The Weekend Leader - Holistic health

A week at Kottakal makes her not just a healthier person but an enlightened one

Syeda Hameed   |   Kottakal


Vol 4 | Issue 28

Dr Syeda Hameed, Member Planning, Commission, had often heard about the Ayurvedic treatments rendered at the Arya Vaidya Sala in Kerala.

While she had had a chance to visit their branch dispensary in Kozhikode, she wanted to see what the main hospital, which was established way back in 1902 by legendary Ayurvedic doctor, P.S. Varier, had to offer.

Ready to surrender to a regimen of massages, prolonged yoga, mud baths, meditation she headed towards the small village of Kottakal in Malappuram district, but the sight that greeted her on arrival was nothing like she had imagined.

Discover a whole new side of ‘rejuvenation therapy’ in this excerpt.

Health was the only mantra at Kottakal (Photos: WFS)

Over the years, I had often heard about the Ayurvedic treatment at Kottakal in Malappuram District of Kerala. Several years ago, in Kozhikode, I had visited their branch dispensary.

After the free consultation, they gave well reasoned advice but did not push their treatment or medicines. At the time, I could not visit their main hospital – the Arya Vaidya Sala.

Now, I decided that it was time to conduct an experiment on myself. I expected a busy routine – a regimen of massages, prolonged yoga, mud baths, meditation. So I apportioned one week to this experiment.

Kottakal is a small village that has become world-famous for the Arya Vaidya Sala established in 1902 by a legendary Ayurvedic doctor, P.S. Varier. Dr Varier (1869-1944) had studied Ayurveda under a great Ashtavaidya, Brahmashri Kuttanchery Vasudevan.

He had also acquired sound allopathic knowledge from Dewan Bahadur Verghese, renowned physician and surgeon. The Vaidya Sala was originally established for the manufacture and supply of medicines. This was done in strict accordance with authentic texts, while insisting on purity and quality.

Today, it has become a hospital with four buildings in one campus as well as branches all over Kerala and other parts of the country. It has herbal gardens in many parts of Kerala where medicinal plants are grown.

It took a couple of hours from Kozhikode to reach Malappuram District. On the way, I picked up two friends who had decided to come along for what they called ‘rejuvenation therapy’ from Karripur Airport.

The sight that greeted me on arrival was nothing like I had imagined. I always find Kerala a feast for the eyes. My eyes were accustomed to backwaters, houseboats, trees growing out of the water, banana and coconut groves and meadows, all against the silver grey of the Arabian Sea.

What I saw here were neat blocks of buildings clustered around a narrow, open courtyard. It did not resemble the Kerala tourism images splashed on huge hoardings all the way from Kochi.

I saw my friends look surprised and somewhat disappointed. We realized that this was no glamorous enclave for the so-called rejuvenation therapy. Kottakal was a hospital – a regular functioning hospital.

The hospital attendants showed me to my room. It was sparsely furnished; bare floor, bed, table, no lamp, naked walls. I was finally and totally alone with myself.

I recalled the lines Yeats: ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing/ A tattered coat upon a stick’. I thought of my body as ageing, a decrepit frame that had to be put in order within these spartan surroundings, as also my clogged mind, a container overflowing with dispensable facts. The thought of facing my self for seven solitary days and nights was daunting.

My treatment began with a small pooja (prayer ceremony), an essential part of the healing.

The treatment itself was a combination of shirodhara, body massage and a herbal poultice for the joints. Shirodhara is the steady trickle of oil through a hole in an earthen pot held over the head for one whole hour.

The body massage is a process whereby six persons work on one, first, with bare hands, then with pieces of cloth dipped in warm oil and applied over the pain spots.

The poultice is a warm paste of herbs and ingredients mixed in milk and applied to a strip of cloth which is placed over pain spots.

It struck me that every part of the treatment required the human touch; it gave the body great comfort. Even if it was momentarily painful, its end result was comfort. It also struck me that modern medicine has very little room for the human touch.

I discovered that the three hospital blocks were full to capacity with people from seventeen countries.

With very few exceptions, most had come with families; everyone was encouraged to bring a companion. The rooms were equipped with small kitchens, and stoves were made available on request.

Wives had accompanied husbands for treatment and vice versa. Young men were there with elderly mothers; mothers with sick children, people in wheelchairs, and people in walkers; women, men and children suffering from severe and medium-level handicaps.

That one heals better in the presence of one’s loved ones is becoming a well-accepted theory all over the world.

Several patients were from West Asia. Elderly Arab women patients were there, fully veiled.

When I said ‘Salaam’ to them, they replied from behind their veils. In the lifts, I heard Arabic spoken; young couples from the Gulf talked animatedly while wheeling their elderly parents for the daily treatment routine.

Rediscovering rejuvenation: Shirodhara is the steady trickle of oil through a hole in an earthen pot held over the head for one whole hour.

I spent my seven days observing the people who had collected at Kottakkal in quest of health. In the Vaidya Sala, health was the only mantra. But there were no quick solutions.

Healing had to do with the food one ate, and water one drank, the long periods when one sat back without being intensely preoccupied with anything but idle thoughts.

I had to let myself flow with the rhythm of the place and rid my mind of its daily clutter. I did something I never did in Delhi. On a tiny screen, I watched two excellent Malayalam films minus dubbing and subtitles; my sensibilities were sharpened, so I really did not need language.

The two friends I had picked from the airport returned home after a day’s treatment because they did not find the ‘rejuvenation therapy’ they were looking for, which is advertised as Kerala’s USP.

It was not to be found in places like Kottakkal, which are only interested in holistic health.

Today, I feel stronger and more confirmed in my faith in the efficacy of our indigenous systems of medicine – a science we call ‘alternative’ and sometimes think of as quackery.

It is time to take a deep and serious look at our traditional systems of health; or will we only do it when the Western world sys they are good for us?

(Excerpted from Beautiful Country – Stories from Another India by Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda; Published by Harper Collins; Pp: 365; Price: Rs 399.) - Women's Feature Service

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