Siddha medicine

siddha medicine

siddha medicine

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siddhar, cittar


As a common nom, siddha means “realized, perfected one”, a term generally applied to a practitioner (sadhaka, sadhu) who has through his practice (sadhana) realized his dual goal of superhuman powers (siddhis, “realizations” “perfection”) and bodily immortality (jivanmukhi). As a proper noun, siddha becomes a broad sectarian appellation, applying to devotees of Siva in the Deccan (Mahesvara Siddha), alchemists in Tamil Nadu (Sittars), a group of early tantrikas from Bengal (Mahasiddhas, siddhacarya), the alchemists of medieval India (Rasa Siddhas), and, most especially, a main north Indian group known as the Nath Siddhas (White 2004).

According to the Tamil tradition, there are eighteen cittarkal (siddhar in sanskrit). Nevertheless, their number is much more. From the Usman report (committee created in 1924 for examining the pertinence of an indigenous medical college and for defining the curriculum) and from various literary sources, R. Venkatram in his book “A history of the Tamil Siddha Cult” (1990: 205-208) lists 96 names of Cittarkal.

The lists presented below have been realized with the books of A. Shanmuganvelan (1963); R. Venkatraman (1990) and Kamil V. Zvelebil (1993) and different pictures of eighteen cittarkal; the names of cittarkal are accompanied by the caste and the place(s)to which they are related.

The eighteen cittarkal of the photography:

Name of the cittarkal Samadhi Other places mentioned in the literature Cittarkal specialities
Tirumular (itaiyar caste)Tiruvaduthurai (Chidambaram)TillaiAlchemy, medicine, yoga, philosophy; Saiva siddhanta follower
Iramatevar alias Yacobe Alagar Hills (Chennai)Mecca, ChinaAlchemy, yoga, philosophy
AkattiyarAnandacayanam (Trivandrum)Pothigai hillsMedicine, alchemy, magic, spirituality, considered as the founder of the Tamil grammar and literature
Konkanavar or Konkanar (kannata itaiyar caste, shepherd)TirupatiKoditturai; TirukkanaguniAlchemy, medicine, yoga, philosophy
Kamalamuni (koravar caste)Tiruvanjiyan (Thanjavur)ChinaAlchemy, medicine, yoga, magic, philosophy
Itaikkatar (itaiyar caste, shepherd)TiruvannamalaiTiruvidaimaruturAlchemy
CattaimuniShiyali (Thanjavur)Srirangam; SirkazhiAlchemy, medicine, yoga, philosophy
Kutampai (itaiyar caste , shepherd)MayavaramMagic (siddhi)
Karuvurar (ironsmith caste )Kalahastri and ThanjavurYoga, medicine, philosophy
TanvantiriVaithisvarankovilFounder of ayurvedic medicine
Cuntaranantar (caste vellalar)Sathuragiri, MaduraiYoga, alchemy, medicine, philosophy
Vanmiki (hunter)Ettikkudi(Author of a version of the Ramayana)
Korakkar (mother belonging to koravar caste)Poyur (Nagappattinam)Tirukkalikkunram; TirukkokarnamalaiPoetry, alchemy, medicine, yoga, philosophy
Maccamuni (celpatavar, fisherman)TirupparankunramMayuram; TiruvanaikkavalPoetry, philosophy, alchemy, medicine
Pokar (Chinese potter)PalaniAlchemy, medicine, yoga
Pampatti Cittar (North Indian)SankarankovilDuvarakai; Tirugnanam; VirudhachalamAlchemy
Nanti VarttarKasiNorth India

Other cittarkal mentioned in lists of eighteen cittarkal and/or authors of manuscripts on the medicine, alchemy, varmankal, yoga, astrology

Name of cittarkal Places in reference to the cittarkal
Akappai Cittar (vellalar) Alagar Malai; Tiruvaiyaru
Cattanatar (Singhalese) Tiruvarankam
Kalankinatar (cinattu acari) Kancipuram
Kalluli Cittar
Kangayar Karur
Kañcamalai Cittar
Katai Pillai
Katuveli Cittar Kañci
Kumbamuni Tiruvananthapuram, Kumbakonam
Pulattiyar Avudaiyarkovil; Papanasam
Pulippani Palani
Punnakkicar (kannata itaiyar, shepherd)Nanguneri
Roma Rishi
Sivavakiyar Kumbakonam
Theraiyar Podikai Malai
Vilayatti Cittar
Virama Muni

Zvelebil classifies the cittarkal of Tamil Nadu in three groups:

  • 1- group of alchemists and physicians who have composed in verse and prose a vast number of alchemical (iatrochemistry) and medical treatises.
  • 2- group of thinkers or poets who have composed between the 10th-15th centuries, stanzas in Tamil more and less based on tantric yoga, religious philosophy.
  • 3- group of thinkers or poets who have been appended to the Siddha school by posterior generation or who called themselves cittar without properly belonging to the esoteric group itself.

The tradition of cittarkal of Tamil Nadu is hardly known. Kamil V. Zvelebil (1973) presents two reasons of that: the deep-rooted prejudice against the Siddhas among orthodox Hindus in Tamil Nadu and the fact that the Siddha doctrines have been guarded as an esoteric teaching. Regarding the first reason, Zvelebil cites W. Taylor, the author of ‘A Catalogue Raisonné of Oriental Manuscripts’ who told that the ascetics of Saivaism sought after copies of the poem Civavakkiyar’s Patal in order to destroy them. This violent oppostion was motivated by an opposition to the informal language used in the texts. According to Meenakshi (ibid: 112) “Siddha in their songs used not the classical, refined or literary language but that spoken by the common man, adopting the folk-song style. For example, the poems of Pampatticcittar of the ‘snake-charmer Siddha’ are modelled on the songs of the professional snake-charmers. It may be suggested, in this context, that the language of the Siddha poem is similar that of the Tantric texts, which has been described variously as ‘twilight language’ ‘intentional language’ etc., and is equally applicable to Siddha poems.” Tamil Siddha texts are often composed in dark, ambiguous language, or rather in language in which words are on purpose semantically polyvalent. They can be read with a number of keys such as liturgical, tantric, yogic and they can be read as simple songs. The diction is often enigmatic, full of analogies, metaphors, double-meanings, while the language is more often than not almost vulgar, it is simple colloquial and close to the speech of populations.

Some cittarkal have developed an open negative, iconoclastic attitude toward idol worship which naturally takes them to the denial of bhakti as a mean of liberation. They consider that the worship of God in temples, the songs to his glory and observance of rules and practices such as smearing the body with ash, wearing rudrasksa, practising spiritual exercises (prostration, ablution in tirtha, pilgrimage, circumambulation around holy places and so on) are not necessary to reach the liberation. The attitude of these cittarkal contrasts sharply with bhakti school. In Tamil literature, informs Ganapathy (1993: 70-71), “there is almost a total absence of any local cult of the deity.” “The Tamil Siddhars are not bound by any religious dogma, nor do they use any regular place of worship.” “Yet they are not atheists as they are often represented to be. For them there is a God, a ‘Siva’, without limitation or attributes. The ideal name for ‘Siva’ is ‘It’ (Atu) or ‘Thatness’ or ‘Suchness’ or Paraparam. A deeper study of the concept of Siva would reveal that it took two channels in Indian thought, one Siddhantic, (i.e. theistic) based on the method of bhakti, and the other tantric (i.e. absolutistic), based on the method of jnana”. Meenakshi (2001: 115) confirms the anti-ritualist, anti-orthodox ideology of cittarkal and adds that “at the same time, there is an emphasis on right conduct, moral behaviour and character in almost all the Siddha texts, which is absent in the poems of the bhakti poets. The Siddhas insist more on purity of character than external purity”.

Another important particularity of the Tamil cittarkar is their refusal to accept caste distinction in society as well as sacredotalism. Ganapathy in his book mentions several examples. Pambatticcittar is so angry with caste hierarchy that he wants to burn it down. Sivavakkiyar scoffs at the upholders of caste system and violently opposes the practice of untouchability by raising a pertinent question whether the bones, flesh and skin of an upper –caste (Brahmin) woman and whose of a lower-caste (paraiyar) woman with reference to the above are distinguishable on the basis of caste.

It is interesting to note that the non-recognition of the difference of caste and religion and the opposition to the cult of idols still exist today. This ideology is discernible in the worship of the flame (jyoti) performed in certain temples such as that of Vadalur, the place where the cittar Saint Ramalingam lived and obtained the Samadhi. Some people who founded the ashram in the small village situated at the foot of Maruttuvalmalai (Mountain of the medicine) in Kanniyakumari district and the yogis who are living in the cave-ashrams in this mountain share this ideology. This is engraved in the rocks, symbolised by a flame (jyoti) in the sanctum sanctorum in the temples of this village, or drawn with sacred ashes on the forehead of devotees. Let add that, as the list above shows, the cittarkal belonged to various castes, from Brahmin to hunter, included shepherd or potter. The non caste and religion distinction of this tradition has certainly influenced the medical practice since siddha practitioners belong to all the Tamil castes and are Hindus as well as Christians and even Muslims (in principle, muslims practise yunani, from Greco-Arabic origin).
The social concern of the Tamil Siddha is well expressed in their involvement in the medicine. Ganapathy considers Agattiya and Teraiyar as very popular for Siddha medicine. Meenakshi lists Teraiyar, Pokar, Roma Rsi and Pulipani as reputed for their great healing ability. To these names, it is necessary to add those of Iramadevar (medicine and alchemy), Konganur (alchemy), Sattamuni (medicine), Tirumular (medicine), Nandicar (medicine), Maccamuni (medicine) and Yugimuni (medicine) because many medical treatises have their names. The preoccupation of cittarkal with medicine and alchemy is related to their quest for immortality. Their involvement in all these domains of the health, immortality and salvation is common to all the tantric siddhayoga. The body is not a source of suffering and temptation. It is the most reliable and effective instrument of the man in his quest of conquering death and bondage. And thus to achieve these aims, the body must be preserved as long as possible and in perfect condition (Meenakshi ibid.).

The superhuman powers or siddhi developed by the cittarkal to attain samadhi, by tradition, are eight in number and are known in sanskrit as asta siddhi or mahasiddhi:
  • anima or faculty of reducing gross body to the size of an atom; ability to fly because of body weightless
  • makima or the power of expanding one’s bulk without limit because of weightless
  • karima or the power of increasing one’s weight or disintegrating the atoms of the body to make it able to pass through solid mater
  • laghima (ilakima) or the power of becoming as light as a feather
  • kamavasayitva (piratti) or the power of fulfilling everything desired; faculty of knowing everything past, present, and future and of securing everything as desired
  • prakamya (pirakamiyam) or the power to overcome natural obstructions like rays by which one can attain immortality; and to go anywhere
  • isitva (icattuvam) or power of domination over animates and inanimates in the universe, power to create, preserve, and to destroy
  • vasitva (vacittuvam) or power of changing the course of nature and assuming any form in creation (T.V. Sambasivam Pillai 1931; Zvelebil 1993).

Small temple devoted to Agattiyar at Agattiyar waterfalls. Agattiyar is considered as the father of siddha medicine.

Guru puja: Annual celebration consisting in a homa offered to Agattiyar, as the great master of yoga. The celebration is organized by Ananta Kutil, a yogi who delivers yoga courses.

Guru puja: different ingredients for the homa offered specifically to Agattiyar. The ingredients are made up of common items used for homa and of spices and medicinal plants.

Karuvurar's temple at Thanjavur. This cittar is revered for his yoga knowledge.


Bokar's samati at Palani Tanvantari's samati
at Vaithisvarankovil



joti svarupamana at Vadalur
Cattaimuni's samati
at Sirkazhi



Tirumular's samati in Tiruvaduthurai (near Chidambaram)


Drawings on a wall of the clinic of a traditional practitioner specialised in bone-setting: cittar preparing medicines and practising massage

On the top of the Mountain of the Medicine (Western Ghats)