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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 143-149

Present scenario and future prospects of traditional healers from Hassan district, Karnataka

Department of Studies in Botany, University of Mysore, Manasagangotri, Mysuru, India

Date of Submission10-Sep-2022
Date of Acceptance11-Jan-2023
Date of Web Publication31-Mar-2023

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Rajkumar H Garampalli
Department of Studies in Botany, University of Mysore, Manasagangotri, Mysuru
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdras.jdras_141_22

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BACKGROUND: Traditional medicines always played important role in meeting the global healthcare needs. In Hassan district, traditional medicinal practices are widespread, which may be attributed to rich plant diversity in the Western Ghats and presence of many ethnic groups. The study was conducted with a purpose of evaluating the current status of traditional medicinal practitioners in the study region and encompassed on the reasons behind depleting practices and future prospects. METHODS: The present study collected and reviewed information using questionnaire from 171 traditional practitioners from Hassan district, Karnataka during 2020–2021. RESULTS: The survey found that 36% of healers learnt from other practitioners in their community who were not family members, either as students or people who lived nearby, and 65% learned traditional medicine from their ancestors. In traditional medicine, plants are the main source of medication, and 83% of practitioners use plants solely in their concoctions. Sixty-six percent (66%) of healers were willing to share knowledge, whereas the remaining were conservative in their approach. Various categories of diseases were being treated with abdominal and skin diseases being the dominant. CONCLUSIONS: Given the similarities in disease diagnosis, plant harvesting, and processing that have been seen, additional rigorous research is required to put the relationship between Ayurveda and noncodified ancient systems of medicine on a more firm footing. The practise seems to be going extinct due to a lack of knowledge transmission and a shortage of medicinal plants.

Keywords: Disease diagnosis, Hassan, knowledge sharing, medicinal plants, traditional medicine, Western Ghats

How to cite this article:
Venkatesh AK, Garampalli RH. Present scenario and future prospects of traditional healers from Hassan district, Karnataka. J Drug Res Ayurvedic Sci 2023;8:143-9

How to cite this URL:
Venkatesh AK, Garampalli RH. Present scenario and future prospects of traditional healers from Hassan district, Karnataka. J Drug Res Ayurvedic Sci [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 10];8:143-9. Available from: http://www.jdrasccras.com/text.asp?2023/8/2/143/373013

  Introduction Top

Traditional medicine (also known as indigenous or folk medicine) comprises medical aspects of traditional knowledge that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine.[1] Traditional medicines always played important role in meeting the global healthcare needs. They are continuing to do so at present and shall play major role in the future also. Although the dependence on traditional medicine declining over the time with allopathic medicine taking over and its increased accessibility even in rural areas, the ever-increasing burden of both communicable and noncommunicable diseases and insufficient clinical benefits of chemical drugs are fostering the need for economical healthcare services.[2] However, herbal medicine was also an effective healing method but was viewed less enthusiastically.[3]

Traditional medicine, despite its limitations, is addressing the health needs of millions of people worldwide. It is estimated that about 65–85% of the world’s population uses traditional medicines for their primary health care. It is also estimated that about 39% of all 520 new approved drugs in 1983–1994 were natural products, and out of that, 74% were discovered as a result of bioprospecting from plants used in traditional medicines.[4] Traditional medicine systems in India can be classified into codified (Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and homeopathy) and noncodified (folk medicine) systems, both of which contribute equally to the primary healthcare in India.[5] Apart from these systems, there are a large number of healers in the folklore stream who have not been organized under any category. A traditional healer is defined as a person who does not have any formal medical training but is considered to be competent to provide health care using animal, plant, and mineral substances and certain other techniques based on social, cultural, and religious background as well as the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that are prevalent in the community regarding physical, mental, and social well-being and the causation of disease and disability.[6]

Several indigenous communities around the world, particularly in the tropical belts, have been using plants for healing for thousands of years. Traditional medicinal practice is widespread in Hassan district, which may be due to the rich plant diversity in the Western Ghats and the presence of many ethnic groups. Previously, ethnobotanical and traditional usage of plants has been recorded from this region.[7],[8],[9],[10]

The study was conducted with a purpose of evaluating the current status of traditional medicinal practitioners in the study region and encompasses on the reasons behind depleting practices and future prospects.

  Materials and Methods Top

Study area

The present study, Hassan District, Karnataka, India [Figure 1], was surveyed during 2020–2021. The study area lies between 12° 13´ and 13° 33´ North latitudes and 75° 33´ and 76° 38´ East longitudes, with a total area of 6814 sq. km. The Hassan District is divided into eight taluks with 2574 inhabited villages. The geography is mixed, with the Malnad (mountainous region) called Bisle Ghat and the Maidan (plain region). The majority of the population resides in rural areas, and most of the families in rural areas practice traditional medicine for various ailments. The district even has the presence of some ethnic communities like Hakki-Pikki, Soliga, Medhavi, and Budbudike.
Figure 1: Map showing the distribution of traditional practitioners in Hassan district

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Identifying traditional healers

Data on traditional healers in the study area were obtained by referring to the people’s biodiversity registers of local regions, which were procured from the Karnataka State Social Forest Division, Hassan. Renowned and esteemed healers were shortlisted for interviews after discussions with the Biodiversity Management Committee, members of urban and local government bodies, nongovernmental organizations, village residents, school teachers, and patients visiting the traditional practitioners.

Collection of data

We visited the shortlisted traditional healers and discussed the study’s focus with them. A questionnaire was used to conduct semi-structured interviews and conversations in order to collect information and secure consent. Both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered, which included the sociodemographic information of practitioners and the status of traditional medicine. Information such as mode of diagnosing the disease, category of diseases treated, source of treatment material, remuneration or charges, spiritual beliefs in recovery, history and source of acquisition of knowledge, interest in sharing the knowledge, and other information were collected. The traditional healer’s perception about the past–present scenario, future prospects, and involvement and interest of the younger generation was also collected.

Data processing and interpretation

MS Excel 2010 (Mocrosoft, Redmond, Washinton, USA) was used for tabulation analysis. The results were presented as percentages, diagrams, cross-tabulation, and graphs.

  Result and Discussion Top

Sociodemographic data

Data including age, gender, religion, literacy rate, and economic background of the healers are presented in [Table 1]. Among the total of 171 shortlisted and interviewed traditional practitioners, 80.23% of them are male healers, whereas the remaining are females. No transgender practitioner was found. The majority of male practitioners among the healers in the region are on par with some other studies.[5],[11],[12] This may be due to patriarchal society and the perception of males as the successors of their families. The study showed that the majority of healers belonged to the Hindu religion (88.9%), followed by the Muslim religion (6.8%), and the Christian religion (2.9%), with a single healer from the Jain community. The distribution of healers in different religions followed the population pattern of the district.[13]
Table 1: Demographic data of traditional healers

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The majority of the healers were in their middle and upper middle age group. The drift in the numbers toward older and upper middle-aged generations is due to the decline in the transmission of knowledge to the younger generations, which was also observed in different studies.[14],[15],[16],[17] The literacy rate of healers and practitioners (72.7%) is quite less than that of the overall district’s literacy rate, which stands at 88.36%.[13] This may be due to the fact that a higher number of practitioners are from rural areas and that the majority of healers are of older generations. The presence of Western Ghat in the Malnad region of the district brings a richness of healers to that region, indicating that the abundance and availability of medicinal plants have kept the practise alive.

Learning and sharing knowledge

The present study revealed that 112 healers (65%) learned traditional medicine from their forefathers, whereas 36 (21%) learned it from other practitioners around them, either as pupils or as people living around them who do not belong to their family. Sixteen (9%) and eight (5%) healers from the region acquired knowledge by self-practice or experimentation, and reading books, respectively, as demonstrated in [Figure 2]. Learning traditional medicine from their forefathers (paternal inheritance) is either through looking after things while assisting them during their practice or through oral explanation. Similar learning trends among traditional practitioners have been observed in other parts of India [18] and around the world.[19] The first step in learning is helping the master with the treatment, collection, cleaning, and processing of medicinal plants; attending to the initial patient complaints; and prescribing drugs as directed by the master. If the younger or newer generation is not interested in learning, all of the knowledge will be lost with the practitioner’s departure.[5]
Figure 2: Learning pattern

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Sharing of knowledge is key to both conserving and prospering the traditional medicinal practice. As shown in [Figure 3], overall, 66% of the healers are willing to share their knowledge with others, whereas 34% of them are not. There is a spiritual belief that if the knowledge is disclosed, then the effect of the formulation on that particular disease will be decreased. Even though the majority of the healers were willing to share their knowledge, only a small portion of it is being passed on to the next generation. Age-old customs are rapidly disappearing as a result of the younger generation’s lack of interest in acquiring this knowledge, as seen around the world.[20]
Figure 3: Knowledge sharing

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Disease categories and mode of diagnosis

Traditional practitioners have treatment for different categories of diseases [Figure 4], with the majority being abdominal diseases (diarrhea, vomiting, gastritis, ulcers, and blood in the stool) and skin diseases. The region also has healers for metabolic diseases, sexual and gynaecological illnesses, veterinary illnesses, infectious illnesses, animal bites, orthopedic-related illnesses, and diseases such as mental illness, stress, addictive behavior, and spiritual belief-related illness.
Figure 4: Disease categories

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The diagnosis of the exact cause and state of the disease provides the best command over the treatment. As shown in [Table 2], 44% of the healers solely analyze using the external morphology or symptoms possessed by the patients, followed by 30% of the healers who use self-explanatory complaints and difficulties heard from the patients. Skin diseases, animal bites, orthopedics, and infectious diseases are some major categories diagnosed by morphology or symptoms, whereas abdominal and metabolic diseases were identified by both self-explanatory complaints and symptoms. A small part of the healer community (six healers) who have college degree or higher education uses medical reports from hospitals to assess the disease condition. Thirteen healers from the region have unique ways of identifying the disease based on spiritual beliefs, pulse reading (referred to as Naadi baditha), the lunar phase of the moon (Amavase and Hunnime in the local language), the locality of the infected person, and the history of the patient’s illness.
Table 2: Mode of diagnosis

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Patient consultation and remuneration type

The majority of the healers are restricted to a certain region and are treating people around them in their habitat, whereas a few have become famous and are treating people from many parts of the district, and sometimes patients from other districts have also visited. The majority (61%) of the healers treat 0–5 patients per week, whereas a small number of healers (6%) who have commercialized the healing practice for their livelihood treat more than 20 patients per week [Figure 5].
Figure 5: No. of patients treated per week

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As shown in [Figure 6], 31% of healers provide free services to patients, whereas 57% accept payment, with 12 healers charging fixed fees for different disease categories. Twelve percent of the healers have a custom of receiving products like clothes, rice, grains, coconuts, etc. The pattern of majority taking remuneration and lesser healers providing free/social service are contradictory with the study from other region of the state;[5] it may be due to the commercialization of medical care industry over the years. A portion of the healers who charge or take money as remuneration depends on the income of traditional medicine practices for their livelihood. Nowadays, healers have started manufacturing products with different names for various ailments and selling them. A tribal community called Hakki-Pikki from the study area has manufactured hair oil under the brand name “Adhivaasi” and selling it as a remedy for hair fall.
Figure 6: Remuneration type

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Source of medicine

As in the case of various traditional medicine practices where plants are the dominant source of medicine preparation,[21] 83% of the healers use plants alone in their formulations, whereas a tiny part of them (4%) uses animal sources like cow dung, milk, cow urine (gomutra), egg, meat, etc. in their preparation. Twelve percent (12%) of the healers use a mixed combination of plant and animal sources, whereas cases of using other materials, such as sand, soil, and limestone, especially for orthopedic and skin diseases, are also reported [Table 3]. It has been found that using plants and animals as sources of medicine is an ancient tradition not only in this region but throughout the world.[22] Some of the important medicinal plants used by the healers, belonging to 31 genera and 22 families, are listed in [Table 4]. Healers have their own way of collecting plant material, storing it, processing it using cow milk, ghee, cow urine, and rainwater collected on a certain day, and applying the formulation they have prepared. The practitioners explained that the mode of processing plant materials eliminates toxicity and/or improves the therapeutic value.
Table 3: Treatment source

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Table 4: List of commonly used medicinal plants by traditional healers of Hassan district

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Perception about current scenario and future prospecting

With the well-established allopathic medicine over the decades, traditional medicine has taken a toll and is diminishing rapidly. The majority of the healers are from the older age group, which is a clear-cut clue towards the decline in traditional medicinal practice. Ninety-two percent of the healers opine about the diminishing of knowledge and practice, whereas the remaining portion has a neutral or mixed opinion about the practice. Some of the reasons cited by the healers for this are the lack of interest in younger generations, the cheap and facile availability of allopathic medicine, the nonavailability or decline of resources, financial insecurity for livelihood, trust issues in traditional medicine, and the migration of people to urban areas. Few healers (8%) in some localities still believe that the practice is continuing unharmed; this may be due to the long distance to allopathic medicine sources, less exposure in urban areas, and the belief kept in traditional medicine along with its success rate. Efforts have been made to document the traditional medicinal knowledge by various organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and institutions with the theme of conserving it.

  Conclusion Top

Traditional healers play a vital role in the health-seeking behaviors of the local community. A gradual decrease in the number of healers from the younger generation indicates the depletion of knowledge over the years. The greatest challenge in the new millennium is to preserve and promote traditional knowledge. The knowledge behind folk healing practices requires recognition, respect, and understanding in the light of modern medicines. A follow-up study in collaboration with plant scientists to investigate the plants being used by traditional healers for healing ailments will be useful.


The authors are grateful to traditional practitioners in Hassan district for patiently sharing their valuable knowledge. The authors would like to thank Social Forest Division, Hassan, for providing useful data on traditional healers.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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