Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets: Medicine and Martial Arts in South India

ISBN : 9780190243852

Roman Sieler
322 ページ
162 x 238 mm

Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets provides an ethnographic study of varmakkalai, or "the art of the vital spots," a South Indian esoteric tradition that combines medical practice and martial arts. Although siddha medicine is officially part of the Indian Government's medically pluralistic health-care system, very little of a reliable nature has been written about it. Drawing on a diverse array of materials, including Tamil manuscripts, interviews with practitioners, and his own personal experience as an apprentice, Sieler traces the practices of varmakkalai both in different religious traditions-such as Yoga and Ayurveda-and within various combat practices. His argument is based on in-depth ethnographic research in the southernmost region of India, where hereditary medico-martial practitioners learn their occupation from relatives or skilled gurus through an esoteric, spiritual education system. Rituals of secrecy and apprenticeship in varmakkalai are among the important focal points of Sieler's study. Practitioners protect their esoteric knowledge, but they also engage in a kind of "lure and withdrawal"--a performance of secrecy--because secrecy functions as what might be called "symbolic capital." Sieler argues that varmakkalai is, above all, a matter of texts in practice; knowledge transmission between teacher and student conveys tacit, non-verbal knowledge, and constitutes a "moral economy." It is not merely plain facts that are communicated, but also moral obligations, ethical conduct and tacit, bodily knowledge. Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets will be of interest to students of religion, medical anthropologists, historians of medicine, indologists, and martial arts and performance studies.


Introduction: The vital spots
Chapter 1. Vital manifestations: marman, marmmam, and varmam spots
Chapter 2. The vital spots: Heterogeneous theories, consistent traditions
Chapter 3. Dispensary and training ground: Medicine and Martial Arts Intertwined
Chapter 4. Healing the Hidden: Somatic Modes of Attending to Bodies
Chapter 5. Virtue and Liability: The vital spots between concealment and revelation
Chapter 6. Embodying secrecy: A moral economy of learning and the transmission of tacit knowledge
Epilogue: From Tactility to Textuality, from Kanyakumari to the World


Roman Sieler has a PhD in cultural anthropology from South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University (2011) as well as experience in development cooperation with regard to health issues in South Asia. His research interests include siddha medicine and the transmission and practice of non-institutionalized forms of health care in India, especially bonesetting and other forms of manual medicine. Currently, Sieler is Assistant Professor of anthropology at the South Asia Institute, where he coordinates the MA program Health and Society in South Asia. He is also an affiliate postdoctoral researcher at the French Institute of Pondicherry, India.