AYURVEDA: Ayurvedic healing has taken on new commercial dimensions with caps and centres and retreats springing up all over — many costing an arm and a leg. However, this increasing popularity and commercialisation makes many dismiss it all as a sham, without being willing to consider its time-tested validity in India
Dr ALEX HANKEY
In his continuing series of articles, Dr ALEX HANKEY, professor at S-VYASA university in Bangalore, explains his first work in India in Pune and Bangalore, leading to him joining S-VYASA
The last article in this series, No 10, described how I came to work in Ayurveda as a result of my Guru His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi beginning his revival of Ayurveda in the 1980s. My deep fascination for the subject started following a course at Maharishi Nagar in Noida, New Delhi, in early 1988, and after a stroke of luck in 1992, I spent six weeks writing up my first treatment of my nascent ideas at the campus of Maharishi University of Management (previously Maharishi International University). That work was first published at the invitation of a friend who was a founding editor of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM) in 2001.
The following year in 2002, I decided to return to full time research. Naturally, Ayurveda was one of the topics on which I focused my attention. It proved very fruitful. As a result of reviewing an article on its possible relationship to studies of the genome, for which I greatly improved the English, I became friends with the University of Pune’s Professor of Pharmaceutical Biochemistry, Bhushan Patwardhan, and spent the month of April with him in 2006. That led to the publication of three more papers, and an invitation to collaborate with him on a book, for which purpose he visited me in England and stayed both at my home in Kent to the south of London, and at Trinity, my old college in Cambridge.
Imagine his astonishment on sitting down to lunch in college in the company of the President of the Royal Society (often from Trinity College), and two Nobel laureates, one of whom, my old friend Brian Josephson, was our host. Professor Bhushan’s eyes almost popped out. He talked about it for long afterwards.
We continued working on the book, and I attended The Second World Ayurveda Congress in Bangalore, where I sat next to Professor Bhushan for the Inaugural Lecture by Professor RA Mashelkar, Director of India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who was originally from the town of Mashel in Goa. We immediately conceived a way of publishing his lecture in the journal, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eCAM, whose Editor had been invited to attend the Congress in order to familiarise him with Ayurveda. I was given the job of editing the transcript of the lecture, which eCAM published as an editorial feature in three parts. That was the start of my long friendship with Mashelkar.
Earlier that autumn, I had joined Professor Patwardhan in Bangalore, where he had taken a new position as Director of Academic Affairs on the Board of Directors of Manipal Universal Learning, the governing body of all the colleges associated with Manipal University. The change had happened as is only possible in India. In the late summer following his visit to Cambridge, Bhushan had been nominated as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pune (for the third time, the two previous nominations having been rejected by Maharashtra’s Minister of Education for lack of facilitation money). This time, the nomination had succeeded, and one Friday he had been informed of his new appointment, to be officially announced that Monday.
However, on the Sunday, who should call up the University of Pune but Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, and requested that the University appoint his own candidate, currently working as World Bank Representative in Kabul, Afghanistan, who was desperate to relocate. Needless to say, Bhushan lost his appointment; his replacement had little idea about how to run the university, and, according to Bhushan, his tenure was pretty much a disaster. That Monday, who should call Bhushan but Dr TM Pai, the Chancellor of Manipal University, who had already heard the story. He offered Bhushan the Vice-Chancellorship of his own university. Bhushan replied that he would rather be on the Board of Management of all the university’s many academic institutions, so that he could advise the group on how to achieve the highest academic standards.
And so it turned out. Manipal Universal Learning, as it is known, has offices on Old Airport Road in Bangalore, a stone’s throw down the road from the city’s best hotel, Leela Palace, which is opposite Manipal Hospital. Bhushan then invited me to join him there, so that we could continue work on a book started in Cambridge. That brought my introduction to Bangalore. As the book progressed, Bhushan proposed that I join him as an administrative assistant, my first ever officially salaried position for quarter of a century since 1981! I started work in early 2007.
In March, an English friend suggested that I attend a conference in South-West Bangalore, where I was fortunate to meet Dr HR Nagendra, Vice Chancellor of S-VYASA, where I am now working. He was Guest of Honour at the Valedictory Session of the conference, and I was invited to reply on behalf of the foreign guests. Thus I met my future employer.
I visited S-VYASA campus the very next day and was given a tour of the campus with its many symbolic statues, such as Krishna-Arjuna on their chariot, Lord Shiva in meditation, and Mahasaraswati-devi playing her Dvina outside the symbolically shaped, ‘Om Building’ where VC Nagendra had his office. I also visited the new Anvesana research laboratories, then headed by Dr Shirley Telles, who later became Director of Research at Swami Ram Dev’s Maharishi Patanjali Vidya Peeth in Haridwar. Nagendra said that I would be welcome to come and join S-VYASA any time that was convenient. It happened sooner than either of us expected!
My contacts with S-VYASA continued. I participated in a large workshop on S-VYASA’s new system of ‘Cyclic Meditation’ held in Bangalore’s Kuntirava Stadium in April, and then brought my old friend from MIU in 1973-75, Professor Jonathan Shear, to visit when he came for a conference in June. When my work at Manipal Universal Learning came to an end — administrative work has no interest for me, I came straight to S-VYASA. That event had tremendous consequences — obviously part of the ‘Cosmic Plan’ and will be told later.
Being in India over the previous fifteen months had given a new direction to my life. New and deeper enthusiasm for Ayurveda, and contacts with the leading Ayurveda research groups in the country. I was able to develop my approach to understanding Ayurveda from a scientific perspective.
Its most significant developments happened as a result of my attending The Fifth World Ayurveda Congress in Bhopal in 2012. Who should I meet at that Congress but a lady who told me that she had already completed her MSc on Yoga Medicine at S-VYASA, and was now intending to launch on her PhD in Ayurveda. Purnima Datey had founded three clinics practising an integrated form of AYUSH systems of medicine, including Naturopathy in which she had a Diploma, S-VYASA’s system of Yoga Medicine, the subject of her MSc, and also Ayurveda, in which her uncle was a master Vaidya He had authored over 150 articles and booklets on treating various diseases through Ayurveda, and had his own factory making Ayurvedic medicines in the city of Pune. Ayurveda had been an intimate part of her life all through her childhood in Maharashtra. She knew it from the inside.
Purnima invited me to see her first clinic, established in her own home, which had come about in the following way. In 2008, her husband, Sudhir Datey, who suffered varicose veins, had contracted a severe infection in one such vein in his foot. The infection refused to respond to any drugs, the infection became increasingly severe, blood poisoning threatened, and the doctor said that he would recommend amputation if it did not improve within two weeks. At that point, Purnima intervened, saying something roughly equivalent to, ‘Over my dead body!’ She told her husband that she would use her combination of medical skills to cure the infection, and that if it was not fully cured in the time allowed, he could let the doctors have their way. Her treatments included careful control of diet and daily routine including mealtimes, night-time rest, and systematic detoxification using mud packs applied every few hours (two hours to begin with) on both sides of the foot, together with herbs to fortify his immune system and fight the inflammation. She made extensive use of Ayurveda’s natural herbal antibiotic, Neem. Results were electrifying – see the text box. By Day 13 the foot was entirely free of the original infection, and other factors greatly improved.
The story of her treatment’s success spread rapidly by word of mouth and Purnima was soon besieged by requests for help with many different ailments. Her response was to start a clinic in Sudhir’s and her home, (he could hardly protest, could he?) and so her medical career was launched. When I met her over four years later, demand had led to her founding three more clinics and growing a selection of over a dozen herbs. She uses some 14 or 15 herbs regularly, the only one not referred in traditional Ayurveda being Wheatgrass. A further 28 different herbs are used occasionally for specialized treatments of certain special conditions. Now, over six years later, we have built up quite a lot of documented evidence for the efficacy of her treatments, built up from a controlled trial, a series of case studies, and some interesting and highly original risk factor analysis, showing that failure to observe principles of Yoga and Ayurveda constitute risk factors for contracting various kinds of disease – about which, more in the next articles.