Baidya, Vaidya, Baid, Vaida

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This article is an extract from


Ethnographic Glossary.

Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
1891. .

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Baidya, Vaidya, Baid, Vaida

The Baidya is one of the most respected castes in Bengal ranking immediately after the Vaisyas, and before the Kayaths. They are peculiar to Bengal, and in Bihar the Sakadvip Brahmans are the regular physicians.

The origin of the Baidya caste is unknown, but the following tradition satisfies the curiosity of the Hindus. In the house of Galava Muni was a Vaisya damsel, named Amba, who one day

1 In Dacca Zardozi often means muslins embroidered with gold or silver thread, in contradistinction to Karchob, or brocade.

returning from the river met the sage, and was asked for a drink of water, which she gave. The Muni blessed her, and said, "May you have many children!" She laughingly replied, "How can I, an unmarried girl, have children?" The sage having expressed the wish could not recall it, so he ordered her to bring a wisp of Kusa grass, which he transformed into a male child; the girl was naturally bewildered by the gift, as she could not return home, where eviction was certain, so the Muni sent for a Brahman and made him marry her. This miraculous child, called Amrita Acharya, was instructed by Galava Muni in the Ayur Veda, or science of medicine. It is also related that by her Brahman husband Amba bore, among other children, a son called Ambashtha, the father of such as practise medicine.

Under Brahmanical rule the physician was not highly esteemed, and when a Brahman encountered one on his return from bathing, he was polluted and obliged to go back and wash his clothes before touching food. In Menu we are informed that physicians and surgeons acting unskilfully must pay to the injured party the middle amercement.1 The Sanskrit name for a physician is Chikit-saka, from Chikit, understanding, or Aga-dankara, "one who makes well," and it is said that he had charge of dispensaries (Aushadha-alaya, or Aushadha-agara), where ready-made medicines were prepared and sold.

Although we know nothing of the origin of the Baidya caste, history tells us that a Baidya dynasty ruled over Bengal during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The most famous of these Rajahs were Ballal Sena, and his supposititious son, Lakshmana Sena, and it is to the domestic quarrels of the royal family that the separation of the caste into two divisions is popularly referred.

Before their time, it is said, all Baidyas belonged to one clan, the members of which intermarried with one another as all were equal in rank. Ballal Sen, however, having determined on marrying a Dom-Patni girl, his son Lakshmana Sen, and the majority of the caste, protested against its legality, and on finding their remonstrances unheeded, broke the sacred cord, which all Baidyas then wore, and retired into a distant part of the country, where their descendants have ever since preserved the singularity of never wearing a "paita."2 The dishonour inflicted on the caste recoiled, it is related, on the head of its author, and Ballal Sen sought in vain for a Baidya bride for his younger son.

At the present day Baidyas are subdivided into families following the peculiar rites of the Vaisyas (Vaisya-achar), and wearing the sacred cord, and others practising the Sudra rites (Sudra achar); but any member of the caste can assume the cord on his complying with the proper regulations of investiture.

A tradition survives, that Ballal Sen, among his other popular reforms, separated the Baidyas into three classes, Varendra, Rarhi, and Banga, according to the place of their abode, and conferred the rank of Kulins on the Dhanvantari and Madhu Kuliya gotras. In course of time, owing to the frequent marriages of blood relations, the Hindu gotra was also included among the Kulin class. The Baidyas were finally distributed in twenty-seven "sthans," or communes, beyond which no one could reside without loss of caste. The principal settlements were at Shinati, Chandam Mahal, Daspara, Puigrama, Karoria, Shendia, Itna, and Bhutta-pratap in Jessore, Poragachha in Bikrampur, and Dasora and Chand-pratap in Dacca.

In 1872 the census returns exhibit a total of 68,353 Baidyas in Bengal proper, of whom 37,180, or 54 per cent, resided in Eastern Bengal; while in Baqirganj there were 12,960; in Dacca 8,420 ; in Burdwan 5,004; in the twenty-four Parganahs 4,556; and in Silhet 3,291.

The Samaj-pati, or presidency of the Banga Baidyas, has for several generations been vested in the family of Rajah Raj Bullabh of Rajnagar, who reside on the south bank of the Padma river, but though now poor and dependent, the members are still consulted on all tribal matters. Formerly, Brahmans ate whatever the Baidya prepared with milk, or ghi; but now they refuse to do so, at least in public. The caste Brahmans deny that they are Sudras, but it is the fact that the Brahmans who officiate for the Nava-sakha also officiate for Baidyas.

A Baidya who wears the sacred cord is prohibited from marrying into a household which does not; but in Silhet, beyond the range of the regulations of Ballal Sen, Baidyas, Kayaths, and even Sunris are at liberty to intermarry. When equals marry a curious custom is observed by Baidyas. A bond is executed notifying that the bridegroom has received twelve rupees, but should a second son marry he executes a bond for twenty-four, and if a third, the acknowledgement is for thirty-six, but beyond this it never goes. Again, if a Baidya marries into an inferior gotra, he is dishonoured, and can only recover his social position by marrying his sister, or daughter, into a Kulin family, hence a common saying in Bengal, that rising and falling is the Baidya's kul, or lot.

The four principal gotras of the Banga Baidyas are�


1 Menu, ix, 284.

2 From Sanskrit Pavitra, the sacred thread.

The most important "Padavis," or titles, are�


The first belong to the Dhanvantari and Saktri gotras, the second to the Madhu Kuliya, and the third to the Kasyapa.

Baidyas wearing the Brahmanical cord mourn fifteen days; those who do not for thirty. All old Baidya families are Sakta worshippers, but among the poorer classes Vaishnavas are occasionally found. This caste has Ghataks of its own, and formerly the Hada division of the Gauna Kulin Brahmans acted in this capacity, but for many years past members of their own caste have officiated. This innovation originated with one Visvaratha of Jessore, who is reputed to have been the first legitimate Baidya Ghatak.

Many of the caste have lately become Brahmos, and been excommunicated, until they can establish to the satisfaction of the Samaj-pati that the secession from Hindu belief and domestic usages has not been predetermined.

The practice of medicine is the proper profession of the Baidya caste, but for many years it has sent forth young men who have distinguished themselves at the bar, and as agents, managers, and schoolmasters, whilst others have taken to the study of English medicine, and become Bengali class native doctors in the service of Government.

The Kabiraj, or medical practitioner according to the Hindu system, is found in almost every village of Eastern Bengal, and the most respected among them are generally Baidyas. Although it is the fashion to disparage this class, the educated among them are useful and deserving members of native society, occupying a position that cannot be more efficiently filled under present circumstances. The good that they do is rarely heard of, and the malpractices of the legion of uneducated quacks throughout Bengal are laid to their charge.

Kabirajs usually assume bombastic titles, such as Kabi-ratna, Kabi-sanjan, Kabi-chandra, Kabi-Indra, Kabi-bhushana Kabi-bullabha, and Baidya-nidhi; but the popular nickname for all doctors is Nari-tepa, or pulse-feeler. Uneducated practioners and quacks are known as Hathuria,1 or meddlesome fellows, from "hath," the hand; while a still more objectionable and dangerous character is the Ta'liqa Kabiraj, who goes about with a list (ta'liq) of prescriptions, selling them at random, and vaunting their virtues in curing all diseases. He is often a plucked student of the Calcutta College, or a young man too poor to prosecute his studies until qualified for graduation.

Formerly, medicine was taught in Pathsalas, os schools, the most famous being those of Bikrampur and Kanchrapara, on the Hughli; but at the present day each practitioner of any reputa-tion has a "tol," or class, of pupils to whom he translates and expounds the Sastras, if the youths understand Sanskrit, but if they do not he merely lectures on the principles and practice of Hindu medicine. A class generally consists of from ten to twelve young men of various Sudra castes, and it is computed that about twelve per cent. of the Dacca Kabirajs are sufficiently versed in Sanskrit to interpret it.

The two principal text books of the Bengal physicians are the Madhava Nidana, or commentary on the Ayur-veda, and the Chakra-vani. The former, written by a celebrated doctor, Madhava-Kara, chiefly treats of the diagnosis of diseases, while the latter, named after the writer, who was physician and steward of the court of Gaur, is a later and less valued work. Each Kabiraj has a particular master and system, but the greatest teacher, Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, is obeyed by all. In the Brahma-Vaivartta Purana the names of fifteen great physicians are preserved, but only the following six are invoked by the modern doctor, namely:�


1 Buchanan, iii, 142, derives this sobriquet from Hat, a market.

The first three are often identified with one person, the fifth and sixth are the twin sons of Surya, the physicians of Svarga, or heaven. On all occasions of anxiety Mahadeva, or Vaidya-natha, "lord of physicians," is also addressed in prayer.

The chief causes of the stagnation of Hindu medicine, which has lasted from prehistoric times, appear to be the discontinuance of the study of anatomy, the belief that the medical Sastras, being of divine origin, are infallible, and the selfishness of successive generations of physicians in concealing the results of their experience and observation. Kabirajs of the present day often blindly follow the teaching of the Ayur-veda, notwithstanding the opinion that the habits and constitution of the human race, and the prevailing type of diseases, have altered since the archaic days of their teachers.

The candid physician confesses that his brethren have not the magnanimity to divulge the merits of a drug which chance, or experience, has taught them to value; and although it is revealed to a son, or favourite pupil, the secret is kept from the profession at large, and consequently is often lost at the death of the discoverer.

The real Baidya always dispenses his own prescriptions, but as this consumes much time and necessitates his limiting the number of his patients, apprentices are employed in pounding and triturating drugs, while the minute subdivision into powders is done by himself in a private recess of the house. Before beginning this work, the Baidya observes a custom, peculiar to physicians of his caste, namely, the worship of Vaidya-natha, after which the medicine is divided into four parts, one being offered to the Elements, a second to a Brahman, a third being retained by the physician, and a fourth sent to the patient.

As a rule drugs are procured from the shop of the Gandha-banik, or Pansari, but in olden days the physician had to go himself to the forest and collect whatever herb he wanted, and the most successful Kabiraj now in the Dacca district refers his good fortune to the trouble he is at in gathering and verifying the genuineness of the drugs used.

The principal difference between the practice of one Kabiraj and another is, that the works of different commentators on the Ayur-veda are followed. The practice is thus modified, and often inconsistent, while all agree that the fundamental principles of medicine are unchangeable, and that the causes of disease are the same now as they were in Vedic days.

Consultations are usually held in difficult cases, but the physician who can quote the Sastras most fluently and interminably, is too often deemed the most learned and skilful doctor. Although the Sastras declare that physic given by the hands of a Baidya has an intrinsic virtue not possessed when it is administered by any other caste, the populace have no such conviction, and as soon as the treatment of a Baidya fails the patient has no hesitation in placing himself under any other doctor, whatever his caste, or colour, who has acquired the reputation of curing his particular ailment.

Kabirajs, who can afford to be so, are often charitable, giving advice gratis to the poor, and at times treating the sick in a room reserved for them. At the present day Kabirajs are preferred by all Hindus of the old school, as the minute attention paid to diet and temperament is in keeping with the popular ideas, and the way in which European doctors ignore, or disregard, matters so important is especially reprehended. In acute diseases the Kabiraj admits that the European physician far surpasses him in knowledge, but he claims to treat chronic and lingering diseases with greater success.

It may be that in the obscurer effects of malaria, and in cachexiae the consequence of blood poisoning, the medical treatment of the native practitioners is so very efficacious as to explain the greater reliance placed on it than on the routine practice followed in the dispensaries and hospitals throughout Bengal; but no competent person has thought it worth his while to confirm, or refute, a belief which is universally held by the natives of Bengal.

The present state of Hindu medicine in Eastern Bengal is sketched in the following particulars, obtained from the Kabirajs themselves.

Kabirajs believe that the human race has degenerated, and that the constitutions of the present generation have changed, and they cite as an instance the type of fever now prevalent, which is more acute and less tractable than the fevers described in the Sastras.

In these works it is enjoined, that for seven days no medicines are to be given to a patient, and that he is to fast, or only take liquid food; but now, as soon as a diagnosis is formed, and a propitious hour found, the first dose is given. The examination of the pulse is regarded of primary importance, and many doctors are credited with being able to distinguish a disease by its character. The inspection of the urine is not considered, as it is by the Hakim, of much value, for should a drop touch the physician he becomes unclean, and must at once bathe. When it is inspected the sample is always mixed with mustard oil, and the density of the water estimated by the buoyancy of the oil.

Venesection is never performed at the present day, as the type of the ordinary diseases contra-indicates its use; but cupping or leeches are occasionally ordered. In apoplexy, and some forms of hysteria, the actual cautery is still employed, and the potential cautery (Kshara) is used for destroying piles, and, in a fine state of division, is made into an embrocation, and applied over the enlarged spleen and liver.

In the Sastras, enemata are recommended, but, whether, owing to the clumsy syringes employed, or to the strange aversion of all Muhammadan nations to their use, Hindu physicians ceased to order them. Kabirajs, however, are beginning to follow the example of English doctors, but much latent opposition is encountered.

Hindu physicians have arrived at the following conclusions regarding the most valued European drugs. Quinine, in extensive use throughout Bengal, is popularly regarded as a heating remedy, and as causing, when injudiciously used, the fever to take a permanent hold, or to return after a short interval. The masses further believe that it drives the fever into the bones, and that, if once taken, it prevents all other febrifuges from being of the slightest benefit. As a tonic, however, during convalescence from fever, it is admitted by all to be invaluable and unequalled.

With educated practitioners the use of mercury has quite gone out of fashion, and iodide of potassium taken its place; but the victims of its abuse are still lamentably common, and scarcely a hospital in Bengal is ever without several poor creatures permanently maimed, or disfigured by it.

English, or American, sarsaparilla is not much esteemed, as a "pat" of from nine to sixty ingredients is considered a better alterative. The patient being given twenty-one powders, made of a jumble of herbs, takes one daily and boils it in a ser of water until only a quarter remains, then straining and putting aside the sediment, he drinks the decoction. After the twenty-one days have expired, all the sediments are taken, retailed, and the decoction drunk for eleven days longer. Finally, the sediment is put into boiling water, and with it the patient takes a vapour bath (Bhapara).

Cod-liver oil is considered inferior as a nutrient tonic to divers pills and powders prepared by Kabirajs, and in consumption an oil, called "Sarchandanadi," made of Til oil and numerous herbs, is pronounced more beneficial

Chicken broth, prohibited in health, is often prescribed in lingering diseases, while the good effects of port wine and brandy, in the treatment of low types of fever, are acknowledged.

Pills prepared at English druggists are objected to as the magnesia sprinkled over them interferes, it is thought, with the action of the medicine, consequently the Hindu pills rolled with the fingers, and mixed with honey, or the juice of the Bela, or Pan leaf, are preferred.

Such are the condition and opinions of the better class of native physicians, but the description would be incomplete if it omitted all allusion to the uneducated practitioner met with in every village of Bengal, who secures an extensive, and by no means unprofitable, practice among classes unable to pay for better medical advice. He is often a superannuated barber, or fisherman, who has obtained from some strolling "bairagi," or "faqir" a receipt to cure all diseases.

The credulity of the average native is astounding, and even persons of education and high position display wonderful faith in the assertions of quacks vaunting the discovery of some new panacea. There is perhaps no single complaint which so often awakens the inventive faculty of such men as enlargement of the spleen, and he who acquires notoriety as the possessor of a remedy is courted by all classes. A very nutritious diet of milk, fish, and vegetables is always ordered by these shrewd observers, and is generally assigned by sceptics as the explanation of cures which they undoubtedly sometimes effect. The following instances are given in proof of the unsatisfactory appreciation of medicine by the lower classes of Bengal.

In March, 1874, a cloth merchant returned from Lucknow, cured by one 'Urf Husain, of an asthma of twenty-four years standing, and instructed how to cure all diseases, by spitting on and licking the seat of pain, and by rubbing wood ashes over the part. On his arrival in Dacca he exhibited his wonderful powers, which were the more readily believed as he demanded no remuneration, and was satisfied with the fame of his good actions. For weeks from fifty to a hundred patients daily thronged his courtyard, and rumours spread that the novel treatment had the most miraculous result in the most hopeless cases. After a short and prosperous career failures became so numerous, and the cures so very equivocal, that patients ceased to attend, his popularity waned, and the fickle people sought a new pretender.

Another amateur doctor, residing in the outskirks of Dacca, earned a more lasting reputation by using a vesicatory made with the root of the "Kala-chitra," and applied over the spleen. He, however, assigned much of its efficacy to a secret invocation, addressed, in the act of applying the paste, to Lakhi Narayana. The Hindu, moreover, relies as much on the virtues of a cup of water, over which a mantra has been mumbled, as any Muhammadan peasant, and the water of the Ganges, water taken from a tidal river at the turn of the tide, or water in which the Gosain has bathed, have each their crowd of admirers.

In Bengal, as in ancient Egypt and Greece, certain shrines are still celebrated for the cure of intractable diseases. The most famous are those of Tara-Kesvara in Hughli, sacred to Mahadeva; of Vaidyanatha in Birbhum; and of Gondulpara in Hughli, famous in cases of hydrophobia. The device followed at the last place is for the bitten person, after fasting, to defray the expense of a special service, and to receive a piece of red broadcloth (Sultani banat), impregnated with the snuff of a lamp wick, and secreted in the heart of a plantain, called "Kathali Kela." As long as this charm is preserved, and the patient abstains from eating this variety of plantain, the effects of the bite are warded off.

With a people who think and act in this blind, irrational manner, any change to more sound and enlightened modes of thought must be slow. When we still find the lower classes of Scotch and Irish relying on the virtues of certain springs, and believing in the wondrous cures effected by them, we cannot hope that the Hindu will speedily relinquish his faith in miracles and his unreasoning acceptance of every imposture; but a great change is already in progress, and the spread of dispensaries, and of native doctors educated according to English ideas, is doing as much to advance the people, and to awaken among them self-reliance and healthy scepticism, as any other influence directed against the ignorance and credulity of the East.


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