Coming of age of Ayurveda


THE ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda originated in India more than 6,000 years ago, yet only in recent years has it started to make impressive strides in Malaysia. Its late entry into Malaysia is surprising, given the relatively large Indian population in the country. 

Indeed, Malaysia lags behind some Western countries in embracing Ayurveda. In Hungary, for instance, licensed Ayurvedic medicines are sold over the counter. German doctors do prescribe Ayurvedic treatments and at least three colleges in Britain offer degree-level Ayurvedic courses. 

What is Ayurveda? Let’s take a look at the past, present and future of one of the fastest growing alternative medical treatments in the world. 

The origins: Ayurveda is considered anaadi (without a beginning) and apaurusheya (not created by man).  

Ancient texts give it a mythological origin. Once upon a time, there was a lot of misery on earth that caused people to suffer and neglect themselves spiritually and physically. This caused concern among the saints, who by virtue of their spiritual powers were the benefactors of a well-established society. They assembled to discuss a way to solve the malaise that was affecting their people. 

A representative was duly sent to The Creator, Brahma, the repository of all knowledge. He then imparted the knowledge of Ayurveda for the benefit of mankind. Hence began the chain of propagation from guru (teacher) to sishya (disciple). 

Millenniums later, in 2002, a similar scene that echoed the ancient Indian myth was witnessed when world leaders assembled for the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, seeking solutions for “hunger, human misery and incurable diseases.” Yet we are still discussing as the sages did then. Perhaps, this shows Ayurveda is as applicable today as in ancient times. 

Ayurveda is popularly defined as the “Indian Medical System.”  

This gives rise to two questions:  

1. Is it applicable to India and Indians only?  

2. Is it a mere medical system? 

Ayurveda has the sabda (voice) of Indian philosophies because it shares the ultimate aim of liberating the soul from samsara chakra, the cycle of mundane lives. It has the sparsa (touch) of the Indian lifestyle because of the recommended foods and habits. It has the gandha (smell) of Indian soil because the seasons, flora and fauna of India are its supreme influences. It has the rasa (taste) of the Indian culture because of its desa (place) and kaala (time) of origin and growth. 

But Ayurveda takes on the universal roopa (form) because it sees all beings as the subtle representation of the universe. And it is this universal application of its practical form that has been instrumental in helping this science to grow beyond the borders of India. 

Ayurveda is more than just a medical system. Based on strong foundations of scientific principles, it is able to treat both existing and future conditions. The names of diseases do not matter. It is the factors responsible for them that are easily understood and the diseases treated. 

Ayurveda is also a way of life. It explains the good and bad things in life, training you to reject the bad and accept what is good. 

All indigenous medical systems reflect strong connections with the lives, culture and climates of the country of their origin. Abundant natural resources such as plants, animals and minerals are used in their healing practices, and Ayurveda is one such system. 

Advantages and disadvantages: It has the ability to identify the pathogenesis of any disease at any one of its stages, of which there are six according to Ayurvedic science. It charts the progress of the disease from causative factors to full-blown manifestation. 

At every stage, there are symptoms that help in the understanding of the disease and its progress. Various remedial measures will be adopted, depending on its severity. Practitioners use the five purification treatments of Panchakarma which is akin to uprooting a tree, the disease or condition is removed so there will no relapses. 

The Ayurvedic way of life and its rejuvenating capabilities help a person remain healthy. Ayurveda sees the body as constituted of both pure and impure aspects. How these aspects are managed determines your quality of life, and Ayurveda claims to be able to dispose of the impure. 

Ayurvedic medicines are mainly herbal, and metal preparations are carefully processed to avoid toxicity. Properly administered, Ayurvedic medicine should not have any side-effects. 

While there is no immediate symptomatic relief compared to western medicine, Ayurvedic medicines work at the root cause, removing the pathological cause and eventually resulting in comparatively permanent relief. 

Ayurveda’s main disadvantage is its inability to manage medical emergencies such as surgery. Its lack of palatability, extended period of medication and slow acting properties do not work to its advantage either. 

Importance of diet: The food we consume is converted to essence, absorbed by the body to nourish its tissues, producing energy responsible for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The process is continuous and when uninterrupted, a state of equilibrium and good health exists. When interrupted or when the essence stagnates, disease arises. 

Generally, diseases begin from the disruption of the digestive functions. Ayurveda treats all diseases by first correcting the diet, with emphasis on eliminating causative items and introducing suitable items to maintain the efficacy of the digestive function. 

Long duration of treatments: Diseases usually take some time to manifest – the aim is to undo or reverse the pathogenic process. Time is needed for the treatment to be strictly followed. Another reason for the lengthy duration is the nature of administration: preparatory, intensive and post-intensive phases are designed to revert the bodily systems to normal. 

Limitation as a medical system: Every disease is classified according to its nature of prognosis. A seemingly incurable condition could easily be cured using a different approach – an inevitable trait of medical systems. Within this limitation, Ayurveda can treat any medical condition with the understanding of the basic principle of three dosha or physiological and pathological factors. 

The challenges: Although it is safe and natural, Ayurveda suffers from lack of public awareness. Indian governments and British colonial rulers have promoted the western medical system over the years, but Ayurveda has survived to be ranked as the most accepted indigenous medicine in India. 

The growing need for Ayurveda has given birth to many centres worldwide. Unfortunately, many are managed by professionals or technicians with limited training, in the hopes of promoting tourism. Desire for commercial gain often results in the compromise of Ayurvedic principles 

Anything herbal is now known as Ayurvedic. All Ayurvedic medicines can be herbal, metal or mineral, but not all herbal medicines are Ayurvedic. When formulation, processing, form and application faithfully follow basic Ayurvedic principles in relation to the ailment, then and only then can it be defined as Ayurvedic. 

In the interests of convenience and commercialisation, Ayurveda has been relegated to a sensual form of treatment, not utilised to its fullest potential. As a result, the scientific community has devalued its concept as unscientific. Its curative aspects have received little or no attention on a global level. 

International status: Ayurveda is officially recognised in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Hungary. Sri Lanka is promoting Ayurveda on a large scale while Nepal and Bangladesh offer full-time graduation courses. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently endorsed the practice of Ayurveda, which requires the physician to sit for a licensing examination. The UAE’s endorsement has given rise to an increase in the number of Ayurveda practitioners, and medication too is easily available. 

There is a great awareness and acceptance of Ayurveda in Germany. Unfortunately, legislation does not favour its practice.  

Three colleges in the UK offer part-time and condensed degrees in Ayurveda, but it has yet to be legally recognised. 

For the past 30 years, Japan has shown interest in the study, research and practice of Ayurveda. It is slowly being popularised as Complementary and Alternate Medicine (CAM).  

Russia has recognised Ayurveda to some extent as alternate medicine. Panchakarma treatments and kshara sutra techniques have been recognised by the government. Russia succeeded in conducting research programmes that included Ayurvedic treatment for nuclear disaster victims. 

Ayurveda has taken off in a big way in the United States where its products are sold as herbal medication or food supplements. 

Ayurveda is popular in Australia, but not as a curative system. It is sought mainly as lifestyle solutions and sensual treatments. Current regulations do not allow Ayurvedic medication to be sold. Australia, along with New Zealand, are undergoing a harmonisation exercise in regulating the practice and commerce of CAM therapies. 

Three years ago, the Ayur Centre was set up in Petaling Jaya, followed by a branch in Ipoh. The centres are run by three qualified physicians and assisted by 11 therapists. The centre offers curative and preventive treatments for psoriasis, paralysis, neck and back pains, diabetes, gynaecological and gastrointestinal disorders, and arthritis, among others. 

Kerala’s special status: The Ayurvedic system was revived, preserved and promoted in this southern state of India. Today, Kerala is recognised as the home base of Ayurveda, involved in the study and practice of general medicine and surgery. 

The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (Cbe) Ltd, the first traditional house to step on Malaysian soil, has its roots in Kerala. 

  • Dr Ramkumar Kutty is the executive director of the Ayushman Ayurvedic Trust in India 

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