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Narratives of Conception, Gestation, and Labour in Sanskrit Āyurvedic Texts

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This essay looks at the ways in which medical discourse in Sanskrit is linguistically and meaningfully constructed, especially when this discourse directly addresses sexual difference in textual understandings of the ways in which conception, gestation, and the quotidian details of the birth experience are described by the multiple authors of these texts, and in some cases, by their commentators. I see it as my task to uncover and discuss the conceptual position of women in early āyurvedic literature; as objects of practice, but also as medical 'actors' in and of themselves. In my conclusion, I will include some of my own speculations on the transmission of gynecological and obstetric knowledge, on what is 'public' or 'private' knowledge and on what could possibly be construed as 'male' or 'female' science. I will be paying particular attention to the gendered nature of medical authority in my concluding remarks, especially when analysing several circumstances in which women appear as agents and actors. I see āyurvedic texts as part of a larger cultural world: they share information and attitudes with other Sanskrit textual genres, particularly with dharma-śāstras (legal treatises), especially when the subjects in question turn to women and the regulation of their bodies in times of ritual pollution and reproductivity.


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