India, China spar over legacy of medicinal system

Representative image. (AFP)

India and China are at loggerheads over the legacy of one of the oldest systems of traditional medicine, known as Sowa-Rigpa, which has similarities with Ayurveda.  

India has sought recognition of the ancient medicinal tradition as its "intangible cultural heritage", a claim contested by China at a global forum, sources said.

Sowa-Rigpa is a traditional Tibetan system of medicine practised in India's Himalayan belt. It is popular in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal's Darjeeling, Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

"India has approached the UNESCO seeking enlisting of the Sowa Rigpa as its 'intangible cultural heritage'. China has raised objection to it," an official said.

An Indian delegation is strongly pushing the country's application based on detailed documents and evidence provided by the AYUSH Ministry which has been working closely with the Ministry of External Affairs on the matter, officials said.

The move comes in the backdrop of the Modi government promoting the traditional medicine system, one of the oldest surviving medicine systems in the world.    

The Union Cabinet on November 20 approved the setting up of the National Institute for Sowa-Rigpa (NISR) in Leh as an autonomous organization.

This is perhaps one of the first decisions taken by the Union Cabinet on Ladakh's development after it became a Union Territory on October 31 following the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.

The theory and practices of Sowa Rigpa are similar to that of Ayurveda and include a few principles of the traditional Chinese system of medicine.

The fundamental text book 'Rgyud-Bzi' of Sowa Rigpa is believed to have been taught by Buddha himself and is closely linked with Buddhist philosophy.

The establishment of the NISR as an autonomous body under the Ministry of AYUSH has been approved at an estimated cost of Rs 47.25 crore.

According to an official, setting up of NISR would provide an impetus to the revival of Sowa-Rigpa in the Indian sub-continent and provide opportunities for students of the traditional medicinal system not only in India but also from other countries.

It will be an autonomous national institute under the Ministry of AYUSH with the mandate of undertaking interdisciplinary education and research programmes in Sowa-Rigpa in collaboration with premier national and international institutes and facilitate integration of different systems of medicine. 

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