Science & Religion?
Traces of TB in Hindu Mythology.
Posted on December 19th, 2019 , Written by Bhaavya Malpani
Our traditional systems of medicine mention Tuberculosis since 1500 BCE in the Rig Veda. But the little known presence of tuberculosis in Indian mythology is also of great significance . For example, the Moon-god (also known as Soma or Shashi), the King of the Brahmanas is known to be the first person to be afflicted with TB. This is why TB is also referred to as Rajayakshma, or king’s disease.
Soma, the moon-god, had 27 wives, but he preferred only one of them. This made the rest of the wives complain to their father about the situation. Their father was so angry with Soma for being this partial that he cursed him with Tuberculosis, or wasting disease. Soma then went on to pray to Lord Shiva to save him, who managed to energise him. To do this, Lord Shiva himself needed breaks to re-energise, which brings about the mythology behind the waxing and waning of the moon we observe to this day.
The moon god, Soma with his preferred wife Rohini. Below you can observe a mirage of the remaining 26 wives of Soma.
In another, perhaps more prominent instance (as it occurs in the Mahabharata), Vichitraviriya(impotent in Sanskrit), grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas, is also seen to be a victim of TB. Bhishma, his half-brother, arranged his marriage to Amba and Ambalika, the daughters of the king of Kasi. He loved and respected them very much and his wives felt the same about him; yet, they remained childless. About 7 years into the marriage, he contracted phthisis (another name for pulmonary TB, or TB which affects the lungs). Despite the best of efforts, he eventually succumbed to the disease.
The original Sanskrit verse from the Mahabharata suggests that his death was caused by his overindulgence in amorous pursuits. This is similar to the inference drawn from Soma’s case, as he had 28 wives and was also known for his lustful tendencies. This lead to the conclusion that TB is a result of excess sex. This may be because Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, believes in the theory of bodily humors or Doshas, and says that diseases are caused due to imbalance of these Doshas. It links TB to a specific imbalance that can be caused by excessive activities of passion.
This leads to the question of whether modern science has discovered a link between sex and TB. So far, it does not recognise a connection between them. TB is known to be caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a type of bacteria. They might have been associated because TB symptoms are related to blood, and so sexual activity (with respect to bodily humors).
Another Ayurveda belief is that such over-indulgence leads to weakness and reduced resistance to infection, in which case the patient might easily catch TB. It could also point to the possibility of the patient contracting an STD like HIV/AIDS which could either be confused for TB itself or act as a risk factor in the contraction of TB.