At Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, comatose patients with serious brain injury have undergone a treatment that is not a usual part of hospital regimens—the chanting of an ancient Vedic mantra that is believed to ward off untimely death. This treatment, condoned by the hospital, is part of a study for which the Indian government has sanctioned research funds.
In 2014, Dr Ashok Kumar, then a resident neuropharmacologist at the All India Institute of Medial Sciences, proposed a pilot study on the “role of intercessory prayer in determining the outcome after severe traumatic brain injury.” Intercessory prayers are offered by people on behalf of someone else. The prayer in question is the Mahamrityunjaya chant, a mantra from the Rig Veda, one of the oldest texts of Hinduism. Kumar’s study attempted to determine whether the chanting of this mantra on behalf of patients with severe traumatic brain injury, or STBI, would play a role in improving their health outcomes. STBI is caused by external trauma to the head, such as from a fall, a car crash or an otherwise violent movement of the head.
To carry out this study, Kumar applied to the Indian Council of Medical Research, or ICMR, for a research fellowship. The ICMR is the apex body in India for the formulation and promotion of biomedical research and is overseen by the ministry of health and family welfare. In March 2016, the ICMR approved the fellowship, and sanctioned Rs 28,000 per month for the study. The funds were awarded for one year starting October 2016, and then renewed for the next two years.