Talk:Quacks in Medical Field

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


There is quack in any profession done in any part of the world and even at any part of the time including from ancient to present era. But the profession having the most dangerous effects among all of them is the quack in the medical profession. The medical profession is entrusted with the responsibility for life or death. The society in the times of Caraka had many dreadful medical quacks. Caraka describes them while referring to their pretentious manners, speech and equipment. Setting out the difference between the good and learned physician and the ignorant quack, Caraka declares that the experienced physician cures the diseases while an inexperienced medical person can even lead to the loss of life.

At the time of Caraka, the conditions of society seem to have been very favorable for the existence and proliferation of quacks. Caraka refers to these quacks in varied circumstances and the following extracts indicate the vehemence with which Caraka thought it necessary to condemn the quack and warn the society against his attentions and mischief. A person who is not thorough with the medical knowledge should not experiment on the patient as it might cost the life of a patient. There are the chances of the patient's survival by a wrong experiment on him by a quack due to the patient's destiny, but that cannot be the case with everybody who is being treated in the same manner.

Medical Practitioners

Regarding the three kinds of physicians, three kinds of medical practitioners are found in the world:

  1. An impostor Physician - Those who by parading their medical paraphernalia, books, models, smattering of medical texts and knowing looks acquire the title of physician, are of this kind, viz, the ignoramuses and impostors.
  2. The vain-glorious pretenders - Those who by laying claim to association with persons of established wealth, fame knowledge and success, while they themselves have none of these things, arrogate to themselves the designation of physicians are the vain-glorious pretenders.
  3. Those endowed with the true virtue of the healer - They are thorough with their knowledge.

Behavior of Quacks

Those without the thorough knowledge of both theoretical and practical of time and measure, are to be shunned, because they are the messengers of death on earth. Having warned against inviting their services, Caraka describes the ignorance of these pretenders and how they avoid the presence and contact of the learned physician, when their ignorance is known.

The quacks of medicine as those of all other professions, possess only the externals of the profession and try to impress the ignorant by a smattering of the professional clap-trap of maxims and platitudes. They never have access to the sources of the science, nor practice in the application of remedies. They learn to mouth a few seemingly wise slogans and catch-phrases and make a show of skill that they do not possess. They make up their lack of wisdom by blustering.

The discriminating patient should avoid these unlettered laureates, who put on the airs of physicians for the sake of a living. The men of little learning would get agitated by the name of the medical scriptures. An ignoramus person given to blatant displays, establishes himself as an exponent amidst others who are equally ignorant. However when they meet the ignorant people they are exposed.

The physician should not engage in the dispute with godly men, though they are of little learning, with a view to discomfit them; but one should not scruple to demolish by the means of the questionnaire by eight members, the others, who are the experts in the field. A person who is knowledgeable does not talk much compared to person who does not have a comprehensive knowledge of the same.

Synonyms for Quakes

It is interesting to note that the term applied to such a charlatan and ignorant cheat in Sanskrit is a Kuvaidya or Kuhaka; the latter meaning a cunning or sinful man. The English term of quack having the same or similar connotation suggests its evolution from the original Kuhaka. The English synonyms like pretender, charlatan etc. are reflected in this definition of the quack.

Burgeon for Quacks

It is easy to infer the circumstances that gave rise to the abundance of quacks. The medical profession was among the professions held in great esteem in society. The physician held, a high place in the society and was regarded as the guide and friend of the people. His emoluments in the profession were evidently considerable and aroused the envy of ambitious individuals who aspired for such a status but had not the equipment for it. Such naturally turned into quacks by acquiring the external accomplishments of manner, speech and professional catch phrases, imposed on the ignorant and gullible and made their fortunes. Such indeed are the quacks in every age and the attention devoted by Caraka to them and their methods and the passion with which he condemns their evil, are the evidences of the prevalence of undesirable numbers of the members of this deceitful tribe.

Manoeuvre of Quacks

The quacks used very cunning tactics for creating confidence in the patients, but then he would disappear when the patient was critical. Tricking themselves out in the height of medical fashion, they walk the streets with a view to picking up practice. Immediately on hearing that somebody is ill, they swoop down on him from all the quarters and in his hearing speak loudly of their medical attainments. If a doctor is already attending him, they make repeated mention of his failings. They try to ingratiate themselves with the friends of the patient by suave manners, knowing whispers and officiousness. They make it known that they accept little by the way of remuneration. On being entrusted with a case they look out on all the sides repeatedly, trying to cloak their ignorance.

Finding themselves unable to check the course of the disease, they give it out that the patient himself who is wanting in the necessary appurtenances, in attendants and in self-control. When they realize that the patient is dying, they make themselves scarce and seek another neighborhood. In the presence of uncultured people they brag about their adroitness in the most clumsy manner and like the ignoramuses that they are, they run down the learning of the savants. But if they see a company of the learned, they slink away from a distance. If by any chance they happen to have conned a stray maxim, they constantly quote it in season and out of season. They can brook neither being questioned nor questioning others. They dread questions as if they were the devil. Such people do not change for either teacher, disciple, co-student or disputant.[1]


We may conclude this study of the quack in the medical profession by the popular saying that obtained currency in much later times than Caraka wherein the quack is dubbed the elder brother of Yama, the god of death. In the West, quacks are facetiously known as "The Arms of the Honorable company of Undertakers", which is akin in spirit to the Indian saying referred to above which runs thus:

Salutations to you, O, elder brother of Yama! Yama takes away, only our lives; but you take away our lives as well as our wealth.

The institution of quackery flourishes wherever there is a rigorous standard demanded of the genuine man of the profession, which is not within the easy acquisition of each person. After strenuous years of study and practice and then again approval by the state, a person becomes a medical physician. Naturally a host of impostors arise who secretly carry on their trade among the naive and oblivious. Caraka says that such quacks flourish and go about at large only at the connivance of the king. Thus a great responsibility rests on any civilized state i.e. to see that such ignorant and pretentious cheats are not allowed to scope to work havoc among the common people. The ancient state in India, judged by the secret methods of the quack as portrayed in Caraka, seems to have fulfilled its responsibility in this respect in a laudable measure.


  1. Caraka Sutra 29, 9
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India