Folk-Lore/Volume 21/Folk-medicine in the Panjab

Folk-Lore. Volume 21
Number 2 (June) Collectanea: Folk-medicine in the Panjab

Folk-medicine in the Panjab.

In his Census Report of the Panjab for 1901 (vol. I., pp. 161 et seq.), Mr. H. A. Rose discussed the belief in the inherited powers of curing disease and working other miracles claimed by certain sacred clans and persons. This belief he connected with the theory of the metempsychosis. It more probably results from the consciousness of the power of heredity. He has now forwarded a series of notes contributed by several native correspondents, from which the following extracts have been made.

In Rewári in the Gurgaon District an Ahir, or breeder of cattle, i claims the hereditary gift of being able, by smelling a handful of earth, to decide, when a well is being sunk, whether it will produce saline or sweet water, and at what depth the spring will be found. In the same district several persons assert a similar power of curing hydrophobia, which is healed by waving peacocks' feathers over the patient, who is made to look towards the sun. Then a ball of kneaded rice flour is placed in his hands, and he is ordered to press it. By and by the hairs of the mad dog show themselves in the dough, and the venom is removed. A Brahman professes to cure stomach-ache by making the sufferer stand behind a wall and place his hand on the seat of the pain; the Pandit mutters a spell, and a cure is effected. In the same way, in the Rohtak District, three merchants claim to be able to cure tumours and other swellings. Several men in both districts cure snake-bite by reciting spells and waving a branch of the sacred ním tree (Azadirachta indica) over the sufferer. None of these people take any reward for their services,—in fact, they will not even smoke in the village where they attend patients. If they accept a small fee, they spend it in sweetmeats which they distribute.

In one case among the Jats of Rohtak this healing power descends in the female line. It is also part of the treatment that the patient must neither eat nor drink in the healer's village; if he does so, the charm will fail.

In Gurgaon District the residents of a certain village possess the hereditary power of curing scrofula and glandular swellings, a gift conferred on one of their ancestors by a Fakír. They exercise it by waving a wooden spoon over the patient. Others cure pains in the side by drawing lines with a knife on the ground near the sick man, who is ordered in return for the cure to dig a certain amount of earth out of the bed of the village tank, and to distribute sweetmeats as a thankoffering. Children in both the Rohtak and Gurgaon Districts are said to suffer from a mysterious disease attributed to displacement of the rib bones. The healer cures this malady either by an application of charmed ashes, or he sucks the affected part,—with the result that blood and pus flow from his mouth, though no wound is visible on the body of the patient.

In the Rohtak District a Brahman cures pains, apparently rheumatic, in the following way. He takes the sufferer outside the village, heats three or four iron scythes in the fire, dips them in oil, and then flings them aside. On this the patient is directed to run away, without looking back, until he reaches the boundary of the village, when the pain disappears.

In the Gurgaon District boils on the leg joints are cured by touching them with the toe of a child born by the foot presentation. Both sexes possess this power, but it can be exercised only on Saturday or Sunday. Enlargement of the spleen is cured by laying the patient on the ground, where he is held by four persons and prevented from moving. Several layers of coarse cloth are placed over the spleen, and on this a lump of clay upon which fire is placed. The clay is sometimes replaced by a thin wooden board which is rubbed with a blazing stick so as to be slightly marked. After the recital of a charm a small boil appears on the diseased part, and a cure is effected. This prescription is said to have been given by a Fakír long ago. One form of cattle plague, known as Chhabka, is cured by catching an insect of the same name. The healer makes a small cut in one of his fingers, rubs the insect on the wound, and thus gains the faculty of healing by touch. It is a condition of working these charms that the practitioner should receive no remuneration.

In the Hissár District diseases are cured by what is known as jhárá ("blowing of spells"). A brass pan containing a little oil and one and a quarter pice (small copper coins) is placed upon the abdomen of the patient; charms are recited, and the diet of the sick man is carefully restricted for fifteen days. This prescription was also given by a Fakír long ago; it is effective only if done on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Members of a family of Mohammedan blacksmiths effect cures by drawing three lines with ashes on the right arm of the patient.

One man in the Jhílam District says that he cures toothache and ringworm by reciting spells which he learned some years ago from a negro cook in East Africa,—a curious example of the importation of folklore. A person in Amritsar cures hydrophobia by treatment taught to his grandfather by a grateful Sikh ascetic. His method is to recite charms seven or eleven times over a little water with which he doses his patient. When he is informed of a case of snakebite, he slaps the messenger on the face with his hand, and gives him a little charmed pepper which is to be administered. In cases of toothache he recites a charm over a knife, and sticks it in the ground or buries it while the sufferer sits concealed by a curtain. Another healer cures hydrophobia by writing some magical characters on a piece of bread which the patient eats. The cure is finished by making him walk (? in the course of the sun) twice or thrice round a mosque.

In Ludhiána District persons suffering from snake-bite are brought to the shrine of Gúga, the snake god.[1] Some earth is dug from the god's tank, on which the patient is laid. He falls asleep, and sees a vision that ensures his cure.[2]

In the Salt Range cattle are healed by a person who walks round them reciting thrice certain verses from the Korán, and blowing towards the animals, and on water in an earthen cup which he holds in his hands. The sacred volume is then wrapped in cloth, hung over the street, and the cattle are driven under it and sprinkled with the holy water. In the same locality members of the Khichi sept of Rajputs charm away hail by walking round the spring crops, blowing over them, and reciting charms. If hail does fall, after this rite, it is a sign that the charmer was impure. They are said to have gained this power from the saint Sayyid Muhammadi, whose tomb is venerated at Bhera. Descendants of another saint. Sháh Biláwal, cure hydrophobia by blowing charms on salt. The healer sits on a raised seat, and stretches out his legs; the sick man is passed under him, and eats the holy salt. Another healer cures guinea-worm, scrofula, swollen glands, and boils by sitting in a mosque with the sick person lying on a cot before him. He recites charms, and waves a wand of the date or other tree. Another family gained the gift of healing because their ancestor once released the hair of a noted Fakír which had become entangled in a tree. In his gratitude the holy man conferred on his benefactor a cure for guinea-worm by reading a charm and marking lines on the patient's body. His descendants give the sufferer a charmed slip of paper, which he continues to stare at while the healer makes lines on the affected limb. Another worthy cures pains in the loins by giving the sick man a kick in that region.

In the Jhílam District some people cure inflamed eyes by hanging an amulet round the waist and giving pills. They also know charms effective to free a person from the influence of evil spirits. In the case of a bite of a dog they draw a line with an iron rod round the wound to prevent the poison from spreading. At Datiya jaundice is cured by invoking the seven daughters of the Lord Siva and giving the patient some charmed lentils. The healer, if his charm is to work, must not practise it during the Holi or spring festival, the Diváli or feast of lamps, or an eclipse, or immediately after his return from a funeral. The charm must be recited three times while the patient is fumigated with incense.

  1. Cf. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folklore of N. India, vol. i, pp. 211 et seq.
  2. Cf. the ἐγκοίμησις practised at Greek shrines of Asklepios; Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, pp. 343 et seq.; Hamilton, Incubation.