In the late 1800s, procuring ayurveda medicines in Malabar was not easy. To prepare prescribed remedies, patients purchased ingredients themselves or sought the help of experts to source the medicinal roots, herbs and leaves at places they grew.
Then in October 1902, ayurvedic physician PS Varier started Arya Vaidya Sala (AVS) in Kottakkal village near Kozhikode on Vijayadashami.
Last month was its anniversary. The enterprise that started from a two-storeyed red-tiled traditional building now operates hospitals in Kochi and Delhi, which draw patients from across the world.
“We make over 550 classical and new-generation formulations which are sold at 26 branches and 1,800 authorised dealers across India,” says the founder’s nephew and managing trustee PK Warrier.
The versatile patriarch’s legacy is the ayurveda college, a Vishwambhara temple, a herbal garden, a Kathakali academy and ayurveda magazine Dhanvanthari. AVS has by now published over 200 volumes on ayurveda.
When the healer was born, children were home-schooled by elders. He was sent at 16 to learn from Kuttanchery Vasudevan Mooss, a legendary ashtavaidyan from one of Kerala’s eight great families of ayurvedic physicians.
He lived in his guru’s house for four years, helping with household chores and studying ayurveda. He also learned the basics of allopathy after his eyes were damaged by constantly reading medical texts; he approached the nearby government hospital whose head Dr Varghese taught him the basics of Western medicine.
“He learned the shortcomings of ayurveda and the merits of allopathy,” says PK Warrier. Varier was a Renaissance man of the time, both a devout Hindu and a secularist.
He shared hisbirthday with Mahatma Gandhi. During the Moplah rebellion of 1921, he stood with the Muslims.
“Varier told members of the Bharati Seva Sangh, a peace committee from Bombay, that rehabilitation work and food distribution should be extended to Muslims, too,” PK Warrier recounts.
They were shocked. “For the first time a Hindu was speaking out on behalf of Muslims,” says Warrier.
“All Muslim men had been killed, deported to the Andaman Islands or had fled. Only women and children were left.” When committee chief Devadhar asked why, Varier’s answer was, “Hunger is the same whether it is in the stomach of a Muslim or a Hindu.”
Over the gate of his home at Kailasamandiram stands an image of Lord Krishna. On both its sides are two pillars, one bearing a cross and the other a crescent. In an adjacent Lord Vishvambharan temple, all castes are allowed entry. Just what the doctor ordered.