The traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid
This article studies the heritage of the traditional hadvaid in the Parsi-Zoroastrian community and shows how this tradition pre-dates what the world today knows as chiropractic. The article concludes with some interesting, first-hand anecdotes and a background on two of the famed and perhaps the greatest exponents of the Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid tradition.
The traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid – a historical perspective
Dr. Kayomarz Patel
NAMAH | Volume 21 | Issue 3 | 15th October 2013
“In numbers, Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare … (1)”
The traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid is a shining example of this immortal quote with reference to the minuscule Parsi Zoroastrian community, made by none other than Mahatma Gandhi in one of his speeches, way back in 1924.
Very similar to a chiropractor, the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaidis a chiropractic healer who is gifted or skilled in the art and science of manipulative therapy to treat disorders pertaining to the bones and nerves in the human body. It would be safe to say that a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid is a non-DC (Doctor of Chiropractic)-designated chiropractor.
Tracing the hadvaid tradition right from the pre-Gāthic1 times of the Prophet, Spitaman Asho Zarathushtra who propounded Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia or what’s today’s Iran and parts of Russia, the article explains how this tradition evolved since the early/late 19th century in India in the minuscule Parsi-Zoroastrian community.
In trying to provide a historical perspective on the same, the author also tries to trace the origin of the term hadvaid and bring out many of the similarities between the traditional hadvaid and the professionally qualified DC of today.
Perhaps the earliest known record of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrianhadvaid may well have been the founder of Zoroastrianism, the Prophet, Asho Zarathushtra. Legend has it that it was only Asho Zarathushtra who, through the power of manthravani or prayer and touch, was able to miraculously cure the favourite horse of King Vishtaspa of some mysterious illness that had caused it to simply collapse.
Literally translated from Gujarati, the mother-tongue of the Parsi-Zoroastrians in India, it means a “bone-doctor” (Had = bone and vaid = ‘doctor’). Another anglicised name by which the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid is also known is ‘bonesetter’.
A hadvaid is primarily a ‘gifted’ chiropractic healer, skilled in the ‘art’ of bone-setting, who through his highly evolved sense of touch, is able to diagnose and cure disorders pertaining to the bones and the nerves of a human body without surgery, very much how a classical chiropractor does. Like a chiropractor, a hadvaid too sets, adjusts or manipulates the joints or the vertebrae in the spine to set right a disorder, using his hands or his foot (for spinal manipulations).
The traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid relies on a highly developed sense of touch. Relying on the evidence of his ‘touch’ and ‘feel’, thehadvaid palpates the muscles and ligaments of the patient to understand the problem and uses manipulation to set bones into position or heal fractures. In the case of some hadvaids, this may be followed by massage therapy where indicated or even anti-inflammatory applications of poultices or laeps as is the case with some hadvaidss even today.
Earlier, hadvaidss did not depend too much on oral medicines. But as they evolved, some began to supplement their treatment with time-tested oils, balms and homeopathic or AAyurvedic medicines.
Depending on individual circumstances, a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrianhadvaid may treat patients afflicted with spinal disorders such as back pain, lumbago, sciatica, spondolysis, slipped disc, etc. or conditions like rheumatism, arthritis or maybe even some types of dislocations / fractures and in rare cases, even paralysis or polio. The hadvaid’s’s success rate — as many of the beneficiaries of a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid’s’s services would testify — is rather high.
So, to put the work of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid in proper perspective in the 21st century, he is essentially what the world today knows as a chiropractor.
What is chiropractic?
In 2005, The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its Guidelines on Chiropractic,(2) defined it as:
“A health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. There is an emphasis on manual techniques, including joint-adjustment and/or manipulation with a particular focus on subluxations.”
Before the WHO came up with this definition for chiropractic, the dictionary definition of chiropractic, approved by the assembly of theWorld Federation of Chiropractic (3), the Chiropractic profession’s global governing body convened at Auckland, New Zealand on May 19, 1999 defined chiropractic as follows:
“A health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal manipulation or adjustment.”
Thus it will be seen from the above definitions of modern-day chiropractic, that ‘manual adjustment’ or manipulation of the joints or the spine form the crux of chiropractic which is essentially what a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid does.
Therefore, it would not be incorrect to state that the practice of a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid, in many ways closely resembles that of a chiropractor in that both use similar techniques of manual adjustment/manipulation to treat specific disorders of the bones/nerves of the human body.
History of chiropractic
Modern-day chiropractic originated in 1895 in the USA. The term ‘chiropractic’ was coined by D.D. Palmer, who was born in Canada and who later migrated to the US. He is widely regarded as the founder of modern chiropractic. The adjustments which he called ‘hand treatments’ led him to derive the term ‘chiropractic’- from the Greek words, cheiros= ‘hand‘ and practic = ‘the practice or operation of‘.
Today’s chiropractors, especially in developed countries such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe, are designated as DC or Doctor of Chiropractic after ‘studying’ to become a chiropractor at accredited chiropractic college.
However, it is interesting and important to note that the founder of chiropractic was himself not a DC.
So in that sense, while a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid is, like Palmer, a chiropractor, he need not necessarily be a DC. Similarly, a duly trained, traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid is also skilled at performing manual adjustments or manipulations of the joints, just like a DC.
“The practice of chiropractic includes a moral obligation and a religious duty”,
wrote Palmer (4) in his book, The Chiropractor. This shows the nobility of the profession as envisaged by its founder, traces of which are still evident in the practice of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid.
But since its inception in 1895, over the last century and more, chiropractic, as envisaged by Palmer and as it exists today with all its advancements and regulations, has undergone a sea-change with commercial consideration and regulation of the profession becoming the cornerstones of a chiropractic practice whereas the practice of the traditional Parsi Zoroastrian hadvaid by virtue of its simplicity, its charitable outlook, its competence and safety may be described as being more aligned to Palmer’s philosophy of chiropractic.
Following the period of apprenticeship that a hadvaid goes through (which in most cases would be the equivalent of or perhaps even more than the chiropractic degree courses in many chiropractic colleges) means that he would, in most cases, be as skilled as – if not more – than a qualified DC. To clarify, this is not to suggest that a traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid might, in any way, be superior to a DC or vice-versa. Both have an important and unique role to play. Both do wonderful work in relieving patients of pain without surgery. Like the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid, there are several instances of DCs too giving of their time and effort to serve society at large.
It is about time the recently formed Indian Association of Chiropractic Doctors, which does not have a single indigenous chiropractor as its member (their current membership comprises mainly foreigners or foreign-educated Indian DCs), recognised the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaidss as the first chiropractors in India and admited them as members. Thus, at least in an Indian context, the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid and the chiropractor would be treated at par and be able to work in a unified manner.
History of hadvaid
Unfortunately, no documented records exist for the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid in India. The tradition has continued by way of a teacher training his disciple by word, action and life. But it would be correct to assume that the tradition of the Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaidwould pre-date 1895, i.e. the year recorded in history as the beginning of chiropractic. And the legend of Asho Zarathushtra would only serve to add to its credibility.
A study of the evolution of the hadvaid tradition within the rapidly declining micro-minority Parsi community (its global population is estimated to be well under 100,000) conducted over the past few years as part of the PARZOR (PAR = Parsi; ZOR = Zoroastrian) Research Project funded by the UNESCO has yielded some interesting insights (5).
There are some unique characteristics of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid tracing back to the mid-20th Century that bear mentioning. One is that almost all of them originated from or around south Gujarat, i.e. the region between Valsad (earlier Bulsar) and Ahmedabad. Secondly and perhaps the more important features of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaidss are their efficacy, affordability of the treatment and the success-rate.
By and large, the aspect of charity or community service is in some ways intertwined with the practice of some of the traditional Parsi Zoroastrian hadvaidss – more in line with Palmer’s philosophy of chiropractic.
The ‘kick’ that cures
Before orthopaedists and physiotherapists became a part of the routine medical dictionary, the Parsi-Zoroastrians relied, along with many others, on the ‘kick’ that cured for ailments of the spine.
The kick is a method of performing a spinal adjustment or manipulation where, instead of hands/fingers, the hadvaid uses his foot. This method is almost an art form and is a unique and distinct feature of the Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid tradition. Today, there is only one – yes, just one – Parsi Zoroastrian chiropractic healer in the world who practises chiropractic in a purely honorary capacity and uses this highly efficacious method to perform a spinal manipulation with his leg.
The technique of the ‘kick’ employed by the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrianhadvaid may find comparison in chiropractic in the term,
“long-lever, high-velocity spinal manipulation (6)”.
Ailments of the spine
The kick is based on the principles of leverage and ‘range-of-motion’.
It may be described as a method of spinal manipulation in which the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid places his foot on or around the hip of the patient lying down on the floor, on each side at a time to stretch or loosen several vertebrae with a forceful, high-velocity thrust that stretches the spinal column beyond its normal range of movement in order to increase its mobility. This form of spinal manipulation is usually accompanied by an audible sound like a pop or a click or a series of similar-sounding pops and clicks. The whole procedure lasts for less than 30–45 seconds, with the actual act of ‘kicking’, less than 5 seconds each.
While ‘kicking’ a patient, the skill of the traditional Parsi-Zoroastrian hadvaid lies in correctly applying the principle of leverage, placing his foot and judging the right degree of force in the thrust. Even the decision on whether or not a particular patient is suitable to be administered the kick is a critical one. For, at times, success may lie in declining to kick the patient.
While the whole process of kicking the patient appears to be deceptively simple — it is not. In fact, it requires huge skill and calls for intense concentration and an extremely high degree of precision and accuracy on the part of the hadvaid every time he kicks a patient.
Generally a kick is not repeated on the same side of the patient once it has been delivered. So it is important for the patient and the hadvaidto be in sync with each other and for the patient to have faith in thehadvaid. Remember that the hadvaid has just one go. So it is important that he gets it right the first time round itself. There is simply no margin for error.