By Tenzin Dharpo
The production line of the Tibetan medicine in TMAI, Dharamshala/file
DHARAMSHALA, APR. 13: India and China, two of the world’s cultural giants have nominated the traditional Tibetan medicine system, known as the ‘Sowa Rigpa’ tradition to be included in the UNESCO’s list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage List’.
While the mainstream buzz around the issue is whether India or China, has the stronger legitimacy to forward such an appeal to UNESCO, the matter itself is viewed in a completely different light here at Men-Tsee-Khang, the Headquarters of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute (TMAI) in Dharamshala, considered by many as the virtual capital of the Tibetan diaspora.
Tsering Phuntsok, the Registrar of the TMAI who has been with the organization for over 25 years, says the Tibetan traditional medicine is on the upswing and putting it in the same bracket as Qawwali, Nautanki, Kalamkari paintings, Durga Puja and listing it as an intangible entity is a no-brainer. “The Tibetan Sowa Rigpa tradition is a science, no less a science that has healed and continues to heal countless chronic and sometimes terminal patients over the years, how is it intangible? We’ve had discussions earlier as well and the Director has made it abundantly clear that categorizing Tibetan medicine as intangible will never be accepted by the institute,” Phuntsok told Phayul.
The backlash over the nomination by the core custodians of the Tibetan medicine may have not garnered as much attention but the issue is not new. In an email dated as far back as November 2014, the current Director of the apex Tibetan traditional medicine body Tashi Tsering Phuri to the UNESCO authorities in France categorically objected to the motion by China to list Tibetan medicine in the ‘intangible cultural list’. The Director who was appointed by the patron, The Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, on the contrary wrote that Tibetan medicine is “tangible, prominent and productive.”
Consumer products of TMAI, Dharamshala. File
The copy of the e-mail obtained by Phayul
stated, “Around 2,500 years old Tibetan medical tradition, which is very popular worldwide, stands at par with other rich Asian medical traditions. In fact, it is a well-integrated medical science, recognized by the western doctors and scientists. The demand and popularity of the Tibetan medicine is growing rapidly throughout the world.”
The Tibetan medicine suffered decline following the invasion of Tibet by Communist China in the 1950’s although shift in policies saw China promoting the science as ‘China’s Tibetan medicine' later on. Infrastructures were destroyed and experienced doctors imprisoned in the wake of the cultural genocide that took place in Tibet. The subsequent revival efforts led by the Dalai Lama have seen positive developments.
The institute celebrated its 56th anniversary in exile just recently and is operated out of 55 branch hospitals and clinics throughout India besides the healthy number of independent practitioners who have graduated from the institute’s college. There are talks of further revamping the production strength of the institute that boasts consumer products such as beauty cream, candy and even a variety of herbal teas besides the rich medicinal diagnosis system.