‘As such classical Ayurveda is shrinking. Not because people don’t want it but because it is not properly placed in the public mind.’
‘Health is more and more becoming a commodity to be purchased. Whereas in Ayurveda, it is held that health is a way of life.’
‘Ayurveda is not only evolving, it is also changing. It is also growing. At the same time there are lot of challenges being faced within Ayurveda.’
Ayurvedic expert Dr G G Gangadharan on how the ancient Indian medical practice needs to be propagated in the country of its origin.
In India, scholars who work with boundless passion devoting their life to field have the grievance that New Delhi rarely takes a correct view of them or their issues. Dr G G Gangadharan, (below left) 54, is a joint director of the Institute Ayurveda and Integrative Medicines. He and Darshan Shankar, one of the co-founders of Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions are brilliant scholars, are not heard in New Delhi as much as they should be.
Just recently there was a huge hue and cry when former health minister Harsh Vardhan commented that Ayurveda treatment should be used more at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. A few doctors in New Delhi complained, out of ignorance, that the Ayurveda prescriptions have to be first tested in a proper scientific format.
The fact is neither Vardhan, nor the Prime Minister’s Office, or the health ministry, or most of the doctors practising allopathy are aware of or ready to acknowledge the huge work that is being done at FRLHT and at few other Ayurvedic institutions outside the national capital for the last two decades.
The New Delhi elite’s ignorance in recognising Ayurveda as a viable option for the common man’s health issues is not surprising in view of the powerful lobbyists of national and multinational pharmaceuticals companies. The anti-Ayurvedic lobby all over India is so strong that it simply doesn’t allow a public debate on Ayurveda to be elevated to the next level where the common man could find the system scientifically trustworthy.
In interviews to rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt, Bangalore-based Darshan Shankar and Dr Gangadharan speak strongly in support of Ayurveda. The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that rides on the nationalist plank has a bigger responsibility to take up issues like Ayurveda. The ancient science of life needs a push to become as international as yoga.
Dr Gangadharan is known to have expertise in Panchkarma, Lepanam and infertility treatment and on authentic Ayurvedic methods of diagnosis -- specially pulse diagnosis and treatment. Dr Gangadharan is a soft-spoken Malayali who has studied in Tamil Nadu and now works in Karnataka. He and Shankar's life mission is to take local health traditions to the grassroots level in rural and urban India.
After getting a degree in Ayurveda, Dr Gangadharan worked in Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore. He has done extensive work in making traditional Ayurvedic formulations -- classical and proprietary. Dr Gangadharan has also co-authored many books on medicinal plants and has more than dozen research papers to his credit. He has been an Ashoka Fellow too. He has done his PhD in rheumatoid arthritis from the Tilak Ayurveda Vidyapeeth, Pune.
In this detailed interview Dr Gangadharan says why India needs a national movement to ensure that Ayurveda reaches every home in the country.
From American President Barack Obama to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a national health policy remains an unresolved challenge. Tell us where the Ayurveda industry stands in the Indian landscape today.
Ayurveda is the science of healing and rejuvenation. Its scope is beyond the physical existence of life. So, from the perspective of industry, it is a small, minute part of Ayurveda. In 2013-14, the income of the Ayurveda industry was only Rs 9,000 crore -- that is, people bought Rs 9,000 crore worth of Ayurveda products. But if you add extracts, drugs, cosmetics and health-related herbal products, it may go up further.
But as such classical Ayurveda is shrinking. Not because people don’t want it but because it is not properly placed in the public mind. Also because there are few carriers for this system who are able to carry this heavy science in a contemporary mode. Anyone who is working in the area of Ayurveda knows it is a science of the 21st century and beyond, is not at all an ancient system because the science is universal, and it has got a great outlook which comprises all time to come. It is written in such a way that it is applicable to any given time and any given geography.
What’s the challenge then?
All the principles of Ayuerveda are based on universal principles like heat and cold, five sense organs, pancham elements, these are all universal, will never change. Fire, air, sky, light etc were there 5,000 years back, they are there today. Only the form is changing, not the principle. So the challenge of our physicians today is how do you change the form of Ayurveda without distorting its principles.
Health is becoming more and more a commodity to be purchased. Whereas in Ayurveda it is held that health is a way of life, it has to be inculcated, it is a culture. This means strengthening the person and you are making the person self-reliant more and more. You are not taking away anything from him. Now people think that for everything they have to consult a doctor.
From a small toothache, headache, pimple, stomach upset, constipation, scratch on the skin, indigestion, for every little thing people are depending on doctors. This was not the case at all in India. It is not needed also. It is not advisable and it is not healthy. There is a way to live a healthy life. To do so one should gain some knowledge, this will keep your primary healthcare needs within the house. This was the culture of this country.
We have been doing this since the last generation, it’s not a very old thing. Now we have a Western ethos-centric worldview. Now we think that health can be purchased. It’s untrue. It can’t be. Longevity cannot be purchased, it has to be inculcated.
It is a culture, it is a way of life. For that Ayurveda gives suggestions on how to live healthy. Not only physical health, it talks about emotional health, spiritual health, it talks about the connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the man and the biosphere. All this is part of Ayurveda.
In India, Ayurveda has been practised as a home remedy for centuries. There is a big transaction happening within the family, within the village, community, which does not reflect in the turnover of Ayuerveda industry so don’t confuse Ayurveda with the industry's income alone. Ayurveda is the oil I apply on my head, the way I eat my food, the way my food habits are. This is all Ayurveda, this is what keeps me healthy. This will not come to the industry’s net.
What I mean to say is that the industry has also got a role. I don’t deny the role of industry, the role of hospital, the role of the practitioner, but there is more of a role for individual themselves in keeping the health. That is the science of Ayurveda.
When I was studying Ayurveda for seven years, I studied Sanskrit and Indian philosophy for two years. Then, we went to the jungles to understood nature. I got into spreading Ayurveda in Indian villages. We formed a group called the Lok Swasthya Parampara Samvardhan Samiti and I spent 25 years with them. That is my nurturing period.
Then between that I became an Ashoka Fellow. They wanted to take Ayurveda to the village to give a model of primary healthcare based on Ayurveda. It can be done. In 2003, I came to Bangalore to start this hospital. I don’t have a goal. I have a vision to spread Ayurveda globally.
I also did a management course in McGill University, Canada. The Foundation for the Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions is engaged fully in spreading awareness of Ayuerveda.
Indian insurance companies don’t acknowledge Ayurveda as a science. What are the attempts made by your institution and why has it not been done yet?
Last year, fortunately, insurance companies recognised Ayurveda and there are at least four-five companies who are ready to accept it. We are already getting reimbursed. Now we are trying for cashless transactions as allowed in modern science. The only thing is that the insurance regulation authority does not have clarity among its many agencies.
In a village, where they are giving a treatment for Rs 5, a hospital in Delhi will be charging Rs 5,000 for the same treatment. What is to be charged is not clarified because it is not in the mainstream. It will take four-five years to understand. Once insurance companies start reimbursing, a lot of other players will come out. There will be many quacks who will raise a bill for Panchkarma without actually applying it. Insurance companies want to bring in some kind of restriction so that the cover is not misutilised by people.
It is a shame that Ayurveda is getting insurance cover so late, after 63 years of independence. Last year a notification was issued, it’s in the government’s system. It says Ayurveda should be covered by insurance companies but it is limited to government Ayurveda hospitals and the National Rural Heath Mission accredited hospitals, and they have put one more line in the notification saying ‘other reputed hospitals’. It is very vague, so anyone can claim. Now, everyone will have to struggle to get into that ‘reputed’ bracket.
The more shameful thing is that employees of the department of defence, railways and banks cannot get Ayurvedic treatment. Former defence minister A K Antony is a follower of Ayurveda. I know his personal physician Dr Namboodri who has been treating him for years. He himself went to Antony in Delhi and pleaded, 'Sir, I came only for this purpose to meet you, otherwise you come to meet me but I came to meet you to request, please take Ayurveda as one of the systems for the defence personnel because they are asking for it.' As defence minister he didn’t do anything. Such a person who is devoted to Ayurveda didn’t do anything. Why is there such a mindset for Ayurveda? Why?
The reason is that they have to make some effort. When you take Ayurveda you have to make so many parallel systems. Dr M S Swaminathan, who helped bring the green revolution to India, is a devotee of Ayurveda. He doesn’t miss the one-month treatment at the Kottakkal Ayurvedashalya every year for the last so many years.
I was with him recently in Delhi in a meeting for the South East-Asian nutrition summit. He is 89 years old, and brimming with energy. His eyelids have become whitish but his face is shining and robust. I asked him what is the secret and he smiled and told me credit goes to Kottakkal. In a country like India, we should have a model of integrative medicine based on Ayurveda.
Ayurveda should be at the centre, you mean?
Yes. Other things should be peripheral. We take appropriate things from modern medicine where we need it. This is the model a country like India and China should have. They can have a Chinese medicine-based integrative mode. India should have an Ayurveda based integrative model. The US should have an allopathy based integrative model, no harm. But we don’t take leadership in health issues.
Even if you do lot about Ayurveda, the problem is that people who are committed for the cause are not in the realm of power. The department of Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy is there in New Delhi (Note: After this interview was conducted, the government upgraded it to a ministry). Every three years the secretary of Ayush changes. He is a bureaucrat who doesn’t have any idea. By the time he learns something about Ayurveda, it will be time for him to leave the department. And many a time people are so arrogant they have no value for the Indian system.
They do not propagate Ayurveda. Last year, can you believe that just one or two per cent of the total health budget was given to Ayush! The last secretary of Ayush has returned crores of rupees from his budget without putting it to good use. Not even a single person stands up in New Delhi and tells him this is not done. There is lethargy, there is no responsibility. The Ayurveda community is sleeping.
S Jalaja, secretary, Ayush, had recently shown a devotion for Ayurveda. She spent all the money and asked for more. She went to the field and took a genuine interest.
Is the Ayurveda industry growing?
Ayurveda is not only evolving, it is also changing. It is also growing. At the same time there are lot of challenges being faced within Ayurveda. One of the big challenges faced by Ayurveda is education. The education of Ayurveda is a big catastrophe. Reason is that the model we have selected as in any other development sector is the Western model.
The MBBS course is for five and a half years. Ayurveda is also five and a half years. They changed it to three semesters and we changed it to three semesters. They made one-year internship, we made one year, too. They made six-month internship, we made six-month internship. They have nine departments, we have nine. They have got 65 staff, we have got 65. What shameless copying!
Have you ever thought that Ayurveda has got its own pedigree? At least have one experimental model. Ayurveda has to be taught in an entirely different perspective. You cannot break Ayurveda into different departments. Ayurveda is a holistic tradition and it is written in a way that every chapter is inter-connected. Every shloka is connected. The whole book is to be read in its holistic perspective to understand Ayurveda. You mutilate, one part is learnt in the first year, other part in the third year, students who come out of the Ayurveda course are the biggest enemies of Ayurveda because they don’t know Ayurveda.
They want to practise allopathy actually. They want to get to allopathy through the backdoor. There are good people who want to practise Ayurveda but they are a minority, they are the ones who are spreading the awareness. Ayurveda is growing in villages.
Ayurveda is growing through good old Ayurveda practitioners in isolated places. All good vaidyas have a good practice. People are coming to them. The sad thing is that this is not being recorded or documented. If you document, they will become world winners.
Everyone is going with a begging bowl to America that, please accept Ayurveda as a science, please consider us too. Stop it. You do a good job in your country, establish a centre of excellence, document the cases, publish in some good journals, all the people will come to you. Everyone wants Ayurveda.
How will you do that?
Where do you go? The government is insensitive. People will force the government one day.
In the US herbal medicines were accepted by the government because the people forced them. You can import medicinal herbal products provided you don’t declare them as medicines. If you can have scientific record of it as a food supplement you can import in the US. It opened a big market for it. This is the first time Ayurvedic herbs went from India. You have to work like that.
We are documenting the cases being treated by vaidyas in a proper format which is universally accepted. If I get a case of hepatitis B virus infected liver we do tests, do the treatment, take all the documents, treat it, get it signed by the patient and by the doctor who treated it and publish it. People will come to you.
Ayurveda takes the man as a whole. Treat the man as a whole, take the herb as a whole. That is what Ayurveda says. Take the man as a whole, not only physical man, but the entire man. Soul and body. In tune with the external universe. And take the herb as a whole. No as a bio molecule. When you take a molecule, the synergy is lost. When synergy is lost, it will have side effects. Ayurvedic medicines do not have side effects because it is acting and it is correcting and balancing.
So if you take triphala today, I can guarantee you 95 per cent, get a good motion tomorrow morning, no doubt. Five per cent people may not get, there is a reason I can explain. I will change the dose. And while doing it, it will not harm your system. If you take any purgative of modern science, it will make your system die. You will get stomach upset, stomach cramps.
So we say Ayurveda is medicine with intelligence. Modern medicine is like a bullet. Just go forth and kill. Whatever is on the path. It is a beautiful concept. But this is not an easy thing. Every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot become a practitioner. Unless he goes through the stream of education which Ayurveda is propounding.
Don’t you think Ayurveda tourism has a big role to play in earning foreign exchange?
It is already happening. There are two kinds of Ayurveda tourism happening. My colleagues has done a study. Rs 23,000 crore is the income of one simple state like Kerala last year from tourism. In that 40 per cent according to him is due to Ayurveda. Some of them are going to good established wellness centres. Most of them are going to some good curative centres like Kottakkal or the Coimbatore Ayurvedic Pharmacy and other small places.
Do you have hope that the new government will act?
We have big hopes because Modi is supposed to be more nationalistic, more patriotic, more traditional etc. I would say the new government should look into Ayurveda education. We can’t change overnight because there will be resistance.
I would say let us have one or two Indian Institute of Technology-level institutions for Ayurveda. That will be a good investment. Give them seven-year course. Assure them of good outcome after that. Brilliant students should be taken with a good scholarship. Those people should become the ambassadors of Ayurveda. They will become good clinicians, good researchers, good teachers. This is what we need. Once it is done, that seed will grow. Start with one IIT-level institution for Ayurveda.
Do we have good Ayurvedic products?
Yes, we have. These are classical preparations. Since 2000 years we are making them in the same way. Only changes we are making is that we are concentrating it a little more so that it can reach people, and we are adding some kind of preservatives. That much distortion is there. But it is okay, it is understandable.
Some of our products are good. It has to be very closely examined. Most of the Ayurvedic shampoos have 97 per cent chemicals, only three per cent herbs. People use it thinking it is Ayurvedic shampoo. So you should categorise when you use the name Ayurveda as to what is the criteria you should use.
In Kerala not only Brahmins even Ezhavas helped Ayurveda grow. In Kerala everybody has contributed to Ayurveda science. It’s one of the richest places in India in terms of biodiversity. One of the earliest documentation of flora in 17th century was done here. Some 750 plants were documented which are still available. This came in 12 volumes of books. The first documentation of Kerala’s heritage in terms of Ayurvedic practice was done by the Portuguese.
In Bangalore, we have documented 8,000 plants. We have recorded all the secondary sources available in the country. We have the richest and most comprehensive database with all information on the 8,000 plants. It’s all digitised. All the 8,000 names are botanical variation names. And we have correlated all that information from public practice to the textual references.
Give us some dos and dont’s for urban people to lead a healthy life.
That is very difficult to say. Brahma muhurta is for people seeking better health and longevity. They should get up early in the morning. Brahma muhurtam can be described as between 4 and 4.30 or 5 and 5.30 am. That is the best time. All the ozone layer is clear, the atmosphere is clear and we can get very good oxygen. All the surrounding area is calm.
Your mind can expand. You can concentrate. And it says that not only getting up early is important; make sure that the previously eaten food is digested well. Don’t be dogmatic. You should have an early dinner so digestion will be proper. At night one should not take heavy food.
What’s your suggestion for those who are addicted to mobiles, internet and computers?
There are two-three things for them. Eat food of all tastes, don’t restrict to one. So select such food which has all the six tastes but according to the changing weather. If it is summer take more sweet, in winter a little sour is okay. Sweet is necessary too. Sweet is not sugar, it is ghee. Sweet is rice, wheat, starch. Starch with fibre is the most stable food one should have in larger quantity for more nourishment.
So, the first thing is take all the six tastes -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and stringent. These are six tastes, you should have all these in your food. Variety is recommended. Second thing is ardhashaktya, that you take only half the food that your system, stomach wants. Take half food, one-fourth fill with water and leave one-fourth for gaseous exchange. Never keep a full stomach.
Third, exercise is a must. Every day you should walk. Walking is the best vyayam. Walking and swimming everyday helps. Fourth, have balance. Not going to the extremes is helpful. Don’t take extreme views of anything. Don’t be mauni, neither be talkative, don’t be angry, don’t go cold. Have a middle path so that everything is balanced, including your health.
Balance is the essence of Ayurveda. Inside the body, metal, nature... everything has to be in equilibrium. Ayurveda greatly recommends body massage everyday. If you can do with your own hand, it is considered best. And take a bath after massage so blood circulation is well maintained, everyday. Blood circulation is the starting point for healthy longevity. Two things Ayurveda says to be done everyday: vyayayam, exercise, and abhyangam, oil massage.
These two things with six varieties of food will make you healthy. Sleep on time, getting up on time is good, always. This is all physical health. But it gives more importance to mental and spiritual health. What it says through a shloka is that being empathetic about things happening around you is good for your own. If someone is in difficulty, feel for him and try to help. Don’t be greedy, just leave it for others. Control your body, the desires of your body. Control your weight, control your mind. This is the starting point of all illness.
One should only control, not stop. Control means not putting it down, not abandoning, just directing it. Have a selfish motive in others' prosperity. You take a selfish interest in others' things. If you follow these, your mind will be in a state of great peace. If you can get this state of mind, all other positive energy will come to you. This is told in health science. Not in psychology.
The first chapter of the first part of Ashtanga Hrudayam, the comprehensive book on Ayurvedic system composed by Vagbhata, is about peace of mind. These are two things we have to have. It doesn’t say that you go and sit under tree and do prayer to God. It says you help your community, your fellow beings. Be one with them. Then you’ll reach God.