Ayurveda - A site for sore eyes
by Binita Kuruvilla
Sreedhareeyam, a famous ayurvedic eye hospital nestling in a remote corner of Kerala, attracts patients from all over the country looking for cures that range from glaucoma to double vision and retinal detachment.
The hospital began as a small venture, meant to house five to 10 patients, but faced with an overwhelming response, grew to accommodate more staff and facilities for the growing stream of visitors knocking at their door.
Today, it is a large, modern building, which accommodates 200 people in double rooms, wards and cottages. The hospital has arranged for nearby hotels to take people in, triggering off a cottage industry in this bucolic land of swaying palms and paddy fields.
It is 6 a.m. in Koothattukulam, Kerala, and for the eye patients at Sreedhareeyam, it is kashayam (a form of liquid medicine) time. In half an hour, patients living in various hotels and lodges in Koothattukulam swarm in and the treatment rooms fills with babies, children of assorted ages, the young and the old. Many are non-Malayalis, drawn by the repute of the hospital and their own desperate search for a cure.
Sreedhareeyan is managed by the Namboothiri family, whose ancestors have been ayurvedic physicians for the past couple of centuries. The late Vaidyan Brahmasree Thrivikraman Namboothiri and his brother Parameswaran Namboothiri were legendary physicians who specialised in eye treatment.
I am here to find a permanent solution to the recurrent sties on both eyelids, which had responded quite positively to ayurvedic medicines prescribed by Dr N.P.P. Namboothiri at an eye camp in Mumbai. This was where I first heard about Sreedhareeyam. Previously I had spent a year seeking a cure with allopathy and homoeopathy, neither of which was in the least effective.
My routine of treatments started with nasyem (traditional Kerala house) at the corner room of the Naalu Kettu. Medicinal oil was dabbed on the crown of my head, ears, palms, soles of my feet, and three drops into each of my nostrils, upon which I was to inhale deeply, shutting one nostril at a time. The entire process takes about half a minute, and completely clears the nasal cavity, providing protection against colds.
Netradhara was next, where medicated liquid was poured into each eye seven times, while I was to open and shut my eyes, a procedure lasting less than 10 minutes. Then I had breakfast, following which I returned to the Naalu Kettu, for kizhisvedam, a light massage around the eye area with herbs wrapped up in thin cloth and dipped in hot water, adding up to a very refreshing experience.
I spent 45 blissful minutes at the treatment room next door, lying on my back, having warm, medicinal oil gently drizzled onto my forehead from left to right. This was called shirodhara. At the end of this, rasnadi powder was rubbed into the crown of my head as protection against colds, as I was not allowed to wash my hair till the end of that particular week of treatments.
With a thin red towel tightly wrapped around my head, I sat in one of the comfortable wicker chairs in the verandah surrounding the sunlit courtyard of the Naalu Kettu, watching the dappled light play on the surface of the warm, polished wood of the building.
The next treatment for me was purampoda, which involved the application of a paste on my eyes, which was to dry, be wiped off after half an hour, and reapplied for another half hour.
Next, at room 215, was mini-tharpanam, where little wells of dough are shaped around the eyes, and filled with medicinal ghee for 15 minutes, during which time I had to open and shut my eyes. Once this was removed, tiny, scented nambiarvattam flowers were placed on my eyes, which were then tied up firmly with a bandage for the next hour.
Once the bandage was removed I went off to the canteen for lunch after which I had my second session of netradhara and eyedrops, followed by the purampoda. Then a short wait for the kashayam bottles to arrive, and back to the hotel in the minibus.
This was my routine for the first week, during the course of which I met some of the other doctors: Dr Sreekala, Dr Narayanan Namboothiri and Dr N.P.P. Namboothiri, who has several decades of experience in the field of eye treatment. They are the seniormost doctors of the hospital. Each, after careful questioning, added their comments to my case file, which had already been written in by Dr Soumya and Dr Sangeetha.
My first set of treatments lasted about nine days, after which I had nine more days with a different routine. I had kizhisvedam in the morning, followed by tharpanam, which was similar to mini-tharpanam, except that the ghee-and-medicine concoction was left on the eyes for half an hour, and the bandage was to be removed after three hours. After the bandage was untied, I had eyedrops, which were no longer the stinging variety, mercifully.
Sitting around with my eyes shut for long periods of time, I met people seeking treatments for a variety of problems. Take Sapna: She was basking in the glow of post-natal bliss, when she suddenly developed double vision. After unsuccessfully seeking a cure at other medical institutions, she was directed to Sreedhareeyam. At the end of a 24-day treatment, she felt a vast improvement in her condition.
Arvind, a mischievous 11-year-old, suddenly found the vision in one eye deteriorating rapidly. After coming to Sreedhareeyam, this deterioration was traced to a minor bicycle accident. After a couple of weeks of treatment, his vision improved tremendously.
Many children with high-powered spectacles were here to stabilise and gradually improve their vision. Other complaints were squints, loss of sight due to spurious medicines or the intrusion of foreign objects into the eye, retina detachment, eye infections, glaucoma, cataract and retinitis pigmentosa. Some of these conditions eventually lead to blindness, but if detected at an early stage, can be cured.
“Glaucoma, cataract and acute corneal problems, if brought to us while still in the early stages, are curable, however, we never promise to completely cure anyone, since the effects of treatment vary from person to person,” explains Dr Narayanan.
Although most of the patients at the hospital seek cures for eye-related complaints, they comprise only about 60 per cent of the total number of patients. Several patients wish to be cured of ear problems, and others of more general problems like arthritis, kidney disorders, skin problems and even cancer.
“It is God who looks after this hospital,” says its Chairman, Narayanan Namboothiri. “We put in our effort, but it is God who makes things work here. We have no tension at all, we simply have faith.”
Perhaps it is this implicit faith and trust in the divine that is responsible for the patience and compassion displayed by all the nurses and doctors in the hospital.
Several more toil behind the scenes, involved in the preparation of medicines in rooms at the Naalu Kettu, and at the GMP certified factory, where efficient, scrupulously clean attendants stir large vats of mysterious, steaming liquids which eventually go into neatly labelled, attractively packaged bottles, as kashayams, grithams or arishtams.
My last day at Sreedhareeyam was spent in meeting the doctors, getting the medicines prescribed for the next couple of months and exchanging telephone numbers with my new friends. My eyes felt rested, my vision clearer. The sties had practically disappeared even before I had arrived at Sreedhareeyam, and I was advised to give it a few more weeks to heal completely. I would see the doctor next at Mumbai, as Sreedhareeyam organises frequent medical camps at major cities in India.
Contact: Sreedhareeyam, Ayurvedic Eye Hospital
and Research Centre,
Ph: (0485) 2253007; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
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