Somatic Lessons

Narrating Patienthood and Illness in Indian Medical Literature

By Anthony Cerulli

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Hindu Studies, Religion, Asian Studies, Asian Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9781438443867, 229 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438443874, 229 pages, November 2012

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Looks at narrative in the history of ayurvedic medical literature and the perspectives on illness and patienthood that emerge.


In ayurvedic medical practice, the ways in which and the reasons why people become ill are often explained with stories. This book explores the forms and functions of narrative in Āyurveda, India's classical medical system. Looking at narratives concerning fever, miscarriage, and the so-called king's disease, Anthony Cerulli examines how the medical narrative shifts from clinical to narrative discourse and how stories from religious and philosophical texts are adapted to the medical framework. Cerulli discusses the ethics of illness that emerge and offers a genealogy of patienthood in Indian cultural history. Using Sanskrit medical sources, the book excavates the role, and ultimately the centrality, of Hindu religious thought and practice to the development of Indian medicine in the classical era up to the eve of British colonialism. In addition to its cultural and historical contributions to South Asian Studies, the medical narratives discussed in the book contribute fresh perspectives on medicine and ethics in general and, in particular, notions of health and illness.

Anthony Cerulli is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Asian Languages and Cultures at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.


". ..[an] excellent book … the first work of its kind that takes the role of the patient in the ayurvedic classics seriously. Cerulli is also to be applauded for analyzing the mythological elements in these texts as didactic narratives, and in a thoughtful and rigorous way. This book will prove to be useful in upper-level undergraduate classrooms and in graduate seminars alike. " — Asian Medicine

"Cerulli's lucidly written book is an insightful look on an old subject that gives the reader a refreshingly new perspective on the subject of medicine in traditional Indian culture … Anyone interested in traditional Indian medical theory and thinking about disease will find much to enjoy in reading this book. " — International Journal of Hindu Studies

"Somatic Lessons adds considerably to our understanding of Āyurveda … the extensive narrative sections of the texts that are Cerulli's primary concern have been consistently undervalued in the scholarly record. Cerulli demonstrates the decisive importance of these narrative sections in not only providing a cultural and religious backdrop to these texts, but in showing how they actively regulate the entire system and are important in themselves. This book is highly original in concept and delivery, and intelligently addresses an important area of Indian medical and cultural history. " — Frederick M. Smith, coeditor of Modern and Global Āyurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms

"Somatic Lessons is one of the most engaging pieces of scholarship that I have read in recent years. It is well written, clear, and illuminating. The work is a most important piece of scholarship in studies of Sanskrit medical literature and its relationship to Sanskrit brahmanical literature and is almost certain to create much discussion in various academic circles. " — Kenneth Zysk, author of Religious Medicine: The History and Evolution of Indian Medicine