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October 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(5): 479-89.

Exploring pluralism--the many faces of Ayurveda.

Nordstrom CR.

University of California, Berkeley 94720.

This paper argues that because Ayurveda is commonly approached as a single coherent tradition of medicine characterized predominately by the doctrines, clinical practitioners, and medical infrastructure that supports it, the rich diversity of empirical indigenous medicine available in the daily lives of the Sinhalese is often obscured. Thus the numbers of IMPs, the wide range of services they provide, and the importance of Ayurveda and Sinhala medicine as basic explanatory models of health and illness within the general population may be significantly under-estimated in analyses of Sri Lanka's medical system. In practice, Ayurveda is a dynamic phenomenon that offers multifaceted approaches to healing. These diverse healing formats develop to meet the constantly changing needs of the society and of illness patterns. This analysis views illness and health care in terms of the multiple systems of knowledge and action, phenomena and interaction, that characterize them as well as in terms of the medical treatises and institutions that formalize them. In this light, Ayurveda emerges as a plural medical system in itself. As such, it remains a fundamental means of defining and treating illness in Sri Lanka.


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