Visiting God’s own land Kerala after my last trip as a member of the Press Council of India in the eighties unfolded before my eyes some old of triangles in married life, health care and commercialization and visible forces of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism amidst the great Amma phenomenon of the hugging saint whose message of love cuts across global boundaries. The emergence of a fisherwoman as a spiritual leader with a wider social and spiritual message even among foreigners could only happen in the divine setting of Kerala. Equally noticeable are glimpses of money speaks. So do the people. This makes Kerala stand out among the Indian states. Ido not wish to discuss these matters in detail since my agenda this time is not political but to explore Kerala’s natural beauty and splendour during the monsoon and its Ayurvedic and Yoga Power. I am not for golden memories of places and people. That was a professional visit, though I had the privilege of having breakfast with K Karunakaran, then Congress Chief Minister of the state.
I consider Kerala to be the country’s political lab, having given India the first communist government under the parliamentary system. Amidst changing contours in politics of easy going and easy money, I have of late been noticing several new social trends Islamisation in a section of Kerala society with social characteristics which are visibly different from the traditional practices. What is, however, remarkable is social harmony amidst religious diversities. Could this be because of the high level of literacy? Perhaps. I also see Dirham power of Dubai and other Gulf countries on the social plane of good houses called ‘manzils’, and internet links even in the countryside. More than ideology, trappings of tourist health resorts with their five-star comforts. My search took me to Vaidyamadham Vaidyasala at Mezhathur, Trithala in Palakkad (Calicut) district, run by the famous Ashtavaidya group of families in Kerala. Theirs is a big success story in Ayurvedic healing and therapeutic remedies.
The geographical peculiarities of the land, the availability of herbs in plenty and high-level knowledge and tradition in Ayurveda have made the state a global hub in health care.
True, increased commercialization of health tourism has affected the quality of medicines and treatment but not the service norms of comforts, care and natural environment. There are still some outfits which merrily carry on the old tradition in treatment while ensuring purity of herbal medicine. Vaidyamadham is one such place which enjoys high credibility in certain chronic and complicated ailments. Equally noteworthy are Kottakal’s Ayurvedic Vaidyasala and Amma’s outstanding mordern outfit at Kollam.
Vaidyamadham Vaidyasala and Nursing Home was set up in 1921 by the grandfather of the present Chief Physician, Vaidyamadham Cheriyar Narayan Namboodiri. Extraordinary powers of Ayurveda and superb skills of the Vaidyamadham physicians are widely known in Kerala and beyond. Several members of this family were the official physicians of some of the reigning families of Kerala. I am told that the grandfather of the present Chief Physician used to be consulted by Queen Victoria.
Vaidyamadham today has grown as great Ayurveda institution. As of today, it sticks to the gurukul tradition. Engulfed by the lush green foliage, coconut and banana trees and medicinal plants, Vaidyamadham Vaidyasala and Nursing Home has perfect sylvan surroundings of village life. Over 100 species of rare herbs and medicinal plants have been cultivated in a botanical garden here.
Vaidyasala runs a mordernised production unit. Roughly 200 persons work here with total dedication and commitment. “Within 50 km radius of this place, the people are extraordinarily good”, says Dr Ramachandran who coordinates people and medicine with a remarkable efficiency.
Ayurveda is derived from the Vedas, the divine Hindu legacy of knowledge. The word Ayurveda is derived from Ayus meaning life span and Veda meaning knowledge. “This ancient medical system deals with the knowledge of life and health with a view to promoting a healthy life span of human being”, says the booklet of Vaidyamadham.
Yoga is considered to be an essential part of Ayurveda. It is “a science as well as a method of achieving spiritual harmony through the control of mind and body. The asanas (yogic postures) and pranayama (control of breath) are practices that not only help us acquire perfect health but also develop a calm and serene mind.” According to Ayurveda, the human body is made up of the five natural elements (Panchabhutas), identical to those which constitute the universe itself. The five natural elements are Earth (prithvi), Water (ap), Fire (tejas), Air (vayu) and Space (akash). The body functions under the influence of Tridoshas, namely, Vata, Pitha and Kapha. When these three doshas are in balance, the body remains healthy. Any imbalance thereto leads to disease. The ratio of these doshas could differ from person to person. Understandably, therefore, treatment of Ayurveda is patient-oriented. It has a code of conduct and ethics. Apart from dietary restrictions, smoking, drinking and sleeping during the day are a taboo for those under treatment.
Interestingly, prayers are an integral part of Ayurveda in Kerala in its curative, corrective and constructive process, though it is not “enforced” as such. The philosophy behind is “Lokah Samastha. Sukhino Bhavanthu”. Vaidyamadham follows this tradition.
Dr David Frawley's "Ayurvedic Healing" presents a comprehensive account of India'a 5000 year old tradition of the ancient Vedic wisdom on natural medicine allied with the science of yoga and meditaton. Ayurvedic methods include diet, herbs, oils, aromas, gems and mantras as well as lifestyle counselling.
In his book "Ayurveda and Mordern Medicine" Dr R D Lela, eminent physician and pioneer in nuclear medicine in India, states: "The wisdom of Ayurveda lies in incorporating a code of conduct in the Science of Life as a means to ensuring mental health and happiness".
Grand-father and father of the present Chief Physician were legendary figures of their times. The last Kutipraveshikam, the classical rejuvenation therapy – a treatment to arrest the aging process – in the history of Ayurveda was performed by his father over sixty years back. He was known as a living encyclopedia for his extensive knowledge in Sanskrit, Vedas, mythology, ancient Indian culture and classical arts.
Ashtavaidya Vaidyanadham Cheriya Narayan Namboodiri, let me call him NN in short form, is highly knowledgeable and intensely passionate about Ayurveda shastras and the purity of norms and practices. He has in his possession some of the rarest ancient treatises on Ayurveda written on palm leaves in Sanskrit and Malayalam. Most of these ancient texts are already in the public domain.
I saw the classification and digitalization work being carried on by a team of experts for the benefit of the generation next. Some of these ancient palm leaves texts are kept in his personal library at home. He told me about this treasure when I met him at his residence for an interaction.
Though NN treats all types of diseases with success, treatment of Arthritis is considered his speciality. He has devised two types of tablets to treat cancer patients. More than 700 kinds of medicines are prepared at Vaidyamadham pharmacy.
“My biggest challenge today is one of keeping the tradition of Ashtavaidyas alive”.
The Grand Old Ayurveda Guru is full of life, vigour and glow even at the ripe age of 84. He has piercing eyes and intuitive power which enable him to diagnose the ailment of the patient before him. This was conveyed to me by a number of patients, including Brigitte Bruckner, a German lady who was paying her second visit to Vaidyamadham for her car injury treatment.
“Well, he looked at me and put his finger exactly on my painful back spot. Oh, he is so correct! This is simply marvelous. He has superb divine x-ray eyes for a diseased spot”, she recalled.
I also met a Bal-brahmachari, fully paralysed below the waist from a fall during the recent Uttarakhand tragedy. Mordern medical outfits, including Chandigarh’s PGI, declared his case to be hopeless. He was brought here by an Uttar Kashi Swami from Kerala. “He would be able to stand up and be on his own within six months”, NN told him.
This speaks volumes for his Ayurveda power. But he is not for cheap publicity. He is equally dead set against cheap commercialization of this ancient system of medicine.
“I believe in ensuring total purity in medicine and truthful approach to men, matters and treatment”, he told me during two-hour-long meeting. He admitted that it “is difficult to keep up the rich ancient tradition in Ayurveda system” but added, “I am trying my best to live up to the reputation of my great ancestors”.
“For me, there is no compromise in basic values as enshrined in the Vedic texts”, he asserted. I understand NN vetoed the proposal to turn Vaidyamadham into a full-fledged Ayurveda college. I asked him what prompted him to do so. His response was: “I do not wish to commercialise the sacred arena of Ayurveda teaching. I am familiar with today’s trends. I do not wish to be part of this drift towards commercial cravings. My first priority is to take forward the science of Ayurveda in its pure form with the help of the latest technology for the benefit of mankind”.
NN says that Ayurveda is not all about medicines and treatment. “It is lifestyle which helps us to be in harmony with nature, both internal and external”, he declares passionately.
NN would burst into Sanskrit slokas occasionally to reinforce his point. He explained in details the process of internal purification which is the key to the success of Ayurveda system. He underlined the importance of Sanskrit knowledge for a better understanding of the system. Even in Malayalam, there is a rich treasure of information and knowledge in this area.
Suddenly, he called in his grand-children – two boys and two girls – to show how he is quietly sowing the seeds to keep the Ayurveda tradition going. It was a treat to hear the children reciting various mantras. They all are students of Ayurveda. They are being groomed in strict Gurukul discipline but with loving care to serve the generation next.
I was particularly impressed by his grand-daughter Veda who was reasonably proficient even in English. She explained some of the narrations of her grandfather in Malayalam in English.
I am hopeful the new generation along with their parents will keep up the reputation of the Ashtavaidya group of families in Kerala. It is believed that theirs is the only family belonging to to the Bharadwajuja group. The family was brought to Kerala as Sala Vaidya 1700 years ago by the famous Mezhatole Agnihotri who conducted 99 Sama Yagas to re-establish the Vedic Kara and Yoga culture of our country.
Sala Vaidya, incidentally, is a special status conferred on the Vaidyas who are responsible for the health of the participants of the Vedic yaga. The famous river Nila flows by the side of this quiet and sublime village of Mezhathur which I visited and closely experienced the legendary skills of the physicians and dedicated staff here. NN is full of life. He devotes considerable time to see his patients and put them on the right track of medicine administration. He also conducts special cancer sessions. His involvement in the recovery of his patients is total. He closely monitors their progress and works out the timetable for their recovery and change in medicine in-take, if required.
When I met him for the first time, he was seeing patients at his residence one by one. As many as six students were watching his interaction with the patients as part of their Ayurveda study. One of the girls was Muslim. Her head was covered a per the Islamic practice among Muslim women.
During my next meeting, I asked him about the Muslim girl’s interest in Ayurveda system. “She is very good. She takes tremendous interest in Ayurveda. I am hopeful about her future”, he said.
“I have an open book approach to teaching. However, I feel that the knowledge of Sanskrit is a great asset in establishing one as a good physician”, he stated. His one regret is that the government is “not doing much for the promotion and preservation of traditional purity for our ancient system of Ayurveda”.
To my specific question as to why he was reluctant to acquire International Fame and hit global headlines by his Kutipraveshikam Power (reversing aging treatment) as his father did for his friend and close companion, NN had a hearty laugh.
He explained: “I do not wish to go against Nature. We must not play with Nature indiscriminately. I value such an approach. Besides, there is the problem of availability of right type of herbs. I am happy with what I am doing in the service of humanity. My biggest challenge today is one of keeping the tradition of Ashtavaidyas alive”.
He is hopeful that his sons, other members of the family actively involved with him and his grandchildren will add to the richness of this ancient Indian science and medicine.
Formerly Chief Editor, The Tribune,
Presently Chief Editor, Power Politics, New Delhi.