Folk Healing

“There is a significant relationship between culture and system of health. Culture defines sickness and sick roles, its causes and believe systems and practices associated with it.”

 As mentioned, sickness and disease have a cultural perspective which shapes the remedial mechanism. Thus the use of folk medicine among indigenous communities is intrinsic to their healing processes, as a part of its culture rests on folk knowledge, philosophy, and tradition.

According to World Health Organization folk medicine is “the sum total of the knowledge , skills, and practices based on theories, beliefs, and experiences, indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement, or treatment of physical and mental illness.” Folk medicine incorporates several ways of healing- symbolic incantations, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy.

The folk understanding of diseases among the Koch Rajbangshis incorporates a quintessential philosophy of associating particular gods and goddesses with diseases and is considered by the healers to be a crucial system to cure and purge. It is a shared understanding and an approach to comprehending things “beyond”.


“The folk world is a blend of rational, experiential and supernatural. Not everything can be explained rationally; obviously supernatural explanation. Not everything can be explained rationally; obviously, supernatural explanation helps in meeting the crisis which is beyond human endeavor. Secular beliefs include physical factors related to the causation of diseases like the effect of hot and cold weather, blood purification, diet, water, air, fire, earth, addiction, exercise, germs… non secular beliefs include, supernatural factors in health and diseases like past and present sin, act of god and goddess, wrath of evil eyes, wrath of demons, fate, evil spirit, religious events and so on.”


 Popularly Goddess Kali is associated with suicide, sudden death thereby transferring the fault ‘dosh’ or ‘dushi’ to the wrath or ill eye of the goddess. Smallpox or ‘Thakurani’ is popularly associated with ‘Bishohori’ or ‘Teestaburi’. Stomach ache with ‘Bao kali’, ‘Shoshan kali’. Headache eyes protruding or bulging eyes, and other eye related diseases with ‘Bishohori’ .Dietary problems with ‘Occhut’ or something impure; although there are local variations among healers. Many mental diseases are associated with ‘dakini’, a witch or ogress which possesses the victim. The understanding of self, separate from the disease, which is an external manifestation of ‘dushi’ or god’s wrath independent of human mind and body, is a dualistic conception of body and disease; a unique characteristic  which separates folk medicinal conception of disease from its modern counterpart.


“The particular worldview of a community and its faith in deities who control the universe, greatly influence their thinking about life and death, health and sickness, etc. when faced with illness and suffering, our forefathers relied more on the experience of their cultures and very often sought solace from power outside them, as we turn today to science, they turned to their religious faith.”


But this dependence on indigenous medicinal practice cannot be labeled as pre-modern tradition only. Humans still rely on them as did ancient Egyptians or Chinese or Indians, and so does the Koch Rajbangshi community, for the system of traditional or folk medicine is necessary to perceive the relation with nature, God, including the exclusive  worldview shared by the community.


“Hippocrates Corpus identifies among other things… the doctor patient relationship, as a therapeutic tool.”


The folk medication involves a close relation between patient and healers, more “holistic” idea of the body and treatment whereas, modern treatment includes “hospitalization” which is often “commercial profit making venture”, patients are manipulated through “instrumental consumerism” “pharmaceutical companies exist to make profits” and “distancing between doctors and patients”.

Folk medicines among Koch Rajbangshis generally include water, sesame oil or ghee treated or concentrated with holy incantations or mantras-‘jol kosha’, ‘tel kosha’, ‘ghee kosha’; direct cleansing through mantras ‘jharajhari’ along with other herbal treatments and dietary practices. Acts of purgation include cleansing the house with treated water, sand, sesame, or appeasing gods by sacrificing pigeons and goats or organizing religious ceremonies. Mostly affordable and simply organized, these practices are readily used.

 As “culture is medicalised the social determinants of pain are distorted”. Hippocrates Corpus “identifies among other things, the importance of considering the social environment, as an etiological factor in disease…” Therefore prior to dismissing the tradition as quackery, one must venture deep into Hippocrates’ consideration. One must also re-cognize the psychological impact Folk Medicines can have on us. The placebo phenomenon, which, as many medical researchers and psychologists now confirm, is one of its’ primary healing mechanism.

Referred and Quoted from-

  1. “Social Beliefs, Cultural Practices in Health and Disease”, K.L. Pokarna, Edited by Narendra K. Singhi.

-Nabanita Roy (Noya)

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