(This appeared in the HEALTH supplement of THE WEEK magazine. Click here to read it online.)
Spina bifida occulta. Koushik Mondal, who works in an IT firm in Bangalore, couldn’t make sense of these three words initially. The doctor explained to him that he was suffering from a congenital disorder in which some vertebrae overlying the spinal cord were not fully formed. He added that there was no known cure in modern medical science for this condition. The 27-year-old was shattered and withdrew into himself. This was when his boss suggested that he visit an ayurvedic doctor in Kerala. Mondal, who believed that science provided an answer to every problem in life, was not too keen on flying down to Kerala to try ayurveda. After a lot of persuasion from his boss, he finally arrived at Dr Raghavan’s house at Kalady.
He came as a doubting Thomas, the treatment transformed him into a believer, says a chirpy Mondal, dressed in a white mundu and shirt, about his new-found belief in ayurveda. He owes it all to Vaidyaratnam Dr R. Raghavan, who gave him freedom from the pain of his ‘incurable’ condition.
Mondal is just one of the many patients who has got a new lease of life through Dr Raghavan’s treatment. Raghavan, who started his journey in the field of ayurveda at age 12, trained under Swami Dathathreya in the gurukula system at Rishikesh. On returning, he completed his MBBS degree and since then he has been providing relief to patients with conditions ranging from cardiovascular diseases to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis, neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, insomnia, hypothyroidism, chronic hepatitis and even infertility.
Naadi pareeksha (or pulse diagnosis) is the key element of Raghavan’s treatment. On examining the pulse of a patient, he can ascertain everything right from the birth of the patient, up to what he had for dinner the previous night. “The main problem in modern medicine is that they treat the disease, not the patient,” says Raghavan, a short, stout man, clad in a humble saffron mundu and a similar-coloured towel around his neck.
When the epidemic of Chickungunya broke out, he says, all those who were infected were prescribed the same medicine. “Modern medicine does not give much importance to how the patient’s body responds to the medicine,” he says. “This problem arises because modern medicine and its cures are impersonal.”
This is why naadi pareeksha sets Raghavan apart from his counterparts. Armed with a full understanding of the patient’s present and past, mind and body, the medication he prescribes varies from patient to patient. Raghavan cites the example of P.V. Sebastian, a Chickungunya patient. Sebastian, 40, consulted and underwent treatment under 12 eminent ayurvedic and allopathic doctors before he came to Raghavan. For more than five years, this athlete’s life was spent on hospital beds. He was given many powders and concoctions before he came to Raghavan’s house 15 months ago, in a chair, carried by four people.
Within two months, Sebastian took his first steps with the help of a walker, and now walks with a cane. “I have not touched his body in these 15 months,” says Raghavan. “He has been taking oral medications, and undergoing a specialised treatment called kashaya dhara, in which medicated oil or herbal extracts are poured on his body.”
“When I came to the doctor’s house, I never expected I would be able to walk again,” recalls Sebastian. Happy and content, Sebastian gives all the credit for his comeback to the doctor. At the time of the epidemic, Raghavan treated some 16,700 such Chickungunya patients in 72 medical camps. He still conducts camps in Kasaragod district, for villagers who suffer from the after-effects of exposure to the pesticide endosulfan.
Raghavan says that there are over 7,000 orphan diseases for which modern medical science do not offer a cure and takes pride in treating them. For lifestyle diseases like diabetes, he admits that even ayurveda cannot offer a complete cure, but it can help keep blood sugar levels in control, and provide relief to patients with non-healing ulcers. “Insulin is a discovery for which ayurveda is indebted to modern medicine,” says Raghavan, “but its effect lasts only till the patient responds to it. Ayurveda offers treatment for insulin-resistant patients, too.”
Every ayurvedic treatment is based on a trinity of hetu, linga and oushada, says Raghavan. Hetu being the cause of the disease, linga the symptom, and oushada the medication. “Most ayurvedic practitioners are probably not even aware of the ingredients that go into the medicines they prescribe,” says Mondal, who has just returned from a shiro vasti (a process in which medicated oil is poured into a cap placed on the patient’s head). “Unlike them, Dr Raghavan has a clear idea of what goes into each medicine and oil, as he prepares them on his own.”
Raghavan’s pharmacy, like his house, is open to all, and sometimes his patients help him in grinding and packing medicines. “The word privacy doesn’t exist in Dr Raghavan’s dictionary,” agrees Priya K., whose daughter Anagha has been under the doctor’s treatment for the last two years. The 15-year-old was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and had undergone eight surgeries before consulting Raghavan. “Within three months of the treatment, Anagha’s vision improved, she could balance her body better, and became more active socially,” says Priya. “Now sometimes she loses her temper, which is a good sign, because it shows that she is able to comprehend things better.”
During the course of Raghavan’s treatment, all patients have to follow a vegetarian diet. “What is it called… size zero?” asks Raghavan, about the new fitness craze among youngsters. Eating right is what matters, he says. Raghavan advises to include a lot of fruits—jackfruits, melons, apples, home-grown guavas and mangoes—in our daily diet. “The perfect body is not necessarily a lean and unhealthy one,” he says. “It is one that is free from diseases.”