Sri Lanka is an island inhabited by a culture more than 5,000 years old. The primary medicine utilized by this culture in precolonial times is known as Ayurveda. During colonization, Sri Lanka was introduced to biomedicine and forced to negate Ayurvedic medicine. Throughout the years, rather than abandoning their indigenous medical practice, Sri Lanka incorporated biomedicine and Ayurvedic medicine into their medically plural society. Today, Sri Lankans utilized both medicines for different ailments, concerns and conditions. Utilizing a variety of anthropological methods and theories, this study gathered qualitative information from 39 Sri Lankan informants. These informants were recruited to find out the cultural dynamics and purposes of Ayurvedic medicine and biomedicine and the relationship between the two medical systems. The informants also provided valuable insight into the strength and weaknesses between the two medical systems along with explaining the concept of illness, dynamics of communication and whether the medical systems either cure or heal the patient. Informants suggested that Sri Lanka utilizes biomedicine for curative care to cure their patients while incorporating Ayurvedic medicine for preventative care to heal their patients. It appeared that the principle purpose of private biomedical clinics is to treat any non-emergency related conditions while government biomedical hospitals tend to treat emergency related conditions. Private and government Ayurvedic medicine appear to treat common ailments and conditions mostly related to soft tissue and preventative care. According to informants, it appears that biomedicine and Ayurvedic medicines have different benefits and drawbacks. However, these characteristics seem to support one another. If there is a medical area where biomedical care falls short in treating, Ayurvedic medicine tends to offer a solution to that shortcoming and vice versa. According to Sri Lankan informants, it appears that Sri Lanka’s effective healthcare has opportunities to improve and progress if biomedicine and Ayurvedic medicine function in a cooperative relationship rather than a competitive one.


Kathryn Elliott

Committee Member

Rhonda Dass

Committee Member

Dharshini Goonetilleke

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)


Social and Behavioral Sciences



Rights Statement

In Copyright