Vitus Angermeier presented a paper on “Medication or Magic? Mantras in Early Āyurveda” at the Workshop Mantras: Sound, Materiality, and the Body, 12-14 May 2022, Vienna.
The seminal 1989 study “Mantra in Ayurveda” by Kenneth G. Zysk1 describes four areas in which mantras were used in early Ayurveda: the treatment of wounds and swellings/tumours, of poisoning, of mental disorders, and the collection and preparation of certain medicines. Although this article is a highly important contribution to the study of the significance of Vedic concepts in Ayurvedic medicine, it leaves much room for further investigation into the role of mantras in early South Asian medical history. Mantras appear in many more contexts than those mentioned by Zysk.
Vedic and post-Vedic mantras are also mentioned in prescriptions on general preventive measures, preparation of food, intake of medicines, after-care of surgical procedures, pregnancy, childbirth and childcare, initiation of medical students, and other topics. Apart from their mere appearance, their medical use raises several more concrete questions such as: Who is in charge of pronouncing the mantras? Are they taken from the Vedic corpus or other sources, and are there original “Ayurvedic” mantras? To what extent and in what way are the prescribed mantras connected to the medical circumstances?
In this talk, I would like to update and complement Zysk’s list, give an overview of the importance and prevalence of mantras in the various Ayurvedic schools and disciplines, and provide a perspective on what still needs to be done to thoroughly understand the role of mantras in Ayurveda.
1 Zysk, Kenneth G. 1989. „Mantra in Ayurveda: A Study of the Use of MagicoReligious Speech in Ancient Indian Medicine“. In Understanding Mantras, SUNY series in religious studies, ed. Harvey P. Alper. Albany: State University of New York Press, 123–43.