Saturday, December 18, 2004

Yunani Medicine

Aman once asked me what Yunani medicine is and its origins. All i knew at the time was that it is an alternative form of medicine that originated from Greece.

Here is a better explanation from City Of Djinns by William Dalrymple.

Yunani (Unani) medicine is an offshoot of classical Greek medicine, known after its Greek origins, as Unani (Ionian) Tibbia. The secrets of Unani medicine were originally passed from the Byzantine empire to Sassanid Persia by heretic Nestorian Christians escaping the oppressive Orthodoxy of Constantinople. The exiles set up a medical school at Jundishapur, south of modern Teheran, where their arcane and esoteric formulae were stolen by the Arabs during the early conquests of Islam.

Adapted in Baghdad and Cairo, cross-fertilized with the ancient medical practices of Pharaonic Egypt, Sumeria, Assyria and Babylon, Unani medicine was finally codified into a cohesive system by the great Arab scholar Ibn Sina (or Avicenna as he was known in the mediaeval west). Thus refined, the medicine passed to Central Asia and into the syllabuses of the universities of Samarkand and Tashkent. Thence it was finally brought to India in the 13th century by refugees fleeing Genghis Khan.

While Western medicine has always tended to concentrate on the elimination of germs, the Unani doctors tried not to lose sight of the patient as a whole being; they conceived of therapy in the original Greek sense of healing, at once taking into account physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Unani medicine emphasized aiding the body's inbuilt ability to heal itself and its ethics forbade any treatment which, while curing a specific ailment, harmed the soundness of the body as a whole. Treatment was not merely a matter of prescribing herbal medicines, but a whole regimen which controlled the diet and the lifestyle. For this reason Unani hospitals were equipped with the best cooks, and, in the case of the 6th century Bait al-Hikmah in Baghdad, a whole troupe of singers and musicians as well.

All these elaborations were built on the basic Hippocratic theory of the Four Humours. The theory postulates the presence in the human body of blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Each person's unique mixture of these substances determines his temperament: a predominance of blood gives a sanguine temperament; a predominance of phlegm makes one phlegmatic; yellow bile, bilious (or choleric); and black bile, melancholic. As long as these humours are in balance, the human system is healthy; it is imbalance which can result in a disease. A Unani physician attempts to diagnose the imbalance and restore each individual to his proper equilibrium. As no two humours are identical, no two people are treated in exactly the same manner.

While the Unani medicine has completely died out in the area where it was born and developed, it still survives intact in the alleys of Delhi's Old City. There are now some 1500 hakims still practising their Byzantine medicine in Delhi. The centre of the modern Unani hakims in Delhi is around Ballimaran, the Street of the Cat Killers, where the doctors moved when the area was first built under the Mughals in the late 1640s.