On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Dr P.K.Warrier looks back at his own life and the growth of the Arya Vaidya Sala (AVS) in the last seven decades and speaks about a few contemporary issues. Excerpts from the e-mail interview:
Greetings as you reach the age of 100. How do you normally celebrate your birthdays? Would this year’s be different from your earlier birthdays?
Celebrating birthdays has never been a practice with me. The normal thing on such occasions is to sit together with members of the family and have a meal in the afternoon. In my childhood too, birthdays were observed essentially by having the “Naivedya payasam” brought from the temple. It is not going to be any different this time too. However, when you are the head of an institution, people who are working with you insist on having some kind of celebrations on special occasions. Thus we have had celebrations on my 60th and 84th birthdays. These occasions have also been used to compile and exhibit the history of the AVS. Moreover, in these times of COVID restrictions there is no meaning in having big celebrations. The whole world is suffering.
I am told a few science seminars are being held. I have always prayed for the well-being of the entire humanity. Looking back, I have been in charge of the AVS for 67 years. I was full of trepidation when I assumed charge after the untimely demise of my elder brother. Each step had to be taken with caution and, ultimately we, as an institution, have reached the present in a broadly balanced manner. The memories of my uncle [AVS founder Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier] and elder brother [Aryavaidyan P.M. Varier] and the blessings of Lord Viswambhara have kept me active all these years. I am also happy that, in all these years, I have not had an occasion to squabble with or raise my voice against anybody.
COVID AND AYURVEDA
COVID has caused widespread and unprecedented suffering in the world. How is Ayurveda equipped to address this disease, which seems to have no permanent cure?
As far as Ayurveda is concerned, there is nothing like an “unknown” or “new” disease. The principles of Ayurveda have the potential to analyse any type of disease and evolve a line of treatment. In its history spanning hundreds of years, Ayurveda has seen several diseases disappearing and several others suddenly appearing. The “tridosha siddhantha” of Ayurveda incorporates these tendencies, too, both in terms of the body and the diseases. Several experiences in India have underscored the potential of Ayurveda in resisting COVID, and a lot many of them have been recorded and published too. However, we have not been able to compile and collate these comprehensively so that it could be of use for the larger good of society. Such a process should have been part of our public health system. Ultimately, this is a loss for our society as a whole.
The current context has also seen the revival of the tussle between allopathic medical practice and other streams, especially Ayurveda. How do you look at this?
If two systems are warring against something, it should be against the adversary called disease and not against one another. Like any other science, Ayurveda too has evolved through observations and experiences.
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This needs to be kept in mind as a steady reference. In my humble opinion, debates on Ayurveda that do not have this reference signal a lack of scientific awareness.
You must have come across many debilitating diseases in your six-decade-long career as an Ayurvedic medical practitioner. Could you relate some memorable instances?
Indeed, it is fascinating to recount some of those experiences once again. Personal memories and contemplations on the science of Ayurveda are interspersed in these innumerable recollections. I shall talk about some memorable ones. A child from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh came with a condition of intermittent haemorrhage from various parts of the body. In allopathy, the condition is termed ‘idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura’ and does not have finite treatment parameters. I contemplated on the case at length and decided upon a line of treatment for scurvy. The child was completely cured in five to six months.
The personal relationship with the patient’s family continued. Later, on one of my visits to north India, they came all the way to Shimla to meet me. They said that all they wanted was to say thanks in person, but the walking stick that I use now is a gift from the Shimla visit of that family. Then, sometime in the early 1990s, when the Hyderabad branch of the AVS was inaugurated, a woman with pancreas head cancer came to us for treatment. I had developed a special Ayurvedic mixture for cancer treatment at that time. It was first given to this patient. She recovered after a considerably long treatment. Many other patients benefitted from this special Ayurvedic mixture for cancer in later years.
There was a patient from Salem [Tamil Nadu] who had both mouth cancer and AIDS. On day one [of the treatment], the patient could not swallow food and the relatives were all set to have him discharged. I convinced them to stay for some more time. The medicines we administered started having effect relatively fast and the patient had good relief. Many others like this keep coming to my mind from time to time. Their words and expressions of gratitude abide in me as rewards.
You inherited an institution from the legendary P.S. Varier, who was hailed as the epitome of Kerala renaissance, especially in the field of public health. In the last seven decades, what were the big challenges in sustaining its core values and reputation?
Valiyammavan [elder uncle] Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier set up the AVS essentially in response to the state of Ayurveda at that time  with the clear intent of resolving the multiple problems that were manifest in the system. The primary objectives were twofold: take the unique care-giving potential of Ayurveda to the people and at the same time develop Ayurveda according to the needs of society. He led by personal example. His was a pioneering drive that spread to manifold areas, blossoming in multiple and definitive ventures. He realised the importance of sustaining the immaculate traditions of care practised by the AVS, and the Aryavaidya Patashala [Ayurveda college] was started in 1914. This was followed up by the publication of Dhanwanthari , a magazine dedicated to the science of Ayurveda.
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A charitable hospital for all sections of society was also established during this period. When he wrote his will he made it clear that the AVS would be a trust. The organisation has steadfastly followed this path shown by him. The annual seminar held every year since 1964 has been an occasion to reiterate these ideals.
The research journal Aryavaidyan, published regularly since 1987, and the establishment of the Centre for Medicinal Plants Research [CMPR] are all illustrations of the steady pursuit of his ideals. So too, the timely modernisation brought in in the production and distribution of medicines. The goodwill that we accrue from all these follow-up initiatives is our only marketing.
How did you go about modernising the institution through the second half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century?
We have followed the fundamental principle that Ayurveda is an ancient science adept at modernising itself from time to time. The discipline has always imbibed new developments in science and technology. This adaptation has manifested through eons in diagnosis, treatment and production of medicines. We are committed to these fundamental principles while modernising the AVS.
When we set up a new factory to prepare medicines in the form of tablets, granules and syrups, we did so by retaining the traditional form of preparations parallelly. One key component of modernisation was in the establishment of a special, permanent division for research. This unit has made tremendous progress in documenting and studying treatment experiences meticulously.
Another area of specialised development is in cancer care. My mother died of cancer in 1965, resting her head on my lap. Through her, I experienced closely the pain and sorrow of a cancer patient. The impact of that experience led me to new explorations and initiatives to find some solutions. The establishment of the CMPR and the work it does to find new medicinal plants are some of the results of this exercise. A consideration of the future is, historically, a steady and strong component of all the activities of the AVS. In many ways, this consideration is our mantra.
Communal harmony was one of the core values on which the philosophical and organisational edifice of the Arya Vaidya Sala was founded. Recent times have seen many attempts to provoke communal polarisation even in Kottakkal, its birthplace. Have these provocations impacted the functioning of the institution and, if so, how were they countered?
The animosity between religions is not natural, but one cultivated by people with narrow, vested interests. Some innocent believers fall prey to these machinations. This has got repeated, time and again, in history. I must also add that the good examples of communal harmony do not get propagated enough, including in the media, while divisions, quarrels and riots get publicised with absolutely no logic. The AVS can only look at people as one, because diseases and the sorrows they create affect people of all religions and castes. In 1903, when cholera hit the region, Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier went from house to house distributing medicines and awareness notes, and while doing this he did not differentiate between communities and castes. His only concern was the suffering of the people.
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The functioning of the AVS was not affected even by the 1921 Moplah rebellion, which was interpreted by many as a religious quarrel. While neighbouring areas such as Malappuram and Tirurangadi saw violence, Kottakkal remained secure. The goodwill that P.S. Varier had among the Muslim minority community was legendary.
The gates of the ‘Kailasa Mandiram’ [the ancestral home of the Kottakkal Warriers] is a living symbol of communal harmony. The symbols of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity imprinted here have inspired many generations and would continue to do so. Divisions of caste, community and class as well as discrimination based on these have not impacted the functioning of the AVS. It will continue to follow this path forever.
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM
From your memoirs, we know that you were inspired by the freedom struggle to such an extent that you quit college and plunged into social and political activism. How do you look back at those days?
National movement; that is how people of my generation used to describe the freedom movement. The AVS was the centre of the national movement in Kottakkal during the early 1940s, when it spread across the length and breadth of the country. I was a student then and our primary activity was organising students under the banner of the All Kerala Students Federation. The students were from the Raja’s High School and the Ayurveda college. Of course, we organised public debates too.
It was Kelappa ji [K. Kelappan], who went by the title of ‘Kerala Gandhi’ who inaugurated our first public debate. A Left wing was growing within the Congress at that time. Many friends and I got attracted to their ideals and ultimately joined the Communist Party.
The Second World War coincided with all this. Naturally, anti-fascist struggle was a key component of the activities during that period. Many others from the family and the region participated in the national movement. Some were influenced by Gandhian philosophy and others by Marxian thought. Ultimately, both the visionary leaders worked to do good to humankind. I think that the time has come for the followers of both the historical figures to realise this and work for the common good of the people.