Herbal medicine has healed millions of lives and continues to do so in the times when allopathic medicine and diagnosis is held up as the final remedy. It is entirely natural with no trace of any chemical influence on it. People have believed and continue to believe in natural remedies to their ailments no matter how overpowering conventional medicine has come to be. Their healing techniques have seeped through various generations, treating and resolving ailments without paying the price of getting entangled in the labyrinth of modern chemical medicine. It follows the traditional Guru-shishya mode of learning wherein amateurs are handheld and instructed into the nuances of healing techniques by their elders who often turn out to be their own relatives like grandfathers and uncles who have practiced healing for ages. Initiatives have been taken by the healers to document the healing processes so that it does not become a form of treatment which was practiced sometime in the history of civilisation but which continues to treat people who are frustrated by the inundation and onslaught of modern medicinal practices which are economically beyond the privileges of a larger mass of society.
Sudarshan Bhumij, a tribal healer from the Bhumij community, who hails from the village of Paladih in Jharkhand, has been practicing traditional healing techniques since 1986. He gained knowledge about this practice from his grandfather and other village elders who used to treat not only ailing villagers but also wounded animals.
He treads into the dense jungles of the region from time to time to collect the raw materials such as fruits, flowers, stem, leaves and roots of trees, required for making the medicines.
However he doesn’t sell the medicines as medicines per se but uses them as ingredients of food items like Amla Murabba (Gooseberry sweets), Amla Sirka (Gooseberry Syrup), Sajna achar (Moringa drumstick pickle), Arjuna tree powder for herbal tea, so that children and elders alike can consume and relish the delicacies and be healed by them at the same time.
Apart from this he has also been incessantly documenting and making notes about the various plants and the diseases they help in healing so that this practice doesn’t get lost in the near future.
He keeps the dried leaves of the plants along with his notes for easy reference.
Sudarshan along with other healers from the neighbouring villages have come together to educate and train the youth of their region in understating and practicing tribal healing techniques so that they do not become dependent on the vagaries of mainstream medicine.
Hinduram Hansda, a resident of Narsinghpur, Jharkhand, has spent almost his entire life treating patients having various ailments, with tribal medicine. He was under the tutelage of a Guru when he was in his ninth grade who gave him a deep insight into tribal medicine. He now has thirty three years of experience in this field with patients coming from all across the region and other states like Orissa as well as from southern India. He provides free treatment to those who can’t afford to pay and generally keeps his fees as low as possible to benefit as many people as possible.
He carries out urine sample tests for diagnosing his patients and it took him almost twelve years to master it. One can see patients lined up outside his clinic waiting with bowls in their hands made out of leaves carrying their urine samples.
After getting the urine sample he puts in a drop of mustard oil in the bowl of urine and diagnoses the patient by observing the trajectory of the drop of oil inside and over the surface of the urine
He keeps noting down the ailments the patient is suffering from by closely observing the drop of mustard whether it scatters after touching the urine or it sinks inside and if it does sink if it rises back up to the surface. It is a complex process which rightfully takes years of practice for understanding and perfection.
He carries a box-full of containers each having a different herbal ingredient. He keeps scanning his notes as his hand reaches out to make the medicine out of the various herbs suitable as per the patient’s ailments. He provides hand-on training to youngsters as well. His assistant Lobhu has been with him for almost sixteen years now and was once his patient whom he had healed.
Harilal Hansda hails from the village of Jonra Gora in Jharkhand. After his graduation he worked at a construction site for a few years before making a shift to tribal healing, which he learned as a child from his grandfather. After a few successes as a healer in his village, people started to come to him for treating their ailments.
Tribal healers have had to unfortunately carry with them the stigma of witchcraft and black magic for years but he was cautious enough from the beginning itself to put those aspects aside and focus on tribal medicine exclusively.
He prepares the medicines in the powder and pellet forms
He has a small clinic in the village where he treats patients from all the neighbouring villages.
Mansingh Munda or as the people from his village now call him, Baidyaraj Mansingh Munda is a practitioner, producer, distributer, trainer of traditional healing and herbal medicine. He was born in Khunti but now works out of Bundu where he has set up a small unit for producing and supplying herbal medicine to healers and patients located in various parts of Jharkhand. He couldn’t study beyond the 10th grade due to financial difficulties and so spent a long time as a carpenter and construction worker to support his family as he had lost both his parents by then.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t satisfied with the work and eventually came back to his village and was introduced to tribal medicine as a potential means of livelihood by a village elder. He got in touch with a practicing healer and wrote down everything he learned from him and made it into a book which he still follows. After studying the nuances of tribal healing techniques for two years he finally started practicing it in 2007 in Bundu village where he currently lives.
However, he did not understand why an age-old healing method like this was being slowly replaced by allopathy and becoming almost extinct especially in the villages. So he went from village to village and asked the healers everywhere how they treated their patients. On doing so he found that after diagnosing the patients and finding out their ailments the healers used to go to the forests to collect the raw materials required to make the medicines which in some cases took a lot of time and so the patients went for allopathic treatment instead.
As a result, he decided to produce the medicines beforehand so that the patients did not have to wait for medication after diagnosis.
After a few months of practice, people started approaching him in large numbers and so he had to increase his scale of production. He bought a small piece of land in Bundu where he installed a machine for grinding the ingredients (roots, stem and leaves) into a powder on a mass scale.
He sells his medicine in the form of powder, pellets and liquid. He weighs, packages and carefully labels each container, with the details of the medicine and dosage, before supplying it in the market.
He uses both English and Mundari languages (the language spoken by the Munda tribe of Jharkhand) so that everyone can read it in the local and wider markets.
He started a company called Baidyaraj Mansingh Munda Herbal Medicine and Marketing Pvt. Ltd. and registered it and now carries out all these activities under that brand.
He bought a computer and taught himself how to design labels and now uses this skill to make the labels which he puts on the medicine containers.
He bought two cars to supply medicines to the individual healers with the money he earned through this venture
As more and more people got healed by his medicines some of them were interested in becoming healers themselves. So he came up with the idea of training these interested groups of people. He holds an intensive workshop on tribal healing every year where the participants are given detailed training in healing patients and a certificate is also provided in the end. He started a committee for these activities under the name of Jharkhand Jaributi Chikitsa Vikas Samiti. The participants come from various parts of the state and after the training, open their makeshift clinics in their own villages. Mansingh Munda supplies them with the medicines. Through this initiative he has been able to create a new generation of healers who treat ailing patients in various parts of the state.
He has published two books on tribal medicine for people who want to learn more about it, one in Mundari script and one in Hindi.
Apart from this Mansingh Munda also teaches the Mundari language, thus single-handedly making an effort to bring back both tribal medicine and language from extinction.
On a busy day he gets to sleep a full two hours after designing, producing, packaging, labelling and supplying the medicines in the market.
Tribal healers are the last resort for sustainable healing techniques on the planet. It’s a choice between embracing them or moving towards a slow death.
Supported by: Tata Steel Foundation