Traditional Indian Medicine has a long history. Its theories and detailed practices are recorded in classic texts written by medical scholars of the past. Modern practitioners study these texts to increase their skills. The Institute of Asian Studies in Chennai has collected 564 copies of these texts, all written in South India, mostly in Tamil, on palm leaves, mostly dating from the 19th century. The collection is part of a wider collection of ancient Tamil texts. The texts reflect both the Siddha and Ayurvedic medical systems. They discuss the nature and symptoms of diseases, and methods of cure. Most are general texts, giving prescriptions for use in a number of diseases, but some are specialist texts covering diseases of children and women. The texts explain how medicines can be produced from herbs, and from the roots, leaves, flowers, bark and fruit of medically valuable products, detailing the specific processes and the proper proportions of the several ingredients in any specific medical product. Traditional Indian Medicine requires that certain rituals and ritual chants should be undertaken while medicine is administered, and 57 of the manuscripts give such details.
Traditional medical systems are a major part of the world heritage of learning and culture, and preservation of this collection is of great importance in consequence This collection is the finest and most complete library of traditional Indian medical texts extant. The collection reflects, in particular, the medical traditions of South India: most other collections of traditional Indian medical texts reflect the traditions of other parts of India. The collection was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 1997.