Interview with Dr. M.S.Valiyathan

by Dr. Muthulakshmy – Sanskrit Lecturer at the Thiruvananthapuram Regional Centre of Sri Sankaracharya
Sanskrit University. She has translated two monumental works of Dr. M.S. Valiyathan named “The legacy of Charaka” and “The legacy of Susruta” into Malayalam. She is the daughter of the late legendary Ayurvedic scholar and physician Sri. RaghavanThirumulpad. She holds Ph.D. from the Kerala University.

Your 80th birthday was celebrated recently in Thiruvananthapuram. Belated birthday wishes to you! May your incessant and untiring work instil inspiration and motivate coming generations.

1. The article published in Current Science magazine titled Living Legends of Indian Science is the latest article I read about you. That article gives a clear picture of your long and varied engagements with medical science, both modern and traditional. The most wonderful aspect about your personality is that you have been actively engaged in different areas and levels of work in the field of medical science. A first- rate practising surgeon, an efficient administrator, bio-material scientist, and also a theoretician! How are you able to balance all these different kinds and levels of work?

• It is true that I have been interested in different fields of knowledge and engaged in different fields of endeavour in my life. The fact is that I have enjoyed all these varied interests and activities. There is no disharmony in this. In our music, as you know, we have seven notes – saptaswara – where each note is different from the other. Would there be music if we dwell, like a thambura, on a single note? When the varied notes are played in different combinations and the musician revels in it, we have great music. Surgery, science, traditional knowledge and administration of a University need not be contradictory. It is true that one cannot be playing two notes at the same time; nor is that necessary.

2. Keralites have been fortunate enough to get your service as director of Sree Chitra Institute of Medical science. You have had a vital role in making it into an institution of national importance. How far have your research and professional experiences in institutions in foreign countries contributed to your endeavours in Sree Chitra Institute?

• The unique achievement of Sree Chitra Institute is that it brought the promotion of medicine and technology under one roof for the first time in India and developed a joint culture. Modern medicine cannot be practised without technology, but neither medical nor technological institutions had developed technology for medical applications, obliging India to import medical equipment and devices. A new institutional model combining medicine and technology was an idea whose time had come in the 1970s. That was the reason for the Indian Parliament to make Chitra Institute ` an institution of national importance’ by legislation. I owe my inspiration for this initiative to what I learnt in the Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities during my years of training.

3. It is after long successful years of experience in the field of modern medicine that your attention turned towards Ayurveda, the traditional system of Indian medicine. What was the crucial reason for such a shift in the focus of your study? Or was there really a shift? Or was it just a continuation of your intellectual enquiries?

• I never left modern medicine even though I stopped doing cardiac surgery in 1994 after practising it for 25 years. In the later part of my surgical years, I had however been disturbed by the thought that no contribution by an Indian scientist had influenced the theory or practice of modern medicine at the global level in 250 years since the British brought modern medicine to India. Were we incapable of original thinking and making discoveries in medicine? After all Raman had done it in physics and Ramanujan in mathematics. Was there any time in India’s history when our physicians showed originality and won global recognition? That inquiry led me to the company of Charaka and Susruta.


4. Can you briefly explain your experiences while learning Ayurveda?

• The conceptual foundations of Ayurveda are different from those of modern medicine. I couldn’t have understood them without the guidance of your revered father, Sri Raghavan Thirumulpad. Take, for example, the treatment of diseases. Modern medicine seeks the cause of a disease such as bacterium, virus or parasite and tries to eliminate it. Ayurveda also recognizes causes (nidana), but they alone cannot produce diseases. According to Ayurveda, health is synonymous with a state of equilibrium (samya) of dhatus and doshas in the body. Only when that equilibrium is weakened or broken can causes produce diseases. Therefore, Ayurvedic treatment focuses on strengthening the equilibrium in the body so that causes cannot operate.

5. What, according to you, is the relevance today of traditional knowledge systems in the new global context? Also what are the major challenges that lie before a country like India?

• The discovery of causes especially bacteria and their elimination revolutionised the treatment of infectious diseases in the twentieth century. But as infectious diseases came under control and people began living up to 60 or 70 years, non-communicable diseases appeared and became major problems. They included atherosclerosis, cancer, degenerative diseases and so on which had no single cause – in fact cause was unknown often. The earlier and successful strategy of eliminating the cause was no longer possible in the treatment of these diseases. In these areas the world is looking to traditional systems such as Ayurveda for possible help. The challenge for India is how to integrate the old and the new systems synergistically for the benefit of patients.

6. On the significance of Ayurvedic Biology Program?

• Ayurveda is our traditional medicine just as Ganita is our traditional mathematics. In our Ayurvedic Biology program, we look at Ayurvedic concepts and procedures through the instruments of modern biology which has unprecedented tools to examine cells, DNA and life processes. These tools make it possible today to address questions such as: do vata, pitta, kapha prakritis have characteristic patterns at the level of DNA? What happens to the natural breakage of DNA in ageing when rasayanas are taken? There are many such questions. Their study would open a new vista in biological sciences based on cues from Ayurveda.

7. What is your philosophy of life?

• Have a purpose and work for it whole-heartedly and joyously; don’t take oneself too seriously, the world will go on fine without me!

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