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Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques

Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft - Revue de la Société Suisse-Asie

Editor-in-Chief: Suter, Rafael

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Cinnabar, Calomel and the Art of kushtasāzī: Mercurial Preparations in Unani Medicine

Claudia Preckel
Published Online: 2015-12-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2015-1042


This paper examines the role of mercury in “Graeco-Islamic” medicine, which is referred to as Ṭibb-e yūnānī or unani medicine in South Asia. Having its origin in Ancient Greece, unani medicine spread to the Arabic countries and from the fifteenth century onwards to India. With its main roots in the Greek and Latin sources, the most influential works of ‘ilm al-adviya (pharmacology) were translated into Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Mercury (Arabic: zībaq; Persian: sīmāb; Urdu: sīmāb and pāra) played an important role in all Indian traditions of medicine, and had a prominent place in unani medicine. This paper highlights the historical use of mercury in Indian, Persian and Urdu medical literature, the discourses on its efficacy and some of the important mercurial preparations presented in a selection of unani works. Further, the use of mercury as a single and compound drug and its role in the treatment of different diseases will be analysed.

Keywords: unani medicine; mercury; cinnabar; calomel; kushta (calyx); medical history


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-12-02

Published in Print: 2015-12-01

Funding: The project was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). I am indebted to Mohsin Dehlvi (Delhi) for reading an earlier draft of this paper and offering me his expertise.

Citation Information: Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques, Volume 69, Issue 4, Pages 901–932, ISSN (Online) 2235-5871, ISSN (Print) 0004-4717, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2015-1042.

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