Concept of Drugs
In Siddha medicine the use of metals and minerals are more predominant in comparison to other Indian traditional medicine systems. In the usage of metals, minerals and other chemicals, this system was far more advanced than Ayurveda. Siddhar Nagarjuna introduced the use of mercury and its compounds to the Ayurvedic system in later periods. The use of more metals and chemicals was justified by the fact that to preserve the body from decomposing materials that do not decompose easily should be used. The other reason perhaps was that the south Indian rivers were not perennial and herbs were not available all through the year.
The drugs used by the Siddhars could be classified into three groups: thavaram (herbal product), thathu (inorganic substances) and jangamam (animal products). The thathu drugs are further classified as uppu (water soluble inorganic substances or drugs that give out vapour when put into fire), pashanam (drugs not dissolved in water but emit vapour when fired), uparasam (similar to pashanam but differ in action), loham (not dissolved in water but melt when fired), rasam (drugs which are soft) and ghandhagam (drugs which are insoluble in water, like sulphor).
In herbal drugs, the Siddhars not only used herbs, which grow in the surrounding areas, but also herbs that grow in high altitudes of Himalayas. It is noteworthy that Siddhar Korakkar was the first to introduce Cannabis as a medicine; he used it as a powerful painkiller. They also used animal products as medicine, for example in mental diseases, peranda bhasma is used which is made of human skull bones and the skulls of dogs.
According to their mode of application the Siddha medicine could be categorized into two classes:
(1) Internal Medicine
(2) External Medicine.
Internal medicine was used through the oral route and further classified in to 32 categories based on their form, methods of preparation, shelf life, etc.
External medicine includes certain forms of drugs and also certain applications like nasal, eye and ear drops and also certain procedures like leech application.
Concept of Physician
In Siddha system of medicine a physician should be spiritual and have an in-depth knowledge about normal/abnormal functioning of the three humors, capable of curing ailments, intelligent, truthful, confident, associated with the elite, capable of preparing high quality drugs with mastery over medical classes. According to Theraiyar (a siddha) in his Thylavarga churrukama, the physician should have pure thought and action, love for all human beings, a detailed knowledge about geographical seasonal variations, correct physical and mental state and dietary habits. Agasthiyar Sillaraikkovai further adds generosity, patience, untiring hard work, capability of overcoming greed, anger, knowledge about astrology and numerology as the qualities of a physician. He says that a physician should protect his patient like an eyelid, which protects the eyes and care as a mother who cares for her sick child.
A physician should not wear colourful dress, nor use silk, leather rope, cosmetics and should always move around in white dress, using only sandal paste as cosmetics. Theraiyar in his Thylavarka churukkam insists that a physician should clean his hands many times and have bath after examining a patient.
Varma branch of Siddha medical system
This branch of Siddha medicine that is being practiced in pockets of Tamilnadu and Kerala is called Varma. This branch of science deals more with traumatology and accidental injuries than the internal injuries where no immediate symptoms are visibly seen. There are about a hundred vital points, which are either junctions of bones, tendons or ligaments or blood vessels, and are called varma points.
The concepts of Siddha medicine system are similar to Ayurveda, but in the Siddha medicine the use of metal and minerals is predominant. Pulse reading and urine testing are important features of the Siddha medicine. Pulse reading was considerably developed by the Siddhas and was used in diagnosis and prognosis of diseases. Putting oil drops on the surface of urine and observing their movement was used to conduct urine examination. Besides, smell, colour, deposits, etc are also observed. Thus the Siddha system is basically a regional variant of Ayurveda, conditioned by the local Tamil culture and traditional
Introduction of Siddha
Like Ayurveda, Siddha is also a traditional medical system of India. It is of Dravidian origin and has its entire literature in Tamil language. The basic concepts of the Siddha medicine are the same as those of Ayurveda. The difference is mostly in detail, Siddha being influenced by the local tradition with roots in the ancient Dravidian culture.
Its origin is also traced to mythological sources belonging to the Shaiva tradition. According to the tradition, Lord Shiva conveyed the knowledge of medicine to his wife Parvati. The knowledge was passed from her to Nandi and finally it was given to the Siddhas. The word Siddha denotes one who has achieved some extraordinary powers (siddhi). This achievement was related to the discipline of mind and its superiority over body, and was accomplished through both yoga and medicine. Thus siddhars (practitioners of Siddha) became the symbols of psychosomatic perfection and so the Siddha medicine became a combination of medicine and yoga.
The tantrik siddhi was thought of in different forms such as janmaja (due to birth), osadhija (due to some medical elixirs), mantraja (due to magical incantations), tapoja (due to penance) and samadhija (due to meditation). The tantriks endeavoured to attain the siddhis by several means, one of them was through the use of certain compositions of compounds of mercury, sulphur, mica and several other metallic substances.
According to tradition, there were 18 Siddhars (the person who has achieved some extra-ordinary powers): Nandi, Agasthiyar, Thirumular, Punnakkeesar, Pulasthiyar, Poonaikannar, Idaikkadar, Bogar, Pulikai isar, Karuvurar, Konkanavar, Kalangi, Sattainathar, Azhuganni, Agappai, Pumbatti, Theraiyar and Kudhambai, but the Agasthiyar (Agastya) was the topmost. He is regarded as the originator of the Siddha medicine and also of the Tamil language. He occupies the same position as Hippocrates in modern western medicine. In the period of Ramayana he seems to have settled in the South. Thus origin of every tradition in the South, including language and culture, is traced back to Agastya.