Dr. Malavika Binny
My PhD research involves questions of definitions and purviews of what constituted (or was understood as) science in the early to early modern period in South India and the transitions these definitions went through in interaction with the multiple socio-political forces at work. An intellectual history of medical science remains as an entry point into the epistemology of medical, pharmacological and botanical sciences in the Indian historical context as these were not clearly delineated till the advent of modern bio-medicine. Ayurveda is the umbrella term given to a myriad number of healing practices and medical traditions located within a sanskritic context. It is one of the very few living traditions which is a pointer to the mutability and tractability of sanskritic practices in general. Ayurveda provides an excellent research field to explore the history of ‘science’, its methodology, development and impact on pre-modern ‘Indian’ society. The interplay of science and society and its social and cultural effects form a major chunk of my research. For example, the reluctance of a large chunk of upper caste Hindu population in South and peninsular India to be vaccinated against epidemic diseases such as cholera in the 19th century or the worship of certain deities such as Māriamman, Śitalā and Mutumāriamman which were associated with diseases such as small pox and chicken pox can only be understood within the specificity of the socio-cultural context and their perceptions of belief, science and healing.