M3 Features

Vidyasagar and homeopathy

August 24, 2015

The famous social reformer and educator, Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay, better known as Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, has a connection with homeopathy not many are aware of. It was actually the result of a stroke of good fortune for Vidyasagar that one of the most famous homeopathic traditions in India was established.

Vidyasagar used to suffer from an acute migraine headaches. In the mid-1860s, a famous homeopathy practitioner of Kolkata (then Calcutta), Babu Rajen Dutta, an aristocrat who had studied homeopathy from the Germans and the French, following Hahnemann's ideology, started treating him. The results were extremely positive; as a result, Vidyasagar was very impressed by this new form of medicinal practice.   

Homeopathy was then a very recent form of medicinal system, having been introduced in India in 1810 when German missionaries started treating the poor charitably. Its genesis was in Germany, where the physician Samuel Hahnemann had developed this alternative medicine in the last decades of the 18th century.

So impressed was Vidyasagar with the result of his homeopathic treatment that he suggested to his younger brother, Ishanchandra to study it and use the knowledge to treat the poor of their village, Birsingha (presenty in Paschim Medinipur district). He believed that in the field of social reform, the poor and downtrodden needed cheap but effective medical aid for the cure of their illnesses; and he became convinced that homeopathy was the answer.

Ishanchandra did as instructed, continuing his medical practice till his death in 1903. His son was Dr Pareshnath Banerji, who later became famous all over the country. Dr Pareshnath started homeopathic practice at Mihijam, a quiet village in then Bihar (now in Jharkhand). He was a saintly man and his name and fame attracted patients of neighbouring villages, and gradually spread all over the country and even outside. His patients included such notable names such as the Presidents Rajendra Prasad and Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The legacy continued with his equally famous son, Dr. Prasanta Banerji. As a student, he assisted his father to cope with the huge number of patients who came for treatment every day to Mihijam. After becoming a full-fledged doctor, he continued his father’s clinical practice in Muhijam. 

To get more scope to utilise his knowledge of homoeopathy, to treat patients from over India and to give them the benefit of cheap but effective treatment, he set up practice in Kolkata. He standardised the techniques and medicinal applications for particular ailments with fixed ingredients and doses. Today, his son Dr Pratip Banerji, the son of Dr Prasanta Banerji and the fourth generation homeopath of the family, is continuing the practice. 

To celebrate 150 years of the introduction of homeopathy into the famous Banerji family of Birsingha, Mihijam and subsequently Kolkata, an exhibition titled ‘The Legacy to Humanity: Celebrating 150 years of Homeopathy,’ was held at the Birla Academy of Art & Culture from August 21 to 23 (inaugurated on August 20). 

Through a series of about 20 photographs, the exhibition gave an idea of how the Banerjis have been working to establish homeopathy scientifically and to make it the medicine of the masses. Tracing Vidyasagar's tryst with this discipline of medicine, it displays four pages of the Bengali polymath’s diary, which are prescriptions for patients. There are letters from the late singer Hemanta Mukherjee, industrialist Ratan Tata, and the late First Lady Suvra Mukherjee, requesting prescription of medicines from Dr Prasanta. There is also a family tree on display. 

Feature image: pbhrfindia.org

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