The Indian system of healing known as Ayurveda is today popularly projected as a holistic form of healing that works on the mind, body and spirit. It is also said to be extremely ancient, with a knowledge rooted in successful practice that has continued largely unchanged for millennia. The article seeks to understand how a ‘traditional’ form of healing that is associated with Indian civilisation came to occupy such an epistemic space. The related practice of Unani Tibb (a practice that was associated with Islam in India) is compared. It is argued that the claims of Ayurveda and Unani Tibb are typical of many ‘invented traditions’ that sought to forge cultures that helped to bind disparate peoples within supposedly uniform nationalities. In the process, many cultural phenomena that did not fit into the created categories were either marginalised or excluded. The essay examines how claims to great antiquity were forged, the idea of a decline from a glorious past, with a corresponding need for present-day revival, attempts to create uniform ‘systems’ out of a range of eclectic practices, the politics of medical education for indigenous practitioners, and conflicting claims as to what ‘Indian indigenous medicine’ entailed
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