Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Contributions of Dr. Surya to Indian Psychiatry

In a short span of 10 years at AIIMH1, Dr. Surya made significant contribution in psychiatric research. During 1950, there was growing international interest in the field of psychiatric epidemiology. At that time the only notable work in psychiatric epidemiology in Asian countries was the pioneering study by Tsung-Yi Lin conducted in Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1946-48. In India Dr. Govindaswamy2, planned the first major study in Bangalore and obtained an ICMR3, grant for that. Unfortunately, it never got published. To Dr. Surya goes the credit of publishing the first community field survey of mental morbidity in India4, at Pondicherry (reported in Transactions of AIIMH, 1964). This was much before other workers took up psychiatric epidemiology in India. Another of his “firsts” in psychiatric epidemiology was the introduction of detailed statistical analysis of admissions and discharges at mental hospital, Bangalore. A paper on the “trends in the rates of admissions to a mental hospital” was published in the journal of AIIMH in 1959. Also it was during his period as professor of Psychiatry in Bangalore that the well-known Sakalawada rural project on Community mental health was started and postgraduate students were sent for training in community psychiatry. He was equally distinguished as a teacher. Most of his students remember his intimate style of teaching, full of original knowledge, mixed with his sarcastic wit. He would always give more importance to the personal observation by the student than what is written in the textbook. He was rigorous in training. He started his career as a physiologist and often took pride in calling himself a neurophysiologist rather than a psychiatrist. In his earlier years, he had also written some papers on experimental neurophysiology in Russian journals.

Dr Surya will however be best remembered for his talks and writings on “Transcultural Psychiatry” 5 or perhaps more appropriately, for conceptualizing an Indian model of psychiatry based on Indian philosophical thought. In this area, he wrote with singular insight and clarity, repeatedly challenging the assumptions of “Western" psychiatry which at that time was heavily loaded with psychoanalytic theories. For the present younger generation of psychiatrists it may be difficult to visualize the psychiatric scene in India in the 1960s when European and American textbooks dominated our teaching. There were very few studies on Indian-based data. The academic papers in psychiatry of that period whenever written, mostly try to fit in their observations to well-known theoretical framework of Western psychiatry, may it be on psychiatry diagnosis and classification or etiology or psychotherapy. In this context we find Surya a true pioneer who not only raised his voice against our "colonial" mentality but also dared to offer alternate models of understanding "Indian" mind and its psychopathology.

It is sad that most of the writings of Dr. Surya are not readily available. In fact he has not published very much and many of his publications are often in lesser known journals like "DHAMMA" the journal of Mahabodhi Society, Bangalore or ADVENT, the journal published from Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry. Some of his best academic psychiatric papers were published in the Transactions of All India Institute of Mental Health, Bangalore, from 1958-1966 which are again very difficult to trace for an average reader. It would be great service to Indian psychiatry if the major writings of Dr. Surya could be republished either by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Bangalore, or by the Indian Psychiatric Society http://e-ips.org/. In 1993, some of Dr. Surya's friends have brought out a small book entitled "Aham" which happily contains many of his well known psychiatric writing as well as some of his religious and cultural essays written during 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately this book is privately printed and not available at bookshops. It may interest the readers to know that Dr. Surya is also the author of a novel "The Being and the Becoming" and has also written books like "Tales from Indian Mythology".

1. All India Institute of Mental Health
2. The first Director of the All India Institute of Mental Health

3. Indian Council of Medical Research

4. MENTAL MORBIDITY IN PONDICHERRY (I962-I963), by N. C. SURYA, S. P. DATTA, R. GOPALA KRISHNA, D. SUNDARAM and JANAKY KUTTY, Pondicherry, South India. Transactions of All- India Institute of Mental Health, July I964, pp. 50-6I




sasi said...

Dr.Surya has written a novel called "Krishna". It was publishes by some publisher in Pondy. I got a copy from Dr.Kuppa VenkataRama Sastry, who is a friend of Dr.Surya. I am not tracing it know in my library.

Raj Cbrt said...

Nice Post..

Psychologist in Chennai
Life Coach in Chennai
Hypnotherapist in Chennai

Gita Madhu said...

Sasi, I really wish I could get that novel - please do let me know if you find out more about its whereabouts.

Gita Madhu said...

Thanks, Raj Cbrt