India
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Abstract

The essay explores a Greco-Arabic healing tradition that arrived in India with the Muslims and evolved with the expansion of the Mughal Empire. It came to be known as unani in the sub-continent. It studies unani texts and its practitioners in the critical period of transition to British rule, and questions the idea of 'colonial medicine' being the predominant site of culture and power. It shows that in the decades immediately preceding the early 19th century British expansion, unani underwent a critical transformation that was triggered by new influences from the Arab lands. These changes in local medical culture shaped the later colonial intrusions in matters related to health. The essay concludes that the pro-active role of the English Company and the wide usage of the printing press only added new contenders to the ongoing contest over medical authority. By the 1830s this complex interplay moved health away from its previous focus on individual aristocratic virtue, to the new domain of societal well being. It also projected the healer not merely as a gentleman physician concerned with individual health, but as a public servant responsible for the well being of society at large. These changes were rapid and survived the reforms of 1830s. They ensured that 'colonial medicine' remained entangled in local contestations over medical authority.

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