The Siddha system of medicine is mainly practised in the Southern part of India. It is one of the earliest traditional medicine systems in the world which treats not only the body but also the mind and the soul. The word Siddha has its origin in the Tamil wordSiddhi which means "an object to be attained" or "perfection" or "heavenly bliss". India being the birth place of many traditional philosophies also gave birth to Siddha. The roots of this system are intertwined with the culture of ancient Tamil civilization.
"Siddhargal" or Siddhars were the premier scholars of this system in ancient times. Siddhars, mainly hailing from Tamil Nadu laid the foundation for Siddha system of medicine. Hence, it is called Siddha medicine. Siddhars were spiritual masters who possessed the ashta (eight) siddhis or unique powers. Agastyar or Agasthya, is believed to be the founding father of Siddha Medicine. Eighteen Siddhars are considered to be pillars of Siddha Medicine. Siddha medicine is claimed to revitalize and rejuvenate dysfunctional organs that cause the disease. Kayakarpam, a special combination of medicine and life style, Varmam therapy, Vaasi (Pranayamam) and Muppu the universal Salt are the specialities of Siddha system of medicine. Thus this system connects both spiritual and physical and treats the person as a whole i.e. it concentrates the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well being of an individual.
It is difficult to trace the beginning of this ancient system. It began with man and may end with him.Instead of giving the name of any of individual as the founder of this system our ancestors wisely attributed its origin to the creator. According to the tradition, it was Shiva who unfolded the knowledge of Siddha system of medicine to his concert Parvati who handed it down to Nandhidevar and he in turn to the 18 siddhars. Therefore it is called ‘Shiva Sampradayam, (tradition of Siva), or ‘Siddha Sampradayam’.
Agasthiyar is the prominent one among the eighteen and some of his works are still standard books of medicine and surgery in daily use among the Siddha Medical practitioners.
Siddhars believed that a healthy soul can only be developed through a healthy body. So they developed methods and medications to strengthen their physical body and thereby their souls. They practiced intense yogicpractices, including years of periodic fasting and meditation, and were believed to have achievedsupernaturalpowers and gained the supreme wisdom and overallimmortality.
The knowledge of Siddhars which was orally transmitted initially was later written in palm leaf manuscripts, fragments of which are found in many parts of South India. The methodology of siddha thought has helped decipher many causes of disorders and the formulation of curious remedies which sometimes have more than 250 ingredients. Till half a century back most of the practicing siddha medical practitioners were traditionally trained, usually in families, and by Gurus(teachers). When the guru knew martial arts he is also known as asan (teacher). It is believed that some families may possess more knowledge which are written in palm leaves but kept them solely for their own use as secret.
Over a period of time after Independence, Government in a way of promoting traditional systems of medicines opened schools for teaching indigeneous systems of medicine including siddha. Today, siddha is taught in Government as well as private siddha medical colleges in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Siddha medicine is also taught in two universities of Srilanka.