On a July morning in the town of Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, a woman named Padmapriya fell down in her bathroom and fractured her wrist. Some of her neighbours brought her to a hospital in Puttur, a small town in southern Andhra Pradesh that is a four-hour drive from Tirupattur.
In the hospital’s waiting area, I met Sheikh Kamal, a middle-aged philosophy teacher from Tirupattur, who had been the one to suggest that Padmapriya be brought to this hospital. Kamal told me he had first heard about the place after one of his relatives, a lorry driver, severely injured his leg in a road accident. Orthopaedic doctors in their village said that they would have to amputate the limb. But instead, people brought him to the Puttur hospital, where he received the traditional bone-setting treatment. “No operation, nothing. From this treatment, his leg got better,” Kamal said.
For over six decades, the Puttur hospital has been the centre of a bone-setting practice in which fractures and dislocations are treated by “setting” the bone into place and applying a proprietary herbal paste to the skin. People from all over the country—especially from south Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—travel to the hospital, which sees between 200 and 300 patients a day. But although this bone-setting practice seems to be expanding to places outside Puttur, its medical merits remain up for debate.