Prameha and Upadangsha: Vernacular Histories of Venereal Diseases in Late Colonial Bengal


While the histories of colonial medicine have highlighted the hegemonic impact of western bio-medical notions on indigenous understanding of diseases, recent historians working with marginalized vernacular archives in the colonies have brought into focus the vernacular understanding of diseases that not only survived the onslaught of western clinical notions and therapeutic practices but got a fresh lease of life through the growth of a shared medical market of vernacular print and medicines. I would look at the vernacular histories of syphilis and gonorrhoea in the context of late colonial Bengal. Locally known as upadangsha and prameha, these indigenous categories of venereal diseases elicited much debate and discussion in the late 19th century Bengali public sphere, while indigenous understanding of these diseases, circulated through the local commercial circuits. Using commercial advertising material and vernacular medical print, I would try to recuperate the vernacular histories of venereal diseases in the context of late colonial Bengal. In doing so, I would question some of the assumptions held by colonial medical historians who overwhelmingly concentrate on state sponsored western medicine and in turn ignore the rich histories of vernacular medicine.

Speaker: Ratnabir Guha
Research Scholar, CHS, SSS, JNU

Venue:  Committee Room, Central Library, JNU
Date and Time: 16th August 2014 (Saturday), 4:00 pm