Traditional Poison-healing System in Kerala: an Overview


  • Tsutomu Yamashita
  • Brahmadathan U.M.T.
  • Madhu K. Parameswaran


Kerala state is located in the southwest region of the Indian subcontinent. The west side of Kerala faces to the Arabian Sea and the east side borders high mountain range of the Western Ghats. The long southeastern coastal plain or the Malabar Coast rises to mountain slopes of the Western Ghats by gradual steps. Kerala has a tropic monsoon climate of high temperature and high humidity with rainy days in almost one third of the year. These geographical and climatic conditions of Kerala provide suitable environments for a wide variety of plants and animals.2 Some kinds of poisonous creatures including highly venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions as well as poisonous plants are also found.

As for venomous snakes in Kerala, broadly speaking, four species are mainly observed in land territory according to modern biology, namely, (1) the Indian cobra or the spectacled cobra: Naja naja (Linnaeus, 1758); (2) the Russell's viper: Daboia russellii (Shaw & Nodder, 1797); (3) the saw-scaled viper: Echis carinatus (Schneider, 1801) and (4) the common krait: Bungarus caeruleus (Schneider, 1801). Snakebite incidents occur in rural areas mainly during monsoon, paddy-planting and harvesting seasons  especially at night. Inhabitants in rural and mountainous areas and agricultural workers who have no footwear have been the most likely victims of poisonous snakebite in low light or dark conditions. Today, modern medicine has spread in Kerala and modern physicians can treat the patients of poisonous snakebite effectively in most situations. On the other hand, a fair percentage of patients of poisonous snakebite relies on the practitioners of the native poison-healing system even today, especially in rural areas. In this paper, we will attempt to present an overview of the indigenous toxicology or the native poison-healing system (Viá¹£avaidya) in Kerala with special attention to its tradition and history. This report is based on our preliminary investigations on the native poison-healing system and our interviews with some native practitioners in Kerala. Our investigations and interviews were conducted as a part of the activities of the Indo-Japanese research project PADAM (Program for Archiving and Documenting Ä€yurvedic Medicine directed by Tsutomu Yamashita and P. Ram Manohar) supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) during 2001-2007.