KERALA AYURVEDA AND OTHER TRADITIONAL HEALING PRACTICES
Kerala’s Ayurveda has acquired worldwide acclaim as a natural and holistic health system. The geographical condition and the availability of variety of medicinal plants and herbs made Kerala, the nerve centre of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine and treatment is based on the philosophy ‘Prevention is better than Cure’. It has a history of 5000 years of existence. The name Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Ayur’ which means ‘life or longevity’, and ‘Veda’ means ‘Science or Knowledge’. Hence Ayurveda can be called ‘the Science of Life’.
The principle of Ayurveda is that the human body is composed of three fundamental elements or ‘Tridoshas’ (Three Humours) – the Vatha, Pitha and Kapha. Vatha is Air, Pitha is Fire and Kapha is Water. The imbalance of these elements is the cause of illness. Ayurveda identifies these imbalances and helps to restore them to normal condition without any side effects. It not only helps to regain health of a diseased person but also to achieve ‘Perfect Health’.
The earlier medical practice prevailed in Kerala was based on Folks. Between the sixth and seventh century, the arrival of Vagbhata, an Ayurvedic physician from Sind, to Kerala in search of rare medicinal plants and herbs made a revolution in the medical culture of the State. The traditional medical practitioners adopted Vagbhata’s ‘Ashtanga Hridayam’ as the base of their medical system.
‘Ashtanga Hridayam’ is a text book on Ayurveda describing the root-causes of diseases, the treatment methods, the medicines and the life style requirements. Literally, ‘Ashtanga Hridayam’ means the heart of eight organs (Ashta means eight, Anga means organ and Hridayam means heart), or the branches of Ayurveda. They are kaya chikitsa (treating physique or body), bala chikitsa (pediatrics), griha chikitsa (psychiatry), urdhvanga chikitsa or shalakya tantra (eye, ear, nose and parts above neck), salya tantra (surgery), damsthra chikitsa (toxicology, like treating snake venom), jara chikitsa or rasayana chikitsa (rejuvenation therapy) and vrishya chikitsa or vajeekarana chikitsa (aphrodisiac therapy) .
Brahmin families practicing Ayurveda, who became masters in these eight branches were known as the ‘Ashta Vaidyas’. They were highly respected for their specialised treatments and dedication; and their knowledge were transmitted to the later generations maintaining the status of Ayurveda as a mainstream medical system and a part of Kerala culture.
Ayurveda treatment is long process, and the physical and mental co-operation of the patient is a factor in curing diseases. The life style and food habits should be changed to attain the optimum result. The medicines used in Ayurveda treatment are extracted from the nature. Leaves, roots and barks of herbs, animal products and natural minerals are used in the preparation. The accuracy in measurement of the ingredients in the preparation of medicines and the divinity of the practitioner are important factors in Ayurvedic treatment.
Kerala has a rich heritage of traditional healing practices other than Ayurveda. The extensive mountain ranges in the Western Ghats are rich reserves of bio-diversity, and many plants found there are of medicinal values. The tribal people or ‘adivasis’ living in these areas use these medicinal herbs for their treatment. Many of the tribal people have ample knowledge about these herbs, and their Folk Medicines and ‘Single Drug Remedy’ or ‘Ottamooli” for certain diseases are famous.