Poonthottam Ayurvedasram in Kulakkad, near Cherpalcherry in the Pallakad district of Kerala is as far from the concept of an Ayurveda spa as can be. The Asram follows proven Ayurvedic practice for rejuvenation, a place where people come to heal both body and mind.
Poonthottam literally means ‘Flower Garden’. The asram is set in the luscious green, healing landscape of Kerala’s verdant Kulakkad hill region. The asram is surrounded by paddy fields, rubber, coconut and banana plantations.
The area surrounding the asram in every shade of green, is the perfect back drop for rejuvenation. Most of the herbs used for medicines are cultivated and collected from the area. There is also a rice paddy field which produces special rice used for medicinal purposes. These herbs are processed in the asram’s factories which are within the compound.
Poonthottam, which is not very far from Sri Lanka, is similar to the island nation. Tiago De Silva, a popular Sri Lankan author, has signed up for a 28-day programme here. Tiago has done a yoga teacher training programme in 2018 and since then has been focussed on “spiritual study, living and regular meditation.” He says he learnt a lot about Ayurveda during his training and wanted to see for himself what a 28-day programme would do for him. The place is so calm, he has decided to start work on his third novel here.
Poonthottam is a healing center using time-tested, traditional and authentic tools and techniques. Started in 1989, founder Vaidya. P.M.S. Raveendranath says that “Kerala has the perfect tropical weather for healing people to the core, with hundreds of thousands of herbs and tens of thousands of recipes.” He comes from a long lineage of traditional Ayurveda healers and is a disciple of Vaidyamadhom Valiya Narayanan Namboodiri. The asram is owned and managed by Raveendranath (fondly called Dr Ravi) and his wife Latha Raveendranath.
Vaidya Raveendranath was born in a Namboothiri family of central Kerala. He was initiated into Ayurveda by his father, a renowned Sanskrit teacher belonging to a family of ardent believers of Ayurveda. He learnt Sanskrit as a child.
He was initiated into Ayurveda studies at the Ayurveda College, Pathanjalipuri in Coimbatore, a ‘Gurukula’ where the students stayed with their guru. This was a formal graduate course in Ayurveda with duration of about 8 years. Apart from Ayurveda, the students were taught other related areas like Yoga, Kalari and Indian philosophy (Darsanas). Special emphasis was also given on learning Sanskrit.
Subsequently, for acquiring skills for clinical practice, Vaidya Raveendranath learnt from his guru Vaidyamatham Valiya Narayanan Namboothiri, a highly reputed physician of Kerala belonging to the Ashta Vaidya tradition. People belonging to Vaidyamatham family are physicians who are entitled to enter the Vedic sacrifice/ritual premises (popularly known as Shalavaidyas) in Kerala. The Vaidyamatham family does worship (upasana) of Dakshinamoorthy.
Vaidyamatham Valiya Narayanan Namboothiri was born in 1910 and had a long career of Ayurvedic practice till 1988. He was known as ‘Vaidyashastra Mahodadhi’ a title given to him by Kanchi Kamakoti math Sankaracharya, Chandrasekhara Saraswati Swamigal. Raveendranath stayed with his guru for three years and learned practical skills of Ashta Vaidya, in particular the Vaidyamatham tradition.
After his guru’s demise, Raveendranath started the centre ‘Poonthottam Ayurvedasram’ named after his family in the year 1989. His aim was to develop a centre for Ayurvedic treatment procedures as he strongly believed that treatment methods like Sodhana (elimination) and Rasayana (rejuvenation) did not get enough attention and could not be done in the outpatient clinics or at home.
Raveendranath’s intention was to create a complete centre, which is self-reliant for practice, research and training in Ayurveda. Clinical training of Ayurveda graduates is seen as a giving back to Ayurveda saastra.
Vaidya Raveendranath speaks to CSP on his asrama, Ayurveda and his passion for healing.
What attracts foreigners to your institution? Is it wellness, cure for disease deemed incurable or for an exotic experience?
Vaidya Raveendranath: Our marketing is solely through the word of mouth. Hence people who came here earlier tell their friends and relatives to come here. We have been working in this field for the last 30 years and right from the beginning we have patients from outside and inside India almost equally.
They come for health promotive and curative aspects. We also get overseas people for Ayurveda education and for practical training as well. People who are interested in our approach of combining and utilizing the concepts of Ayurveda, Yoga and Tantra also come here. We get people from USA, European countries, Russia, Middle East, Asia and sometimes though rarely from Africa and South American. They may or may not be new to Ayurveda, but most of them might have some connection with yoga.
It was started in 1989 in a rented building in a small town with just
one helper to the doctor and no capital investment. It gradually improved and
expanded to the current state of 45 bedded hospital where 70 local people from
the village are trained and working, mostly women.
Is Ayurveda percieved to be more expensive than allopathy? Is this true?
Vaidya Raveendranath: I don’t think it’s true. Generally all medical systems are expensive, but it’s a very relative word.
When Ayurveda is practiced in a very specific and scientific way it will not be too expensive. But unnecessary medication should be avoided. Compromised quality of the medicines also necessitates prolonged treatment which makes it more expensive and slow acting.
Compassion from the vaidya will make so much of difference. Government support and inclusion of more insurance companies will be helpful for the people. Considering the fact that Ayurveda gives permanent relief from the disease, unlike Allopathy which is symptomatic many a time, it will become less expensive than Allopathy.
Which aspects of health do people come for mainly?
Vaidya Raveendranath: We get patients mainly for the treatment of chronic ailments like autoimmune disorders and psychological disorders.
Recently many are coming for Pancakarma as a preventive which purifies the cell from toxins which gives rise to chronic diseases. We are also getting Ayurveda students from outside India. We have trained more than 100 doctors with BAMS degree to perform hands-on treatment. Otherwise they never get a chance to learn this in their regular university education.
More lately, youngsters are also coming for Ayurveda cure more frequently. One reason is they are getting diseased at a very early age now, and another reason is they are more educated about advantage of Ayurveda and problems with Allopathy.
Do you have any ideas of how India can promote Ayurveda Tourism?
Vaidya Raveendranath: India has tremendous potential for health tourism and mainly with Ayurveda. People from outside, still have faith in getting Ayurveda from the soil of its origin. But for tapping that potential, the government should be very vigilant about the quality of the centres. People should not be cheated with wrong advertisements. Then Ayurveda gets the bad name.
The only viable industry in Kerala would be Ayurveda tourism. But the attitude of people have to change greatly. We should protect our spiritual arena, without which India is not a sought after destination for anybody.
Is quality and standard maintained across practitioners?
Vaidya Raveendranath: Documentation of all the practices has to be implemented rigorously. Once that comes then the quality and standards can be monitored and maintained. We have documents of all our patients in the last 30 years.
When the existing rules and regulations are implemented properly it can be achieved. Dharmabodha in the people and therefrom to the rulers is the only key. Purity, truthfulness and compassion are really missing in most people and institutions in Ayurveda. But there is a renaissance in the last 10 years. But too much of commercialization is killing these qualities.
Around 100 formulations are being prepared in our GMP certified factory with the help of around 20 full time staff members working here. The idea of starting a production unit was to make good medicines. Many combinations that are not available in the market are being prepared here as and when required. More than 20 medicinal plants are collected from nearby areas in bulk providing a substantial income to the plant collectors of this area. Other materials required for preparation of medicines are obtained from the local market. On the whole, we use around 150 drug materials in our pharmacopoeia. A medicinal plant demonstration garden with around 200 different types of plants is an educational place for patients and those interested.
What does Ayurveda say about Veganism?
Vaidya Raveendranath: Regarding Veganism, Ayurveda has a very different approach. Ayurveda does not even advocate vegetarianism. Ayurveda proclaims that all these are variable depending on the culture, the work energy requirements and individual agni and metabolism. There are conditions in which all dairy products are contra indicated. But that’s not a general prescription. Ayurveda also does not consider the Rajasic and tamasic aspects of non-veg food. But as they are acidic it might increase pitta, hence in pittaprakrti person or pitta associated condition it should be contraindicated. Ayurveda is more concerned about the quality of the food and their source, how the plants are cultivated and how the animals are grown etc.