A short introduction: The Tamil Siddhas and the Siddha medicine of Tamil Nadu

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2001

15 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)




1. The meaning of Siddha

2. The Siddha practitioners

3. The Siddhas of Tamilnadu

4. The origin of Siddha medicine

5. The fundamental principles of the Siddha medicine

6. The invention or development of the Siddha medicine

7. The popularity of Siddha medicine

8.Comparism to Ayurveda

9. Today

10. Conclusion



Medicine means the prevention of physical illness;

medicine means the prevention of mental illness;

prevention means to avert illness;

medicine therefore is the prevention of death.[1]

This quotation is an interesting definition of medicine by Tirumular -one of the greatest and earliest Tamil Siddha. The Tamil Siddhas – so a lot of authors assume – invented or developed the Tamil medical system named Siddha medicine. Till today this medical system is little known in India -with a few geographical exceptions in the South- next to the popular Ayurveda medical system.

The Siddha medicine is found in the present time only in Tamilnadu and in a few parts of Kerala (Wehmeyer 2000:1). There is a bulk of works on Siddha medicine in the Tamil language. A lot of these works are not yet studied, because of their secret and symbolic language, their partially bad condition and their difficult accessibility.

Many questions about this system cannot be answered, yet. Till today it is not clear when and where the Siddha medicine exactly originated, why it was invented or developed, at all, and why it has not become as popular as Ayurveda.

In this essey I will explain in a very generalized form what the notion ´ siddha´ means and what person a Siddha is like. I will try to find out when the Siddha medicine was developed, and I will give a short introduction to the fundamental principles of Siddha medicine. Then I will show some problems of Siddha medicine, and therefore why it could not be as popular as the Ayurveda system. Further I will give possible answers why the Tamil system was invented or developed, at all, and I will compare Siddha medicine with Ayurveda to show which of these two systems is the older one. At least, I will give an image of the situation in the present time. I will not explain the Siddha groups and several medical features of Siddha medicine in detail. The subject is too far-reaching and complicated to go into details in this work. The subject can only be broached and is presented in a very generalized form.

1. The meaning of Siddha

The term s iddha[2] is generated from the verbal Sanskrit- root sadh/ sidh, which means ´to realize, succeed,`or ´perfection` (White 1996:2).

I quote David White who explains what s iddha means: “As a common noun, siddha means ´realized, perfected one,` a term generally applied to a practitioner (sādhaka, sādhu) who has through his practice (sādhana) realized his dual goal of superhuman powers (siddhis, ´realizations,` ´perfections`) and bodily immortality (jīvanmukti)” (White 1996: 2).

2. The Siddha practitioners

Wehmeyer writes that a Siddha is a person, who has obtained the highest aim of spiritual efforts, the salvation or mokşa or the liberation from the circle of rebirths. Siddhas were freethinkers, who rejected the caste system, didn´t belong to any religion and spoke against predominant values. In the whole Indian subcontinent Siddhas were considered as demidivine ascetics. The ancient Siddha - cult was a pan-Indian phenomenon (Wehmeyer 2000:2). In other words, almost all of them were against formalities of life and religion, religious practices and beliefs of the ruling class and against generally accepted pan-Indian social and religious doctrines. They were puritanical and monotheistic (Zvelebil 1973:8).[3]

These explanations about Siddhas are very generalized, because there existed different Siddha groups which followed different directions of thinking, and therefore had partially different practices.

David White names the different Siddha groups in India as follows:

“…, Siddha becomes a broad sectarian appellation, applying to devotees of Ś iva in the Deccan (Māheśwara Siddhas), alchemists in Tamil Nadu (Sittars), a group of early Buddhist tāntrikas from Bengal (Mahāsiddhas, Siddhācāryas), the alchemists of medieval India (Rasa Siddhas) and, most especially, a mainly north Indian group known as the Nāth Siddhas” (White 1996: 2)[4]. There are similarities between the written works from the Siddhas of the north and the Tamil Siddhas, e.g. Kundalini yoga[5] is common for all Siddha schools (Venkatraman 1990:19). All Siddhas have attained eight supernatural powers[6] (siddhis) through Yoga practices (Madhavan 1984:17).

3. The Siddhas of Tamil Nadu

The number of the in Tamil papers called ‘historical’ Siddhas in Tamil Nadu is eighteen[7]. These Siddhas were a class of popular thinkers in Tamilnadu in all sciences. Some of them studied the cause and effects of disease, their diagnostic methods, methods of treatment, drugs inclusive of minerals, metals and poisons (Thirunarayanan: 7). The most works by the Tamil Siddhas are not well known, but a few are very popular (Venkatraman 1990:5/6). Hundreds of works deals with alchemy, black magic, medicine, yoga and certain tantric religious rituals, but they are till today not totally researched (Venkatraman 1990:15). Venkatraman doubts the genuineness of the works on Siddha medicine, because in the bulk of the total works (Venkatraman 1990:16) are many with different linguistic styles which indicate the time of creation. The language and literary techniques of many of these works is pedestrian and their versification is very easy which indicates abundance of forgeries of Siddha works (Venkatraman 1990:162).


[1] by Tirumular (Zvelebil 1973:124)

[2] In Tamil ´ cittar `.

[3] Different authors use different spellings for the devotees of the Siddha cult like ´ Siddhar `or in Tamil ´ cittar`. I will use in this work the spelling ´ Siddha ` of David G. White (White 1996).

[4] Another group of Siddhas- the paścimāmnāya (Western transmission) -existed in Nepal (White 1996:2).

[5] The Siddha-yoga is mostly a Kundalini yoga. Through āsanas, breathing exercises and meditation the kundalini - śakti wakes up. She rests at the end of the spinal column as a curled up snake. Across the six cakras she rises up to the 7th cakra, which lies over the parting of the head to unite with Ś iva (Wehmeyer 2000:5).

[6] They are I. Anima (becoming as small as an atom and invisible to others), II. Mahima (becoming very huge), III. Lahuma (becoming weightless), IV. Karima (becoming very heavy), V. Propthi (achieving impossible things), VI. Praghamiyam (obtaining desired things), VII. Vasithuvam (ability to make others think in the way as the person himself thinks), VIII. Eesathuvam (becoming one with the supreme) (Thirunarayanan: 108-109). This transliterations are non-standard and typically Tamil.

[7] There are some lists of this eighteen Siddhas which are not identical. They contain partially different names of Siddhas. These lists include names of gods, demigods, celestial damsels, Rishis, a few Nathasiddhas and many exotic saints and religious personalities. The origin of these lists seems to be recent, but it cannot be proved in which time period they were written. The possibility remains near that the number eighteen of Siddhas is not historical and the origin is as recent as the 19th century (Venkatraman 1990:5/6).

Excerpt out of 15 pages


A short introduction: The Tamil Siddhas and the Siddha medicine of Tamil Nadu
University of Heidelberg  (South Asian Ethnology Institute)
Medicine Ethnology II: Health in South Asian Culture
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
467 KB
Tamil, Siddhas, Siddha, Tamil, Nadu, Medicine, Ethnology, Health, South, Asian, Culture
Quote paper
Marion Zimmermann (Author), 2001, A short introduction: The Tamil Siddhas and the Siddha medicine of Tamil Nadu, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/12974


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