We often seek complex solutions to simple problems.This is especially true in the case of the healthcare industry since there are established institutions, specialist physicians and complicated procedures to diagnose diseases. Unaffordable costs and lack of medical resources force us to seek a way out of the present malaise plaguing the not-so-rich public. Here is a man who blended the traditional knowledge of Ayurveda with Gandhi’s ideals and offers the mix to those who seek a worthy alternative medical service.
Ayurveda (the oldest branch of knowledge dealing with health tips for the protection of life), describes three humours (Vata, Pitha and Kapha) corresponding to three bodily functions (movement, transformation and storage), the Panchamahabhutas (five elements of air,space,fire, water and earth) acting upon them, the seven tissues and the three malas or excretions from the body. Vitiation in the three humours will upset the body and lead to diseases. To correct it, Ayurveda emphasises maintaining a positive attitude of mind and a healthy body through following a strict diet regime and exercise.When I learned about this simple as well as holistic concept of health,I had a desire to meet a real practitioner of such a mode of treatment sprouted in me. I was impressed by a recent interview featuring Vaidyabhooshanam Raghavan Thirumulpad.As he belongs to a rare species of physicians, I arranged to visit him. Now nearing 90, he lives in a modest house in Chalakudi, Kerala,with his family. Clad in khadi cloth,he looked frail. But his eyes were sharp and alert, reflecting an intelligent and active mind. With the help of his son, he narrated the story of how he learned Ayurveda:
“It was accidental. My family was poor. Being the eldest,the onus of looking after my family members fell on me. I didn’t get a proper job after graduating from school in 1937. For the next two years, I tutored school children.Meanwhile, I learned Sanskrit philosophy and mathematics. I got a clerical job with the Indian Railways in Madras. After a year, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. As I didn’t respond well to treatment and medication, I was brought back home”.
“My neighbour and guru, Venkitachala Iyer, took me to VasudevanNambeeshan for TB treatment.Amazingly, I got cured. As per Iyer’s direction, I chose Nambeeshan as my guru to learn Ayurveda.I lived with his family, cooked their food, and slowly studied Ayurveda.I did help his children in studies.And the guru taught me at night when he was free.”
Traumatic childhood days—his mother sold milk to feed her six children—and the need to learn tough subjects at an early age sharpened his intellect and developed his knowledge.
“As I had sound knowledge of Sanskrit and other related subjects, it was easy for me to ingest Ayurveda. I learnt Ashtanga Hridaya in four years. Then I passed the Vaidyabhushanam examination, conducted by the then Cochin Government, in 1949. And I got registration as an A-class medical practitioner.”
His life, after learning Ayurveda, underwent a metamorphosis. “It was the period of the Independence Movement. I was attracted to Gandhian ideals.” Gandhi’s principles of trusteeship and Sarvodaya shaped his world view. Instead of treating diseases with money, hospitals and drugs, he aimed at motivating people to take care of their own health by helping them discover ‘the doctor within’.
Shri Thirumulpad’s treatment style is known for its simplicity and he was easily accessible to the downtrodden. Following his guru’s advice, he practised from his home and used only those herbs available in his neighbourhood for treatment. “From my home, I have practised Ayurveda for the past 50 years.” Though he suffers from age-related problems, people from all walks of life still visit him to get a glimpse of that gem. While some come for treatment or counselling, others just want to express their gratitude and respect.
Shri Thirumulpad has written numerous books, articles, and pamphlets on Ayurveda, health, and religion. He writes not only for others but also for his own pleasure. He emphasises that regular exercise for the mind, as for the body, is a must. “I also teach students Sanskrit and Ayurveda without charging fees.” Often, students’ doubts cause him to write on such topics. The highlight of his work, whether it is writing or methodical explanations, is simplicity and clarity.
Shri Thirumulpad’s commentaries on Ashtanga Hridaya bear testimony to his endless search for knowledge in novel ways. For his contributions to the field of Ayurveda, the Kerala Government has honoured him with awards for the best practitioner and the best science writer. To hold on in the face of tough competition from other systems of medicine, Ayurveda has been experimenting with different ways and it imitates modern medicine to fit in the foot of the present century. Raghavan Thirumulpad’s views on this evolution are pragmatic. “Even in ancient times, there were timely developments and some major inventions too. Without timely industrialisation Ayurveda could not have survived. No industry can survive without profit. There are ethical issues which need to be sorted out. A well-known proverb in Sanskrit says: ‘satyaanritam tu vanijyam’’ (“Business is a mix of good and bad”). There should be enough measures to check unethical practices”. Having complete faith in Ayurveda, he perceives no threat to it from modern developments.
“The removal or controlling of the causative factors is the core of Ayurvedic treatment. Modern medicine doesn’t subscribe to this logic. Ayurvedic practitioners do it by prescribing strict pathya (corrective lifestyle and food) to which modern medicine is allergic.’’
“Vinapi bheshajairvaydhih pahtyenaiva nivartate na hi pathayvihinasya bheshajanam satairapi” (If a person follows strict pathya, he will be cured even without medicines. But without pathya, there is no hope even if he takes hundreds of medicines.) Shri Thirumulpad stressed that Ayurveda has a strong scientific base as it evolved through experimentation and experiences of centuries.
“It is still being corroborated thorough clinical experiments. Even validation can give something new to Ayurveda. In fact, research is ‘re-search’. Delving into what is hidden in our texts will nourish Ayurveda. Classical Ayurvedic texts are rich in theories and practices. Hence the need for innovations is less. “Acceptable factors from modern medicine can also be incorporated,” he said.
On the future of this ancient medicine system, he said: “Only Ayurveda will survive the challenge of times as, basically, the theories are broad-based and sustainable. Systematic learning, understanding and propagation of [scientific] Ayurveda will protect it from corruption during such transformation”.
His message to the young generation was: “The system (sastra) is maintained by learning well (adheeti), understanding to the core (bodha), righteous conduct (achara) and propagating the science among the public and Ayurveda practitioners (paracharana). It is the onus of the young generation to carry out the mission according to the times”.
Shri Thirumulpad has proved that Ayurveda’s way of handling the vast knowledge in harmony with Gandhi’s principles is beneficial to the public. He has recognised that Gandhi’s call to the people to live in tune with nature reaffirmed the value of Ayurvedic principles.
No doubt, he reached the zenith by blending his knowledge on the basics of Ayurveda with high-level thinking and experiences he has had from his own life. It requires an extraordinary mind to recognise this unity.
Without doubt, it could be said that his is the mind of Ayurveda.