Leech therapy on Nowruz in Kashmir
Leech therapy on Nowruz in Kashmir | Photo Credit: Saqib Majeed

SRINAGAR — Despite being abandoned as a medical cure by modern science long ago, many people in the Kashmir Valley still resort to leeches to suck their blood in hopes of curing everything – from swollen joints and headaches to frostbite and acne.

According to the news agency KNO, a significant number of people visited practitioners of ‘leech therapy’ on the occasion of Nowruz on Wednesday, as the therapy is believed to be more effective on this particular day. Scores of people were seen standing in queues, eagerly waiting for their turn to undergo the procedure, at various places in the valley, especially at Dargah Hazratbal and other locations.

It is believed that leeches can cure frostbite, skin diseases, and other blood infections by extracting impure blood from the body. Leech therapy on Nowruz has been a common practice in many parts of the valley, as people believe that being treated on that day is more effective.

Navroz celebrated across J-K with fervour

Mohammad Akbar, a practitioner of leech therapy, said he has been practising this technique for the last 40 years and has witnessed people finding relief through leech therapy. “In my experience, people have been cured with this therapy. They believe that this therapy provides the best cure for their illnesses, which they don’t get from other medications,” he said.

“I tried medicines worth almost 10 to 20 thousand rupees, but I couldn’t find any relief from my pain with any medication. However, when I tried leech therapy, I started feeling relief in my pain,” said Waqar Ahmad, a patient from Srinagar.

“When the leeches feed on blood, chemical substances like hirudin, proteins and bio-active molecules from the leeches’ saliva mix with the patient’s blood,” explained Ghulam Nabi, a Unani doctor. “This thins the blood, and hirudin is helpful in cardiac diseases. These substances have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant, and antimicrobial functions.”

Navroz celebrated across J-K with fervour

The practice of leech therapy is ancient, and the tradition is still alive in Kashmir, particularly on Nowruz. Practitioners used to collect leeches from local water streams and rivers in the past, but now they obtain them from outside Kashmir.

Leech therapy is said to be a long-practised procedure in the Perso-Arabic traditional medicine of Unani, which is also practised in Muslim culture in South Asia and modern-day Central Asia.

According to doctors, leeches are effective in increasing blood circulation and breaking up blood clots. “It should come as no surprise that leeches can be used to treat circulatory disorders and cardiovascular disease. Chemicals derived from leech saliva have been turned into pharmaceutical drugs that can treat hypertension and other diseases,” they added.

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