By Rina Tripathy
A specialist in the ancient South Indian equivalent of ayurveda, Kalidas Gurukal promises full recovery from many ailments, including paralysis, musculo-skeletal, cervical and disc problems
The mother of all medical systems
By Clifford SawhneySiddha medicine is the oldest medical system in the world. Siddha is a Tamil word derived from siddhi-one who has attained perfection in life or heavenly bliss. Practitioners of this system were called siddhars. Wise men who meditated, wrote poems and had healing powers, siddhars were originally devotees of Lord Shiva. In ancient India, 18 important siddhars developed the system, which is why it’s called Siddha medicine.
The Siddha system is based on the principle that the macrocosm (the universe) and the microcosm (man) are similar. Man is made up of five fundamental elements: earth (solid matter), water (liquid matter), fire (energy), air (gaseous matter) and ethereal space between the other four elements.
Reflecting this theory of cosmic oneness, the five senses of man are said to correspond with the five elements. Ether (akasam) is responsible for hearing; fire (theyu) for sight; air (vayu) for smell; water (appu) for taste; and earth (prithvi) for the sense of touch.
Traditionally, Siddha has used oral treatment (including powders and herbal juices) and massage with medicated oils to cure ailments. Two ancient practices no longer in vogue are bloodletting and the use of heavy metals in medical concoctions. Recognizing the inherent toxicity of some metals, the Siddha texts insisted on purifying such ingredients before use in medications.
Siddha medicine was in vogue in South India much before the Aryan period, but gradually fell into disuse. Written on leaves, most Siddhaworks were either destroyed or lost over time due to ignorance and lack of proper care.
With the advent of the East India Company, Indian chemical factories were closed down, ostensibly because the preparations were crude and dangerous. The real agenda, however, was to promote western medicine.
The passing of the Poisons Act was the most lethal blow since the Siddha system dealt with medicines prepared from metals and metallic poisons.
The system is slowly regaining some of its lost glory with certain medications said to be effective in controlling AIDS.
We are in the famed land of ayurveda for a holiday. Anurag, a 32-year-old engineer from Delhi, is also here for a different reason. For the past three years, he is suffering from pain in his back and neck. He has tried physiotherapy without any relief. As a last resort he is trying Siddha medicine. A friend has recommended Kalidas Gurukal—a Kalari master and specialist in Siddhamarma massage—which promises full recovery.
The North is being swept by a cold wave but there’s a perfect summer at Kochi, in South India. Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is sojourning in Kerala, getting treated for his knee at Kottayam. The tourism industry here gets a major boost as a result of all this. Ayurveda has flourished in this land of abundance since its evolution in 600 BC. Kerala is the only state in India that practices this system with total dedication.
Another important system of healing is Siddha medicine, sometimes confused with ayurveda . Siddha, a pure Dravidian system propagated by sage Agastya, has two branches: Siddha massage and Siddha medicine. The master’s cure combines the two. The master enlightens me: ‘There are 30 books written by Saint Agastya.’
Anurag has embarked on a 14-day course with a list of do’s and don’ts. The treatment has a set procedure: 14 days of massage followed by 14 days of rest. This is because after massage the body becomes soft and supple and even the slightest strain could then harm the nerves.
Each day about 150 ml of expensive medicinal oil is used to massage the body. The 72,000 nadis or nerves/pulse (as revealed by ancient texts) are relaxed one by one and adjusted. On the eighth day a purgative is administered. This induces evacuation, and helps in cleaning the system. On the ninth day marma treatment is given at painful points to relocate the nerves. Thereafter, bundle treatment is given—in which leaves of medicinal plants are boiled in oil, then placed in a muslin cloth and used for massage.
Even after the massage, the patient is advised complete rest and applies oil before bath for three hours everyday. Siestas are disallowed. When questioned, the master does not know the reason for this, but promptly replies: ‘The sages have made these rules.’
The master narrates an interesting anecdote about Agastya Rishi‘s arrival in South India. ‘During Lord Shiva’s wedding, the whole world came to celebrate and Mother Earth was thrown off balance. So Lord Shiva directed Agastya Rishi to go south so that the balance was maintained. Since then the immortal Agastya Rishi is said to be residing in Agastya Hills.’
Halfway into the treatment Anurag’s limbs slowly become supple and the tension in his neck eases. For the first time in three years, he is able to move his neck fully towards the left and right. Massage has had another benefit—his paunch has reduced.
The master throws light on the working of Siddha treatment. There are ten vital points where one can feel the prana concentration. The pranic blocks in these channels can occur due to accidental hits and are cured by Addangal or the retrieval method unique to Siddha. There are 13 major retrieval systems. Ailments like cervical spondylitis, skeleto-muscular pains , rheumatic lumbar, severe back pain, slip disc and even paralysis have been cured by Kalidas. He shows an album with photographs of patients at various stages of treatment. A patient with a paralyzed arm is shown before and after the treatment.
There are more surprises in store—unlike ayurveda, animal flesh is often used in making medicines in Siddha. The claims are tall. He says diseases like cancer, AIDS, and tuberculosis can be cured using the alchemy branch of the system. Some medicines are a concoction of ingredients like frogs, rabbits, black hens and herbs ! Along with special medicated rice, this is used to restore the patient’s health. In response to a comment that science questions the idea of oil being able to penetrate skin, he says: ‘We can prove that our oils are absorbed by the skin. Besides, if you rub lemon juice on your scalp and keep it on overnight, in the morning you will wake up with fever.’
It is the 14th day and Anurag is on his way to recovery. His back feels better. His nadi is checked for balance in three humors of vata, kapha and pitta. Now follows the 14-day period for the body to fully rejuvenate.
The master reveals that Siddha knowledge is passed directly from guru to disciple. He stresses that the ideal way to keep fit is through a disciplined life—rising early, eating nutritious food and exercising regularly. ‘Food should not be kept in the fridge,’ he says.
The master says the best time to visit Kerala for the cure is during monsoons (June to November), which is ideal for rejuvenation. The pores of the body open up due to atmospheric moisture and medicinal oils are absorbed faster by the skin. Unlike allopathy, in Siddha the physician lays stress on the patient’s constitution, environment and diet.
As I prepare to leave, an asthmatic patient arrives. The master explains that asthma is of three types—cardiac, bronchial and one caused by a hit at a marma point. The last can be cured with marma treatment. A boy with mild polio and retardation is also here. The master is using special oil to massage his head. The oil helps in calming epileptic and mentally challenged patients. Perhaps these patients too will be cured.
Meanwhile, a fully rejuvenated Anurag packs his bags, ready to face the humdrum of city life.
Marma Chikitzalayam, Kochupally Road,
Thoppumpday, Kochi 682005,
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