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Dr A.R. Ramdas reads the pulse of a patient

Finger on the pulse: When a vaidya comes home

Jyoti Pande Lavakare

Published: Apr. 04, 2024
Updated: Apr. 05, 2024

Recently, I had the opportunity of organizing a one-off outpatient consultation event in Delhi for an Ayurvedic hospital based near Coimbatore. I thought facilitating the healing journey of other suffering souls would be a good gesture.

So, I co-opted Dr A.R. Ramdas, my vaidya from Vaidyagrama, the healing village in Thirumalayampalayam that I’ve been going to for the past three years, to agree to see a few patients. And thus, I began on another journey of learning.

Dr Ramdas had been chosen to mentor students of the Rashtriya Ayurveda Vidyapeeth (RAV), an autonomous organization under the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India. He was going to be in Delhi for an RAV convocation.

At first, I informed a few friends who I knew were going through health issues and were open to trying Ayurveda about Dr Ramdas’s availability for consultation. Then, I decided to also share this information with my neighbourhood Resident Welfare Association (RWA) group.

Within six hours, I received 23 responses. Realizing that Dr Ramdas wouldn’t be able to fit in so many patients after his seminar ended on both days, I persuaded him to stay an extra day. As soon as he agreed, I shared a Calendly online invitation with the interested parties. The slots filled up fast.

Very quickly, I realized a few things: First, that people don’t have the patience to read and their ability to follow instructions is poor. They don’t like filling forms, however short, or documenting medical issues. And many still don’t like making digital payments.

More importantly, I realized that even highly educated, intelligent people have all sorts of notions about Ayurveda, ranging from blind belief to extreme scepticism.

Scepticism is okay even if it is extreme so long as it is accompanied by an open and receptive mind. It was those at the blind belief end of the spectrum I was more concerned with. There was, for example, a lady who declined to share any of her medical details because she was sure that all the Ayurvedic doctor had to do was to feel her pulse to be able to divine everything that was wrong with her.

“A vaidyaji has been coming to my house for years, since my childhood. Don’t worry, I don’t need to share any details with your vaidya. He will simply feel my pulse and understand everything,” she said to me when I asked her to fill in her basic medical details in a form.

When I tried to impress upon her the importance of giving her medical background to the doctor, she told me half-playfully and half-patronizingly that I didn’t know how Ayurveda works.

From an initial phone conversation with her, I had understood she was bedridden. Although I didn’t know the reason — neurological, physiological, orthopaedic or other ailments — I felt that the more information she shared with the vaidya, the better he would be able to diagnose and treat her. To not divulge health information to the person treating you seemed to me just plain wrong. Vaidyas are doctors, not magicians.

In her case I would be driving Dr Ramdas to her home. It was close by, but the consultation would take double the time it would for patients who were coming to the makeshift OPD in my home. Vaidyas need as much information as any other doctor, even though the nature of that information may be different, and they rely more on intuition, experience and knowledge than blood reports and diagnostic tests.

But it wasn’t just her. And it wasn’t just the issue of full disclosure. What was troubling was the superficial understanding of this ancient science of healing that people seemed to be afflicted with — an understanding seen through the lens of Western medicine, its definitions and protocols than of Ayurveda itself.

Unlike conventional Western medicine, Ayurveda doesn’t treat human bodies homogeneously, with standard medicines for standard diseases or symptoms. That’s why this sudden burst of people self-prescribing ashwagandha to reduce stress and anxiety, brahmi for memory, triphala for laxative purgation, guggulu for cholesterol management and chyavanprash for building immunity can end up in harm for themselves. Thinking it safe, people probably self-prescribe Ayurvedic medicines more than any other medicines in India — and then blame Ayurveda, not themselves, when things go wrong. Ayurvedic medicines are safe only under the supervision of a trained vaidya.

As Dr Ramkumar Kutty, one of the founders of Vaidyagrama, says, differentiating between cure and healing, “Ayurveda is not about a temporary suppression of a problem. It is about healing, about the body-mind complex, creating a paradigm shift that allows the natural intelligence of the human body to act.” 

Healing, according to Ayurveda, is internal, a continuous process that doesn’t stop when you leave Vaidyagrama or any Ayurvedic hospital after panchakarma treatment. The treatment just kickstarts the process by removing imbalances and rebalancing the doshas that are responsible for that ailment.

However, the patient has to continue the discipline of Vaidyagrama even after leaving. Deriving from the Charakha Samhita, Ayurveda’s foundational compendium, Vaidyagrama believes, “Health is a state of bio-physical and physiological well-being, and a contented state of consciousness, senses and mind.” Over the weeks of my first admission at Vaidyagrama, it had become very clear to me that the vaidyas there believed that disease is a spiritual experience and fear its biggest lock.

Not everyone understands this when they seek Ayurvedic treatment, especially for chronic issues. When people ask for panchakarma, they usually anticipate oil massages in scented rooms on soft white towels sprinkled with frangipani flowers. This is what advertising visuals at luxury hotel spas have led them to expect.

Authentic panchakarma is a messier business. It includes vasti (medicated and herbal enemas), vamana (therapeutic emesis inducing vomiting), virechana (therapeutic purgation), nasya (nasal medication) and rakta-moksha (blood-letting). These are cleansing treatments that aim to remove toxins from the body to allow it to rebalance and heal. You can't expect massages or some gulikas and kashayams (pills and potions) to magically heal ailments. Lifestyle changes are needed.

Over the past six years of closer contact with this unique system of healing I have learnt so much more — not just by experience but also by reading and through intense periods of oral communication at my annual retreats at Vaidyagrama. Intimate daily afternoon sessions with different vaidyas with just a dozen or so patients taught me much beyond these basics.

In an age of instant gratification people expect immediate relief from pills, potions and surgeries; an ancient healing system that goes to the root of the problem and tries to heal and ease, seems to be becoming popularly misunderstood. More people may be developing an appetite for Ayurvedic treatments, but should they be settling for a quick-fix type of ‘McAyurveda’ rather than the real thing?


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