Pandemics, Epidemics, Academics. Projects on the medical traditions in South Asia and Tibet


Housing three research projects on medical traditions, the Viennese Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ISTB) is an important hotspot for current research on the history of Āyurveda and Tibetan medicine. The externally funded projects – all made possible by grants from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) – investigate diverse and overarching topics ranging from pre-modern times to the present:

In this one-day workshop the research teams will introduce the projects to each other and to interested audiences. The event is intended to highlight the medical focus at our department, stimulate exchange between the participating researchers, and to help finding new ways of collaboration and overlapping research interests.



COVID-19 in Sowa Rigpa: Approaching Epidemics in the Texts and Practices of Tibet and the Himalayas

Barbara Gerke, Jan M. A. van der Valk, and William A. McGrath

As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, Tibetan and Himalayan practitioners of Sowa Rigpa drew upon their medical training and textual traditions to respond to this pandemic disease. Based on early online responses (2020-21) and fieldwork in India, Bhutan, and Nepal (2022-23), we analyze Sowa Rigpa approaches to the identification, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19, placing these results in conversation with textual analysis of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Tibetan medical texts on fever (rims) and heat disease (tshad pa or tsha ba). This is a first attempt at a broader multi-sited, transhistorical perspective that aims to better understand the multiplicity of Sowa Rigpa responses to pandemics in globalized contexts. 


The Threats of Adharma and Environmental Disturbances: Understanding Epidemics in Pre-modern South Asia

Vitus Angermeier

While the colonial and modern history of epidemics in South Asia is well researched, the earlier developments of this subject area have hardly been studied. The project Epidemics and Crisis Management in Pre-modern South Asia aims to fill part of this gap by exploring the intellectual history of epidemics and similar disasters in South Asia and their medical, religious, social, political, and philosophical aspects through a comprehensive study of the relevant Sanskrit literature from this period.

The presentation given in this workshop will focus on theories and speculations about the causes of epidemics and similar events as found in the early pre-modern ayurvedic sources. 


A Doctor, a Scholar, and His Works

Cristina Pecchia and Sudipta Munsi

Gangadhar Kaviraj (1798–1885) was a specialist of Ayurveda from Bengal who authored more than 70 works in Sanskrit on a variety of subjects. His most famous work, the Jalpakalpataru, is a commentary in traditional style that accompanies his edition of the Carakasaṃhitā, the oldest text of Ayurveda. By focussing on Gangadhar’s philological work, we analyse the philological dimension involved in the intellectual activity of Pandits and Vaidyas (or Kavirajes) in 19th century colonial South Asia. The paucity of archive documents as well as a disregard for indigenous approaches to texts have contributed to a more general lack of research on the transmission, reception, and interpretation of ancient Sanskrit texts in colonial South Asia. Our study of Gangadhar’s philology aims to understand a crucial phase of the textual foundations of Ayurveda and to present an approach for the investigation of philological activities related to the Sanskritic culture in South Asia.

To join online, please use:
Meeting-ID: 680 8045 5024
Access code: 302045

Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
Seminarraum 1 des ISTB, Campus der Universität Wien, Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2.7, 1090 Wien