No, an Indian University Isn't Teaching Doctors to Treat People Possessed by Ghosts

Reports that an Indian university is set to offer a course teaching doctors how to treat people who believe they are possessed by ghosts appear to be based on a misunderstanding.

Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is offering the "Bhoot Vidya" program, which roughly translates to "ghost studies," as a six-month certificate course beginning in January. A Thursday report by the BBC titled "Bhoot Vidya: India university to teach doctors Ghost Studies" suggested that the course would "train doctors how to treat people who claim to see or be possessed by ghosts."

However, rather than tackling spirit possession, the course is intended to treat psychosomatic or psychological disorders using the traditional Indian medicine system Ayurveda.

BHU Ayurveda Dean Yamini Bhushan Tripathi was quoted by Indian news agency IANS, saying that the course will teach "the Ayurvedic remedies to treat ghost-related ailments," according to the report.

The quote suggests that the university will be training doctors how to treat people for illnesses caused by ghosts, but this appears to be based on a contextual misunderstanding of the word "bhoot." Although the word can be translated as "ghost," in Ayurvedic medicine the word is said to actually refer to anything small enough that it can't be seen. A further IANS quote clarified that the course focuses on "diseases of the mind."

"Bhoot Vidya mainly deals with psychosomatic disorders, diseases caused by unknown reasons and diseases of mind or psychic conditions," explained Tripathi.

Although public opinion on the existence of ghosts is divided, legitimate doctors have largely avoided basing their treatments on assumed spirit possession. Getty

A number of people reading the reports were understandably confused into believing the course will concern paranormal spirits, based on social media reaction.

"So, Ghosts are real, Says BHU!" tweeted user @Medical_Mitra.

"Severus Snape to teach the Defense against the dark arts class at #BHU #BhootVidya," joked user @IntelliJester.

However, others complained that the program had used a confusing name to describe something far less remarkable.

"Bhoot Vidya is nothing but Ayurvedic management of psychosomatic disorders, a legitimate field of modern medicine. Only, the name could be better," tweeted @antel_anupam.

Journalist Bhuvan Bagga tweeted that he interviewed the Tripathi himself, who clarified that the course would not cover spirit possession.

"So just spoke with Prof Yamani Bhushan Tripathi (he, not she, as identified in some stories) on this #BhootVidya course," Bagga tweeted. "He's dean of the dept & this is how he described it: "Bhoot Vigyan is not related to ghosts. It is a misnomer & being misunderstood by society & media."

Although it seems the course is not focused on the spirit world, it's not unheard of for ghosts to be suggested as the cause of unexplained ailments. Before the advent of neurology, people who experienced seizures due to epilepsy were often thought to be "possessed" by ghosts. Even in the modern age, some patients have been subjected to "exorcisms" in order to remove the supposed evil spirits erroneously believed to be causing seizures.

Ayurveda, which the university department teaching the course focuses on, is itself controversial. It is a form of traditional Indian medicine that attempts to treat a variety of ailments with methods including supplements, herbs, exercise and diet modification. The system was established thousands of years ago, but its validity has been disputed in modern era. The Indian Medical Association has described the practice as "quackery."

No, an Indian University Isn't Teaching Doctors to Treat People Possessed by Ghosts | News