Science in daily tradition

Traditions are knowledge in practice. But over a period of time, the practice could be divorced from the knowledge that brought the practice into vogue. Often the knowledge in the tradition is lost; the regression is on the following lines:

A ‘Rangoli’ in front of the house ensures cleaning the house and provides feed for insects like ants.

Initially it is done knowing the purpose




Later it is done without knowing the purpose.




The edible rice powder is substituted with inedible powder or a plastic sheet is pasted in front of the house.




If lucky, we wonder – Are we doing it right?

  1. A correction and going back to conscious competence’.


  1. Complete discontinuation of the practice
Conscious competence





Unconscious competence




Unconscious incompetence




Conscious incompetence

We are presenting the underlying science behind some of these traditions:

  • Use of Panchagavya
  • Agnihotra
  • Use of turmeric
  • Use of copper vessel


Gavyam samadhurarn kincidosaghnarn

krimikusthanut I

Kanduurn ca samayet piitarn samyag

dosadare hitam II

Translated as – The cow’s urine is (slightly) sweet; it alleviates (defects in) humors, is bactericidal, and cures leprosy. If drunk, it alleviates itching, is good for bile (disorder) and for the abdomen.


Chandogya-samhita, Chapter 1, Mantrah 10 (Vedic period)


The reference to leprosy is possibly indicative of its efficacy in regard to obstinate skin diseases.

Current Relevance

The United States Patent and Trade Office has granted patent for an Indian innovation, which has proved that cow’s urine can make antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and also anti- cancer drugs more effective. The patent has been granted to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research for a product, the result of the research conducted by CSIR’s Centre for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow, in collaboration with Gau Vigyan Anusandan Kendra, Nagpur. The innovation would help reduce the dosages of the drugs, thus cutting down on the costs of treatment and also its side effects. The tests conducted before the patent was applied for included experiments with Taxol, an anti-cancer drug. The distillate, which was produced by the Nagpur centre, was found to increase the drug’s activity manifold. Taxol is used in the treatment of breast cancer. The other drugs, which were experimented upon, included ampicillin, terracyclin and rifampicin, an anti-TB agent.


Agnihotra eva tat sayarn pratarvarvajrarn

yajamano bhratrvyaya praharati I

Bhavatyatmana parasya bhratrvyo bhavati I

Translated as – The one who practices Agnihotra in the morning and evening becomes (strong) like thunderbolt / diamond; destroys enemies by himself (unassisted); his enemies remain conquered.

Yavadahoratre bhavatah I Tavadasya lokasya

nartih naristih I Nanto na paryantoSsti I

Translated as – As long as he does (agnihotra) in the day and in the night, in this world for him (there would be) no pain or misfortune. (There will be) no end to him (An Agnihotra practitioner will have a long life).


Taittirya-brahmanam, Astakam 2, Anuvakah 5, I I (Vedic period)

Current Relevance

On Monday, the 3rd of December, 1984, in the city of Bhopal, Central India, a poisonous vapor, methyl isocyanate, burst from the tall stacks of an MNC’s pesticide plant, killing 2,000 people instantly and turning more than 300,000. Soon after the leakage of gas, S.L. Kushwaha (45), a teacher in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, started performing his usual Agnihotra and in 20 minutes the symptoms of gas poisoning were gone from his home.

Agnihotra is the smallest form of Vedic Homa (sacrifice). This sacrificial fire is based on the biorhythms of nature. American Psychologist Barry Tathner, conducting research in Pune University, says, “Agnihotra has made many conquests so far. Today, there is not a language spoken on earth that does not number practitioners of Agnihotra.”


Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that results in memory loss, erratic behavior, personality changes and decline in thought process. The losses relate to the death of brain cells and breakdown of the connections between them.

According to the World Health Organization, on an average of five percent of men and six percent of women suffer from the disease. There is no cure for the disease and medicines are primarily used to improve attention, reduce delusions and ameliorate cognitive dysfunction in the patients.

The studies, which were conducted on genetically altered mice, found that turmeric not only inhibited the accumulation of beta amyloid, a protein, in the brains of the Alzheimer’s patients, but also broke up the existing plaques.

In other words, the studies suggested that it could be used for both treatment and prevention. As a follow-up, the scientists have now initiated measures for clinical trials with human volunteers to further evaluate its protective and therapeutic effects.

  • The Hindu dated on 25.04.05

Copper Vessel

Waterborne diseases remain a major cause of illness and death in developing countries. Potable safe drinking water still remains a distant and expensive goal for the masses. When centralized water treatment systems are absent or inadequate, the responsibility of making drinking water safe falls on individuals and communities by default. The key factors in the provision of safe household water include the conditions and practices of water collection and storage and the choice of water collection and storage containers or vessels.

In ancient days, use of well water and storage of water in copper and brass containers were common. Microbes are destroyed through the heat and radiation provided by the sun. It is one of the traditional ideas of water treatment in this part of the world and interestingly we were able to find a microbiological basis for it – one of the researchers said. The key element is copper which acts by interfering with the membranes and enzymes of cells, eventually killing the bacteria. Pots made of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, shed copper particles into the water they contain.

Rob Reed, a microbiologist at Northumbria University, New Castle Upon Tyne, England, found that bacteria were less likely to thrive in brass water pots than in earthen or plastic containers. The scientist, along with fellow researchers Puja Tandon and Sanjay Chhabaria, filled brass and earthen vessels with a diluted culture of Escherichia coli bacteria, which can cause diseases, such as dysentery. They counted the surviving bacteria after six hours, 24 hours and 48 hours. A similar test was carried out using naturally contaminated water. The amount of live E.coli in the brass vessels dropped dramatically over time, and after 48 hours they fell to undetectable levels.

  • The Hindu dated on 20.04.05

Protecting Traditional Knowledge – NEEM

1995 à The European Patent Office in Munich grants a Patent to the Department of Agriculture of the United States Government and WR. Grace (a chemical multinational), on the use of ‘Neem’ as an agricultural pesticide.

2000 à The Patent is revoked.

2001 à An appeal is made against the revocation.

2005 à The appeal is turned down and finally the traditional knowledge of thousands of years is saved from being appropriated by a multinational chemical giant.

The striking features of the case are:

  • This patent does not relate to an ancient knowledge which has gone out of vogue but a knowledge that is in vibrant use across the subcontinent in thousands of villages and towns as pesticide and as home remedy.
  • The attempt to monopolize the knowledge was made not only by a multinational committed to the pursuit of money, but also by the Agricultural department of the Government of the United States of America, the richest country in the world.
  • The perpetrators did not consider this attempt as untenable even though the history of thousand years was against them. They applied for the patent, got it from an independent agency – the European Patent Office – and also fought a legal battle to retain the right for a full decade.
  • It is not as though this usurping was done quietly without anybody knowing about it. The multinational held on to this initiative (to appropriate to itself the traditional knowledge), despite a public outcry and the force of the Green Movement (represented by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement) and the Green Party in the European Parliament for over a decade.

The case has also established a valuable legal precedence. Novelty and invention are the basis for grant of patent. ‘Prior use’ would negate both ‘novelty’ and ‘invention’. This case has recognized intellectual achievement of traditional societies as ‘Prior use’.

This case demonstrates the need for documenting our traditional knowledge, in the current globalized patent regime. If this experience does not shake us from our complacence and spur us into action, nothing will.