Diseases and Medicine in 17th and 18th Century India. Interactions between Indian and European System of Medicine

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

15 Pages, Grade: none


Niccolao Manucci held a firm belief that the tabibs had no knowledge of
medicine and were definitely not in a position to cure the Stone, Paralysis, Apoplexy
(Epilepsy), Dropsy, Anemia, Malignant Fevers or other difficult complaints and Indian
physicians cured ,,hot complaints with cooling remedies.
Niccolao Manucci (c.1639-1717) came to Delhi in 1656 themselves started medical
practice at Agra after the murder of Dara in 1659 seemingly without any training or
knowledge. During the period of 1671-78, he practiced medicine in Lahore and then
during 1678-82, served as physician to the Aurunzebs eldest son Shah Alam. After that
he arrived in Madras in 1686 and remained there till his death in 1716 that is for the next
30 years
. In his account, he mentions several other European surgeons in India. An
Armenian, called Sikander Beg, was surgeon to Daras eldest son Sulaiman Shikoh in
A Venetian surgeon, Angello Legrenzi was serving at the court of Shah Alam at
Aurangabad in 1679,
he mentions about a French physician, Francois de la Palisse, alias
St. Jacques, as being at the Mughal court in 1666.
John Ovington in his travels
mentioned Hakim Daud, a physician in Aurunzebs service.
Fryer, a British physician, came to India in 1673 and visited the various places
near the seacoast and wrote about the medical practices among the Mughal. Fryer in his
Manucci, Niccolao, Storo do Mogor or Mughal India (1653-1708), trans. William Irvine, Calcutta,
1996(Reprint), Vol.II, p.333.
Ibid., Vol.I, pp.lv-lix.
Ibid., Vol.I, p.278.
Ibid., Vol.I, p.lxxiii.
Ibid., Vol.I, p.lxxiii.
Ovington, J., India in 17
Century: Voyages to India by Ovington and Thevenot, Vol.II, ed.by.J. P.Guha,
New Delhi, 1976, p.276. Hakim Daud was Dara old enemies.

observation, mentioned that the Indian physicians neither understood the pulse nor did
they treat other ailments, Indian surgery too was "in bad plight"
. He also remarked that:
"Physich here is now as in former days open to all Pretenders, here being no Bars of
Authority, or formal Graduation, Examination or Proof of their Proficiency; but everyone
ventures and everyone suffers".
There are similar comments by Careri, who in his account mentioned that Indian
physician has small skill and cure several diseases by fasting
and European soldiers
were hesitant to join the Mughal army as they had no hospital for the wounded men
Bernier, a qualified French physician in the Mughal court in a similar fashion comments:
"It is not surprising that the Gentiles (Hindus) understand nothing of anatomy. They
never open the body either of man or beast... Yet notwithstanding their profound
ignorance of the subject, they affirm that the number of veins in human body is five
thousand... Just as if they had carefully reckoned them".
Another French physician, Delon makes same kind of remarks about the Indian
knowledge of medicine and its practitioners:
"The pagan (i.e. Hindu) physicians, whom they call pandites, are a sort of people without
learning or any knowledge or insight into Anatomy. All their skill is confined to a certain
number of receipts, which they apply promiscuously without making the least reflection
upon the different Age, Sex, constitution, or Strength of their Patients. They are very
John Fryer, A New Account of East India and Persia in Eight letter being Nine years Travel began 1672
and Finished 1681, Delhi, 1985. Pp.114-115.
Ibid., p.114.
Careri, Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri, edited by Surrender Nath Sen, New Delhi, 1949. p.247.
Ibid., p.218.
Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire A.D.1656-68, trans. Irving Brock, New Delhi, 1972,

timorous, and rather will left a patient perish than run the hazards of a Remedy, which...
appears doubtful to them".
Manucci described that the European physicians were not agreed to accept salaries at par
with those of Indian physician
. Tavernier in his first and second visit mentioned about
the Royal Hospital of Goa, which was renowned throughout India and attended by
patients. But according to him:
"... Since this hospital has changed its managers, patients are badly treated, and many
Europeans who enter it do not leave it save to be carried to the tomb".
Mentioning the treatment of fevers among European patients at the Portuguese Hospital
at Goa he says:
"in order to recover their colour and get themselves in to perfect health, it is prescribed
for them to drink for twelve days there glasses of Pissat de vache, one in the morning,
one at midday, and one in the evening; but, as this drink cannot but be very disagreeable,
the convalescent swallows as little for it as possible, how ever much he may desire to he
health. This remedy has been learnt the idolaters of the country, and whether the
convalescent makes use of it or not, he is not allowed to leave the hospital till the twelve
days have expired during which he supposed to partake of this drink"
There were hardly any Physicians in the kingdom of Carnatic, Golconda and Bijapur
except those who were in service of kings and princess.
Manucci refers to a French
Dr. Delon, A Voyage to the East Indies: Giving an Account of the Isles of Madagascar, and Mascareigne,
of Suratte, the Coast of Malabar, of Goa, Gameron, Ormus, and the Coast of Brazil, with the Religion,
Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, etc, as also a Treatise of the Distempers Peculiar to the
Eastern Countries, Trans. Anon. from the French, London, D.Browne, 1698, p.232-233.
Manucci, Vol.II, op.cit. p.381.
Tavernier, J.B., Travels in India, trans. V.Ball and edited Willium Crooke, Vol.I.,New Delhi,1977., p.160.
Ibid., pp.160-161. Pissat de vache i.e. cows urine, one of the Panchagarya, or five products of the sacred
Ibid., Vol. I., p.240.

gunner and surgeon M.Claude Malle of Bourges, who was a surgeon to the governor of
Allahabad in1666 and practiced both surgery and medicine. Malle advised to prevent the
use of Ganges water because according to him it caused stomach upset.
In 1614, the French East India Company appointed a Surgeon-general John
Woodall, who provided surgeons for the ships. Woodall was a member of the London
Company of Barber Surgeon and after his death in 1643 another surgeon, Henry Boone,
was employed at the place of Woodall.
Gabriel Boughton, an English surgeon of ship
Hopewell, at Surat is said to have attended a "Princess" on the call of emperor Shahjahan
on, Moharram 27, 1054H (Feb.4, 1644). Describing this event, Manucci says:
"It happened one night while engaged in such-like dances that the thin rainment steeped
in perfumed oils of the princesss favourite dancing woman caught fire, and from the
great love she bore to her, the princess came to her aid, and thus was burnt herself on the
The first European hospital in India appears to be the Portuguese hospital at Goa,
founded by Albuquerque in AD1510. In AD 1591, the administration of the hospital was
placed in the hands of Jesuits, who according to Tavernier converted it into one of the
best-run hospitals in the world.
John Albert de Mandeslo of North Germany visited Goa
in 1638 and described that ,,there were a large number of patients in the infirmary, most
of them suffering from ,,Pox or bloody Flux, who were attended by a priest till their end
Ibid., Vol. I., pp.95-96, 228.
Cf.Rajesh Kochhar, op.cit. pp. 259­268.
Manucci, Vol.I, p.211. See also Inayat Khan, The Shahjahan Nama of Inayat Khan: An Abridged History
of the Mughal Empire Shahjahan compiled by his Royal Librarian, A.R.Fuller, W.E.Begtey and
Z.A.Desai (trans.); New Delhi, Oxford University Press. 1990, p.309.
Tavernier, J.B., Vol.I, p.160.

However the first English hospital at Madras was opened in 1664. The second
was built in between 1679 and 1688 by the public contribution at the cost of 838 pagodas
(nearly about Rs.3, 000). The third hospital was built soon after the company acquired the
In 1708, Alexander Hamilton described this hospital as a very good one in the
In 1701, a French hospital was established at Pondicherry, which had become the
colonial headquarters of the French in India. The necessity of a hospital had been felt in
1700 to treat the French soldiers by French East India Company. Jacque Theodore Albert
(1675-1721) was appointed as the first chief surgeon of the hospital. It is reported that
this hospital was not only for treatment of sick French soldiers, but also to serve as a
lodge for European orphans.
Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten, the Dutch traveler of sixteenth century, sailed from
Spain to Goa and in 1596, the account which he left in his, The Itineratio of Voyage of
Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten to east of Portuguese Indies. He speaks very favourably of
the Indian physicians and, says they made no distinction in treating the Indian and
Europeans alike.
According to him the Portuguese hospital (the kings hospital) at Goa
was reserved for the Portuguese while for the "Indians have a hospital by themselves".
Linschoten mentions various diseases like Fever, Cholera, Dysentery etc. and says that
Garcia de Orta was the first European who described the frightful disease i.e. cholera in
A.de Mandeslo, John, Voyages and Travels into the East Indies, the Moladires. Trans. J.Davis, London,
Cf. Jaggi, O.P., Medicine in India: Modern Period, PHISPC, Oxford University Press, New Delhi,
2000.Vol.IX, Part I, p.77.
Hemilton, A., An Account of East Indies from the year1688-1723, New Delhi, 1995(reprint).Vol.I, p.361.
Cf.Jaggi, O.P.; op.cit. pp.76-77.
Linschoten, J.H.V, The Voyage of East Indies. Edited by Arthur Coke Burnell, Asian Educational Society,
New Delhi, 1988, Vol.I. p.230.
Ibid., p.237.
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Diseases and Medicine in 17th and 18th Century India. Interactions between Indian and European System of Medicine
Aligarh Muslim University  (Department of History)
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Mumtaz Alam (Author), 2011, Diseases and Medicine in 17th and 18th Century India. Interactions between Indian and European System of Medicine, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/182021


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