“Sowa-Rigpa” commonly known as Amchi system of medicine is one of the oldest, Living and well documented medical tradition of the world. It has been popularly practice in Tibet, Magnolia, Bhutan, some parts of China, Nepal, Himalayan regions of India and few parts of former Soviet Union etc..
There are various schools of thought about the origin of this medical tradition, some scholars believes that it is originated from India, some says China and others consider it to be originated from Tibetitself. The majority of theory and practice of Sowa-Rigpa is similar to “Ayurveda” . The first Ayurvedic influence came to Tibet during 3rd century AD but it became popular only after 7th centuries with the approach of Buddhism to Tibet. There after this trend of exportation of Indian medical literature, along with Buddhism and other Indian art and sciences were continued till early 19th century. India being the birth place of Buddha and Buddhism has always been favorite place for learning Buddhist art and culture for Tibetan students; lots of Indian scholars were also invited to Tibet for prorogation of Buddhism and other Indian art and sciences. This long association with India had resulted in translation and preservation of thousands of Indian literature on various subjects like religion, sciences, arts, culture and language etc. in Tibetan language. Out of these around twenty-five text related to medicine are also preserved in both canonical and non-canonical forms of Tibetan literatures. Many of these knowledge were further enriched in Tibet with the knowledge and skills of neighboring countries and their own ethnic knowledge. “Sowa-Rigpa” (Science of healing) is one of the classic examples of it.Gyud-Zi (four tantra) the fundamental text book of this medicine was first translated from India and enriched in Tibet with its own folklore and other medical tradition like Chinese and Persian etc. The impact of Sowa-Rigpa along with Buddhism and other Tibetan art and sciences were spread in neighboring Himalayan regions. In India this system has been practiced in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh,Darjeeling (West Bengal), Lahaul & Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) and Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir etc. In 2010 Sowa-Rigpa got its legal recognition among Indian Systems of Medicine under the Department of AYUSH.
Sowa-Rigpa is based on the principles of Jung-wa-nga (Skt: panca mahabhutas) and Ngepa-Sum (Skt: Tridosa). Bodies of all the living beings and non living objects of the universe are composed of Jung-wa-nga; viz Sa, Chu, Me, Lung and Nam-kha (Skt: Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu and Akash). The physiology, pathology Pharmacology and metria -medica of this system are established on these theories. Our body is composed of these five Cosmo physical elements of Jung-wa-nga; when the proportion of these elements is in imbalance in our body disorder results. The medicine and diet used for the treatment of disorders are also composed of the same five basic elements. In the body these elements are present in the form of Ngepa-Sum (Skt: Tri-dosa) Lus-sung-dun (Skt: Sapta Dhatu) and Dri-ma-Sum (Skt: Trimala). In drugs, diet and drinks they exist in the form of Ro-dug (Skt: Shast-rasa) Nus-pa (Virya) Yontan (Skt: Guna) and Zhu-jes (Skt: Vipaka). It is in context of this theory that a physician would use his knowledge, skills and experience in treating a patient, using the theory of similarity and dissimilarity (Skt: Samanaya and Vísesa) of five elements.
The basic theory of Sowa-Rigpa may be adumbrated in terms of the following five points:
- The body in disease as the locus of treatment;
- Antidote, i.e., the treatment;
- The method of treatment through antidote;
- Medicine that cures the disease;
- Materia Medica, Pharmacy & Pharmacology
Specialities in Sowa-Rigpa
Sowa-Rigpa prescribes to study eight major branches or specialized areas and all the disease and treatment procedures are classified into these eight branches –
- Lus (Kaya chikitsa/ Treatment of Internal disease)
- Byis Pa (Bala-tantra/ Pediatrics)
- Mo Nad (Matra roga/ Gynecology)
- Gdon (Bhoot vidya/ Psychiatry)
- Mtson (Shalya tantra/ Surgery)
- Dug (Agada tantra/ Toxicology)
- rGas pa (Jara chikitsa/ Geriatrics)
- Ro tsa (Vajikarna/ Aphrodisiacs)
Training and Education
Traditionally the Amchis are trained under the traditional educational system either under private guru-shisya tradition or under gyud-pa (lineage) system in families in which the knowledge is passed down from father to son through generations. It takes several years to become a skillful Amchi, which requires hard theoretical and practical trainings. After finishing his/her training the trainee Amchi has to give an examination in front of the entire community in the presence of a few expert Amchis in a ceremony to confer the designation of Amchi on him/her. For higher training, those from theIndian Himalayan region as well used to go to study with reputed scholars or to any of the medical colleges in Tibet in the past. Some from these regions preferred to go to Tibet to begin their education of Sowa-Rigpa.
Given the modern social and educational system, some institutions are imparting the education at par with the modern system in terms of time with packages to be completed within a limited duration. Presently, after 10+2 grate the students are selected on entrance test merit basis. The nomenclature of this six years course is Bachelor in Tibetan Medical System (BTMS) or Amchi Chikitsa Acharya. This course is presently conducted in following four Institutions in India:
- Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh (under Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India)
- Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, Dharamsala HP of his Holiness Dalai Lama
- Central University for Tibetan Studies, Saranath UP (under Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India)
- Chockpori Medical Institute Darjeeling (W.B).
Sowa-Rigpa in India
In most of Himalayan regions Sowa-Rigpa is practiced in traditional way with community support with an Amchi in every village. But since the last two decades this scenario has been changing, adopting some of the administrative elements of modern hospital system in educational Institutions, dispensaries, hospitals and pharmacies etc. Nevertheless, still there are all together around 1000 practitioners of Sowa-Rigpa in India catering health care in harsh Himalayan regions and other places. Dharamshala in Himanchal Pardesh and Ladakh region of J&K are the main Centers for Sowa-Rigpa Institutions in India.
After taking refuge in India His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been in Dharamsala (Himachal Pardesh) where he has set up the Tibetan Medical and Astro. Institute to train the youngsters and provide quality health service through Sowa-Rigpa. This Institute has a Medical college, Pharmacy, Astrology section and a chain of 40-50 clinics all over India. There is Central Council for Tibetan Medicine in Dharamsala to regulate the practice of Sowa-Rigpa in India, it looks after the registration of practitioners, standard of colleges and other mechanism to regulate Sowa-Rigpa.
Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir has the wide and significant presences of Sowa-Rigpa in India. There are Sowa-Rigpa Centers from both Govt. and Non Govt. Institutions, but all these Institutes are small. For education there is an Amchi section in Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh (under Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India) to conduct six year Amchi course. For public heath the local administration has an OPD in district Hospital and 80 Amchis are provided with meager financial to serve public health in remote areas. National Research Institute for Sowa-Rigpa (under CCRAS, Ministry of Health & FW, Govt. of India), Leh has been doing R&D work on various aspects of Sowa-Rigpa. Beside these, NGO’s like Ladakh Amchi Sabha, Ladakh Society for Traditional Medicine and Mentsee Khang Cultural Centre, Leh etc. are working for Sowa-Rigpa in Ladakh.
In Himachal Pardesh there is sizable number of Amchis in the region of Lahoul-Spiti, Kinnor and Manali practicing without any support from Govt. agencies. There is a small private institute in Manali, which trains few students in Sowa-Rigpa. There is also a clinic of Men-tsee-Khang, Dharamsala. The Himachal Pardesh Govt. has also appointed Amchis for public health in Kinnor and Lahoul-Spiti regions.
The entire region of Mon in Arunachal Pradesh maintains the Sowa-Rigpa as an important part of their culture and prefers the treatment of Sowa-Rigpa to modern medicine. There was constant influx of Amchis from Tibet in the past. However these days besides some local Amchis and a branch of Men-tsee-Khang, Dharamsala, which was established to serve the local people in Tawang area, there is no establishment that can fulfill the minimum requirement of the people. The handful of Amchis have of the take round in the various remote villages which has become a severe problem for the Amchis to visit them on regular basis, particularly, when the they are desperately needed, due to shortage of Amchis and lack of transportation facilities.
Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimplong
Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimplong also used to receive medical treatment from the visiting Amchis from Tibet in the past, as these places were on the trade routes between Tibet and Indian cities like Calcutta. Students from these places used to go to Tibet to study Sowa-Rigpa. There are some Amchis and from the local community and a branch of Men-tsee-Khang which are at great demand not only from the local people but also from the community who have come from other states of India. Despite demand from the remote areas of this region they can hardly visit them due to scarcity of Amchis. In Darjeeling late Rev. Thogwa-Rinpoche has set up a Sowa-Rigpa medical Institute for Education and public health following the tradition of Chogpori in Tibet.
Other regions of India
The Central University for Tibetan Studies, Saranath, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, which is under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India has a faculty of Sowa-Rigpa. It provides a four years course of PUC and another five years and six months course of Bachelor degree (BTMS). The faculty runs a pharmacy and OPD clinic for the training of the students.
There are branches of Tibetan Medical Institute in all the Tibetan Settlements in various parts of India, which attract lots of Indians as well. Most of the branch -clinics of Tibetan medical Institute, Dharamsala, in the cities like Delhi, Bombay and Kolkota, were opened on the request and initiatives taken by Indian people who were benefited earlier by Tibetan medicines.
Table showing the status of Sowa-Rigpa in India
|Name of the State||Prevailing regions||No. of Practitioners (Tentative)||Institutions/ Sections, NGOs on Sowa-Rigpa|
|Jammu & Kashmir||Leh & Kargil of Ladakh region and Paddar and Pangay area||350||a) National Research Institute for Sowa Rigpa, Leh, CCRAS, Govt. of Indiab) Amchi Dept. Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh under Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India c) An Amchi Clinic in District Hospital Leh, 40 Amchis in Leh and 40 Amchis in Kargil are supported by state Govt. for rural health. d) Tibetan Medical Cultural Centre and two Clinics, Leh e) Some Amchis are supported for public health in Padar-Pangey region under Dept. of ISM, J&K Nine Amchi NGOs are working in J&K|
|Himachal Pardesh||Kinnor, Lahoul, Spiti and Daramshala||160||a) Four Amchi Doctor posts are created by H.P. Govt. to cater health service in Sowa-Rigpa prevailing regions.b) An Amchi school is run in Manali by local Amchis. c) Amchi NGOs are functional in Lahoul & Spiti regions|
|Sikkim||Entire Sikkim State||30||a) An Amchi OPD Clinic facility is available in Govt. Hospital Gangtok by Sikkim Govt.b) Few private formal clinics are functioning in Sikkim town and other districts|
|Arunachal Pardesh||Mon, Tawang and Bomdila regions||55||Two formal Amchi Clinics in Tawang.|
|West Bengal||Darjeeling and Kalimpong||15||a) Chogpuri Medical Centre of late Rev. Thogawa Rinpochee is providing training facility and medical service.b) Formal Clinics of Amchi medicine are available in both of these areas.|
|Tibetan community in India||All over India and abroad||260||Tibetan Medical and Astro. Institute, Dharamsala with the following facilities by H.H. Dalai Lama:a) Tibetan Medical and Astro College. b) A pharmacy and production unit. c) Research and publication wing. There are 40-50 Clinics under this Institute all over India. There is a Central Council of Tibetan Medicine at Dharamsala.|
|Varanasi, U.P||Saranath||35||Sowa-Rigpa Deptt. In CIHTS, Sarnath with pharmacy and OPD facilities.|
- Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Official website
- Sowa-Rigpa in Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS), Official Website
- Ladak Amchi Association
- Tibetan Medical and Astro. Institute, Dharamsala
- Central Council of Tibetan Medicine, Dharamsala
- Loter Gatsal Amchi School at Lungnak Valley of Zanskar
- RESOURCE GUIDE FOR TIBETAN MEDICINE by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon
- Chagpori Tibetan Medical Institute