The proposed Institute of Teaching and Research in Ayurveda has generated some controversy with people variously advocating its locations in Kerala, Delhi, Varanasi or West Bengal. While the advantages of these locations can be debated, I am more concerned about the need and kind of research that we require in ayurveda. We have this obsession to prove things to the West, probably a hangover from our colonial past. And what the West does not approve, we do not embrace.
It is perhaps one of the reasons we use allopathic iron medications for our national anaemia control programme or the reason we use allopathic antihelminthic medicines for our deworming programmes. In both cases, the allopathic medications are, in my opinion, far inferior to the ayurvedic medications. In the case of ayurvedic iron medications, they have been formulated by our siddhars and acharyas in such a manner that they are not constipating and therefore have not only better patient compliance but also very less side effects. Many youngsters with anaemia issues are given allopathic iron supplements resulting in severe constipation problems and consequent side effects such as anal fissure and bleeding from the anus. Many decades after we started the anaemia control programme, the condition is still a national scourge. We could have done well by introducing both ayurvedic iron supplements and antihelminthics which are extremely effective.
Vai vidangam or Embelia ribes is considered a krimi nasha, an agent that kills parasites and worms. Vidanga arishtam with aravinda asavam are two powerful medications which can help control parasites and worms (pinworms, tapeworms etc.) In addition, there are tablets, krimi mudga ras, and krimi kutara ras which are given with the arishtams if the problem is more acute. All the medications can be given to both young persons and adults. The dosage will, of course, have to be decided by the vaidyar. The medications should always be taken under a vaidyar’s supervision. Vidanga arishtam in addition to Embelia ribes (vidanga) contains Piper longum (pippali), Pluchea lanceolata (rasna), Holarrhena antidysenterica (kutaja), Cyclea peltata (patha), Emblica officinalis (amla), water, honey, herbs to ferment the preparation, namely Woodfordia fruticosa (dhataki), and other herbs to top off the preparation are cinnamon (twak), Cinnamomum tamala (patra), Elettaria cardamomum (ela), Bauhinia variegata (stem bark of kanchanara), Symplocos racemosa (lodhra), Zingiber officinale (shunti), Piper nigrum (black pepper), Piper longum (pippali).
This arishtam in addition to being effective in treating intestinal worms is also useful in dealing with a host of other issues relating to vata vitiation. Most ayurvedic preparations also have a certain built-in rasayana property in that they help in keeping the cells healthy and youthful. Krimi mudgar ras contains purified mercury and sulphur, Trachyspermum roxburghianum (ajamoda), Embelia ribes (vidanga), Strychnos nux-vomica (vishamushti), Butea monosperma (palasha). Most people when they read the list of ingredients are scared—mercury and strychnos don’t seem to be ingredients that one would use for a simple issue like a worm infestation. This is where our research can throw some light—all we need is empirical research. Thousands of children have been given and are being given these medications for years.
All we need to set people’s mind at rest is to assess how useful these medications have been and their side effects if any. The fact that these medications continue to be popular for so many years among the non-English-speaking community testifies to its usefulness and a robust belief in our traditional systems by people not completely brainwashed by the West. Our research in ayurveda should really concentrate on the practical aspects instead of doing basic research. Our ayurvedic medications have stood the test of time and all we need to do is make certain broad issues clear. These could be defined and we could do a quick study on those aspects and provide proof that ayurvedic medical preparations, including metallic bhasmas, are safe if prescribed by qualified well trained vaidyars.
Sheela Rani Chunkath
The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at email@example.com/arogyamantra.blogspot.com