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Santal Medicine:A pilot project sponsored by IGNCA on Santal Medicine and healing practices was undertaken by Dr. N. Patnaik, Director Social Science and Development Research Institute, Bhubaneshwar.

The Santals are one of the largest tribal groups in India, mainly concentrated in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. According to the figure of 1981 Census the population of Santals in Orissa is 5,30776 which is about 12% of the total population of the tribe in the above mentioned three states. The present study is based on the data collected from the Santals of Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. The primary information relating to the Santal notion of health and disease are gathered from the Santal medicine men and from general public through informally guided conversation during group interviews. These informations are further substantiated with the help of secondary data of eight manuscripts written in both Oriya and Santal languages by the local medicine men.
According to the Santals, a disease-free life is possible if there is congenial relationship between human beings, nature and supernatural beings. Any sinful act and infringement of social customs are believed to be the base for creating illness. In addition to it, the innumerable evil spirits also cause illness. The bongas (supernatural beings) and witches cause illness and disharmony. The Santal priests are then entrusted to look after the propitiation of the spirits. Medicine men and magicians are involved in the act of naturalization of the effects of sorcery, evil eye and witch craft. The institution of local healers and ojhas are formed by such practices.
The ojha is a diviner, soothsayer, sorcerer, exorcist, magician and an expert in herbal medicine. He knows all the methods of home remedies, like sekao (fomentation), iskir (massage), soso (marking with the juice of marking nut) and tobak (marking the affected part with a pointed sickle made red hot). He also knows the divinations of purging the evil spirit out of the body of the ailing person.
The knowledge of Ojhaship transmits from one generation to another through proper training. They are imparted primary knowledge of various diseases and the ways of handling them during the period of training. The trainees are taken out to the nearby forest to identify different medicinal herbs. At the time of training and practice, they spell invocation which is called jharnis to keep themselves free from the attack of the witches. It is believed that these witches create trouble for the trainees like making them sick and injecting their body with evil spirits which cause epileptic fits. Thus the Santal way of curing the diseases involve the combination of both application of herbal medicine and invocations of the spirits.
Apart from the professional medical practitioners, every grown up Santal knows little bit of the application of herbal medicine and he first tries to tackle the situation by using this knowledge. He seeks help of the professionals when he fails in his attempt and proceeds step by step from very simple remedies to most complicated practices of divination and witchcraft. The common people however, lack the knowledge about the invocations, incantations, spells and magical formula which are the prerogatives of the ojha.
The common procedure for the preparation of medicines is to grind the ingredients on a flat stone and mix with other ingredients later. The new unused earthen ware pot is utilized at the time of preparing and administering the medicine because the earthen pot is considered cleaner than the other vessels. Often the unmarried girls are employed for helping in the preparation of medicine. This is because the unmarried girls remain free from any influence of spirit than their married counterpart who are supposed to be under the influence of their husband's bonga.
Manuscripts on Santal medicine have reported about 261 prescriptions. The reported diseases include the diseases affecting head, nose, eyes, ears, teeth, tongue, mouth and throat, bones, nails and other organs of the body. Various types of fever, cough and cold, stomach ailment, epidemic, etc. are enlisted in these manuscripts. At the time of preparing a list of these diseases, foremost attempt is made to provide a descriptive account of them. It is observed that the ailment effecting women and children are greater in number. Similarly haematic and arthritic troubles are most prominently featured in these prescriptions.
Sunday is considered to be the auspicious day for preparation and application of the remedies. Medicines are given in an empty stomach in the morning, repeated at noon and in the evening. Splints, the cut pieces of sar (Sacecharum Sara, L.) are used in the bandage to mend the bone fractures. Medicinal Steam-bath is also used as a remedial measure for certain maladies.
Santal medicine comprises of ingredients obtained from animal products, cereals and pulses, trees and plants, minerals and soil, etc. The ingredients of tree and plant products occupy the major place in Santal medicine. Their living in the forest might be the cause of their considerable dependence on ecology and forest products for remedies of various diseases.
The Santal medicines work as contraceptive, have definite effect on sterility, increases flow of mother's milk and help to stop it's flow when not required. There are medicines which ensure easy delivery and discharge of placenta normally. It has also the scope of simple surgical methods to ensure relief of the patients. The place where pain is felt is marked with a red hot needle or point of sickle to subdue the pain.
The available texts on Santal medicine confirm the existence of many variations rather than similarities in the prescriptions for the same disease. Certain diseases have a number of prescriptions. The old texts mention more details of diseases and medicines than the recently written ones. The former deals with variety of fevers like cold fever, fever on every alternate day, fever with shivering, fever during night time and fever causing bleeding. But the recent texts mention them in an abridged form.
From the view-point of healing practices, it is revealed that the recent texts have ignored to mention several earlier practices related to the remedies of diseases. The older texts, for instance, have prescribed that, dog-bite can be cured by giving the patient, hair from the tail of a healthy dog inserted in a piece of ripe banana, to swallow. In the case of scorpion sting it is advised that the affected person should go to an ant-hill and shout heko, heko several times. By doing so he would get relief. These things are no longer prescribed in the recently written texts by the Santal medicine men.
An understanding of Santal medicine is incomplete unless it is associated with the whole gamut of nature, cosmology and superstitious beliefs, their perception of nature and occulticism in order to fight diseases.

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