Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media

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December 15, 2005

Open Source Medicine: India Digitizes Ayurvedic Knowledge

The genetic-modification multinationals have been trying to patent "discoveries" of plants and remedies that are actually part and parcel of ancient cultures.

Basmati rice from India, on which the Texan company RiceTec obtained a patent for a cross-breed with American long-grain rice, is a recent example. The Indian government objected to the patent arguing that Basmati already has the characteristics that RiceTec obtained its patent on.

A patent on a neem-based pesticide was granted to W R Grace chemical company, but is being contested by more than 200 organisations from 35 nations, according to the Third World Network.

There is a word for this kind of aggressive patenting of natural resources: biopiracy. The trouble goes back to a wrong turn we took in patent laws, allowing patents on life forms. These patents spawned a whole industry of genetic modification (GM) adding no value to human production except for the increased shareholder value of GM-multinationals.

And while traditional knowledge is disregarded when patent applications are decided, the European Union has gone so far as to exclude, some say unfairly so, most herbal medicines coming from India, China and other non-European cultures when making its own "traditional herbal medicines" directive.

The government of India has now decided that enough is enough. The new Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is designed to make the existing knowledge of its ancient health systems - ayurveda, unani and siddha - available in a digital format in five languages: English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. BBC has an article about this:

- - -

India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

In a quiet government office in the Indian capital, Delhi, some 100 doctors are hunched over computers poring over ancient medical texts and keying in information.

These doctors are practitioners of ayurveda, unani and siddha, ancient Indian medical systems that date back thousands of years.

One of them is Jaya Saklani Kala, a young ayurveda doctor, who is wading through a dog-eared 500-year-old text book for information on a medicine derived from the mango fruit.

"Soon the world will know the medicine, and the fact that it originated from India," she says.

With help from software engineers and patent examiners, Ms Kala and her colleagues are putting together a 30-million-page electronic encyclopaedia of India's traditional medical knowledge, the first of its kind in the world.


The ambitious $2m project, christened Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, will roll out an encyclopaedia of the country's traditional medicine in five languages - English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish - in an effort to stop people from claiming them as their own and patenting them.

The electronic encyclopaedia, which will be made available next year, will contain information on the traditional medicines, including exhaustive references, photographs of the plants and scans from the original texts.

Indian scientists say the country has been a victim of what they describe as "bio-piracy" for a long time.

"When we put out this encyclopaedia in the public domain, no one will be able to claim that these medicines or therapies are their inventions. Till now, we have not done the needful to protect our traditional wealth," says Ajay Dua, a senior bureaucrat in the federal commerce ministry.

Putting together the encyclopaedia is a daunting task.

For one, ayurvedic texts are in Sanskrit and Hindi, unani texts are in Arabic and Persian and siddha material is in Tamil language. Material from these texts is being translated into five international languages, using sophisticated software coding.

The sheer wealth of material that has to be read through for information is enormous - there are some 54 authoritative 'text books' on ayurveda alone, some thousands of years old.

"People outside India are not aware of our immense traditional knowledge wealth" says VK Gupta, the project's director.

Then there are nearly 150,000 recorded ayurvedic, unani and siddha medicines; and some 1,500 asanas (physical exercises and postures) in yoga, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago.

Under normal circumstances, a patent application should always be rejected if there is prior existing knowledge about the product.

But in most of the developed nations like United States, "prior existing knowledge" is only recognised if it is published in a journal or is available on a database - not if it has been passed down through generations of oral and folk traditions.

The irony here is that India has suffered even though its traditional knowledge, as in China, has been documented extensively.

But information about traditional medicine has never been culled from their texts, translated and put out in the public domain.


No wonder then that India has been embroiled in some high-profile patent litigation in the past decade - the government spent some $6m alone in fighting legal battles against the patenting of turmeric and neem-based medicines.

In 1995, the US Patent Office granted a patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric.

Indian scientists protested and fought a two-year-long legal battle to get the patent revoked.

Last year, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on an anti-fungal product, derived from neem, by successfully arguing that the medicinal neem tree is part of traditional Indian knowledge.

In 1998 the US Patent Office granted patent to a local company for new strains of rice similar to basmati, which has been grown for centuries in the Himalayan foothills of north-west India and Pakistan and has become popular internationally. After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked four years ago.

And, in the US, an expatriate Indian yoga teacher has claimed copyright on a sequence of 36 yoga asanas, or postures.

Dr Vinod Kumar Gupta, who is leading the traditional wealth encyclopaedia project and heads India's National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (Niscair), reckons that of the nearly 5,000 patents given out by the US Patent Office on various medical plants by the year 2000, some 80% were plants of Indian origin.

Practitioners of traditional medicines say their importance cannot be denied - according to the WHO, 70% of the people living in India use traditional medicine for primary health care.

Also, some 42% of the people living in the US and 70% of the people living in Canada have used traditional medicines at least once for treatment.

By one estimate, a quarter of the new drugs produced in the US are plant-based, giving the sometimes much-criticised practitioners of alternative traditional medicine something to cheer about.

The mammoth Indian encyclopaedia may finally give alternative medicine the shot in the arm it sorely needs.

India seems to be serious about this:

New Ayurvedic Drugs to Help Cancer

Document diseases cured by Ayurveda

See also related:

Liberating Knowledge
The western knowledge that dominates the world today is in crisis across all disciplines, with science being the worst afflicted. Reliable knowledge is being drowned out by relentless propaganda and a concerted disinformation campaign aimed at promoting the commercial products of knowledge, while critical information on the dangers involved is summarily dismissed and suppressed. Worst of all, knowledge is being privatised and contained as the "intellectual property" of corporations, giving corporations unprecedented control, not just over knowledge of nature, but over life and the necessities of life. Liberating knowledge is the most urgent task facing humanity, without which there can be no reliable knowledge freely accessible to all ...

Reviving Indian systems of medicine
KARNATAKA - Belgaum: The Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) set up here by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has begun the task of preparing an authentic database on medicinal plants in the Western Ghats. This will boost ongoing efforts to revive traditional Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Thursday December 15 2005
updated on Thursday December 9 2010

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

Found on the Alternative Medicine Yahoo Group, Jagannath Chatterjee about the science of Ayurveda. A plea to return to common sense.

Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 02:25:56 -0800 (PST)
From: Jagannath Chatterjee
Subject: Re : Ayurveda is a complete science.

Dear S____,

Yes, I am sure that ayurveda is a complete science . Ayurveda comprises use of diet, medicine (herbal, mineral, animal sources), yoga exercises including pranayama and meditation, astrology and gemology, accupressure (marma chikitsa), accupuncture (suchi chikitsa), surgery (shalya chikitsa), panchakarma, mantra chikitsa etc.

This form of treatment was widely prevalent in India and travelled to China and other eastern countries and also the west where it combined with traditional forms of treatment. As I have mentioned accupressure, accupuncture, tai chi exercises, and even Reiki owe their origin to ayurveda. The principle of homeopathy (like cures like) too was not unknown to early ayurveds. Both the treatments and most alternative systems of healing rely heavily on the energy body of man.

After the Muslim invasion of India developed the Unani system of medicine which is a combination of ayurveda and arabian system. However modern medicine that came via the British had to establish itself in India by persecuting the ayurveds, killing and maiming them, impoverishing them by cutting off grants from kings, burning their manuscripts, destroying copper plate engravings and spreading the canard that ayurveda was a superstition. A fantastic way to introduce a "scientific" medicine, isn't it? Not only in India, allopathy spread to other parts of the world primarily on the strength of the sword.

However today ayurveda stands vindicated as it's 5000 year old philosophy of body-mind-energy-emotion-spiritual medicine finds support from scientists working in the realm of sub atomic physics and also social and environment thinkers from around the world. As pointed out by me in an earlier post, the body-mind dichotomy and the reductionist system of "scientific" medicine is under serious threat today. It is now openly acnowledged that most of the modern ailments may be a direct offshoot of the faulty premises and lack of coherent theories of modern medicine.

For those who do not like words like "Indian medicine", "Indian past", "Indian culture", I should point out that Samuel Hahnemann, a German and the founder of homeopathy came to the same conclusions as ayurveds. He did not know anything about India or ayurveda but his keen insight led him to the conclusion that , "So long as man obeyed the laws of nature there was no disease. But as man deviated from natural laws there arose a mental itch. This mental deviation resulted in disruption of bodily functions leading to physical skin eruptions (as the body tried to throw the toxins out). The suppression of these eruptions (through allopathic means) made the mental itch permanent and resulted in a condition called "Psora". Psora is the root cause of all diseases."

Hahnemann too, like ayurveds, was severely critical of modern medicine and prophecied that, "....unless checked, allopathy will destroy mankind physically, mentally, morally and spiritually." He could not really see the future else he would have added the term "financially" also. How could he know that allopathy would endear itself to governments for its revenue generating abilities? On his deathbed, tired of intense persecution of all sorts from the "scientific" medical personell, Hahneman remarked, "I was not born in vain." The decision of WHO to grant recognition to homeopathy has indeed proved him right.

Ayurveda gives more emphasis to the prevention of disease. This it does by dividing men broadly into three types depending on their constitution, vata, pitta and kapha and prescribing living routines called dinacharya and ritucharya ( daily routines and seasonal routines). Deviating from these routines create "ama" or toxins.

Ayurveda also recognised that various elements existed that could induce diseases. They termed these "krimi's" (germs). However they realised that a strong immune system could easily ward off these krimi's. Therefore ayurveda placed the utmost importance on strengthening the immune system through various methods enumerated above.

Illness has become very complex today purely due to mismanagement. This is evident if we watch the animal and bird kingdom. These "creatures" do not fall seriously sick inspite of leaving stressful lives. They do not suffer from diabetes, stroke, neurological disorders, depression and other severe psychiatric illnesses. They usually die of old age unless they are unfortunate enough to come under the influence of men, caged or poached. They are now coming under the spell of pesticides too. Both Hahnemann and the ayurveds observed this. Chinese herbalists studied wild animals to know how they remained healthy. American Indians perfected the art.

The increasing popularity of ayurveda has rung alarm bells among medical practitioners all over the world. They are now devising legal frameworks to contain its spread. They are also trying to malign ayurvedic preparations by pointing out that they contain processed heavy metals.

What they do not say is that till today there is no evidence that these processed metals have caused any harm. The Canadian Govt admitted this even as it raised the question. The Govt thus said, "it has the potential to harm". The heavy metals used in ayurveda are metal ashes processed further by various herbs and procedures to nullify their toxicity and reveal their healing abilities. Even homeopathy uses these heavy metals in energy form.

Due to flawed agricultural practices we regularly eat fruits and vegetables that contain dangerous amounts of toxins and RAW heavy metals. Due to repeated vaccines our children are routiney INJECTED raw heavy metals directly into the blood stream in levels far exceeding safe limits. ALL allopathic drugs are DANGEROUS and say so in the labels. Even commonly and widely used basic drugs such as aspirin and paracetamol can be lethal. More people die every year due to medical practices than the combined deaths from plane crashes, terrorist attacks and road accidents. But then these are "scientific" deaths and cannot be questioned.

Due to heavy drug intake even our water sources have become drug contaminated. Water in the USA contains high levels of anti depressants and pain killer chemicals. Today people are clamouring for euthanasia as "medical expertise" pushes them into unbearable pain. But again we cannot question science.

We don't need scientific medicine today. We need a sane society and pure and simple common sense.


Posted by: Sepp on December 17, 2005 10:12 PM


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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