By Suma Varughese
Ayurveda tradition acquires a new meaning in Balaji Tambe’s Atmasantulana Village near Lonavala—a place to rejuvenate body, mind and soul
Atmasantulana Village. Twelve acres of serenity. Crisp mountain air, verdant greenery, small buildings nestling under tall swaying trees. Just two hours drive from Mumbai, India, but a perfect spot to shuck off the harness of daily life and allow nature’s soothing fingers to work their magic over you. Add to that Balaji Tambe Vaidya’s ayurvedic prowess and you have a perfect prescription for health. Little wonder the village plays host to Indian state Maharashtra’s rich and powerful.
Tambe shot into limelight when a few years ago, Indian political arch-rivals Shiv Sena tyro Bal Thackeray and the then Congress leader Sharad Pawar found themselves recouping at the village at the same time. Heavy-duty industrialists find succor here, while the common man flocks here for cure of every known and unknown debility.
Famed or notorious as the doctor who recommended ghee (clarified butter) for heart patients, today Tambe is best known for his remarkable success with reversing heart disease. Heart blockages have a 95 per cent chance of elimination. The success rate for other problems such as enlarged heart hovers around 70 per cent. Indeed, Tambe has a distinct penchant for giant killing. He likes to fell the 20th century scourges that hold us in terror: cancer, AIDS, kidney failure, diabetes. Diabetics have a 50-50 chance of recovery, while cancer and AIDS have an even chance of being cured. Says Tambe: ‘Since ayurveda can regenerate dead cells, so a cure for AIDS will only emerge out of ayurveda. Allopathy suppresses symptoms, it cannot heal AIDS.’
But Tambe is more than just an ayurvedic physician. To the hundreds visiting him at his Karla resort near Lonavala, he is friend, philosopher and guide; a spiritual master who steers them towards discovering the purpose of life. Says 50-year-old businessman Pravin H. Nishar: ‘He makes us understand the real meaning of being human.’
Indeed, after conversing with him, it becomes clear that his ayurvedic orientation is merely the reflection of his sure understanding of the laws of life.
At his daily discourse to patients, he attributes sickness to going against your conscience. ‘You fall sick when you don’t take care of others or serve them.’
On this crisp November morning, a charming cameo is playing itself out. Crowds of inmates, most of them Germans and Swiss, are standing around a tree heavily garlanded with flowers. At its base, a pudgy gentleman in a ponytail is engaged in ritual ablutions. Each participant prostrates and gyrates before the tree. Soon, it is time for prasad (ritual offerings), consisting some sugar and fruit. As an introduction to the gentle holistic climate of the resort, you could have hardly asked for a better example. ‘Today, both humans and nature require healing,’ Tambe, a plump man with a benevolent face, explains.
In the sylvan surroundings of the Village,nature is alive and kicking. Well-stocked herbariums supply the center with the raw material for medicine. A serene lake reflects peace. Songbirds lustily carol their love of life. And God’s very much in his heaven.
Self-sufficient, the resort offers a complete package for rejuvenation. Starting with pulse diagnosis, it includes panchkarma, in-house ayurvedic medicines and Tambe’s healing music. Residents are also introduced to a regimen of yoga and balanced diet.
Panchkarma and the role of food in healing are particularly emphasized. Panchkarma refers to the five detoxification methods of ayurveda—vamana (induced vomiting), virecana (emptying the bowels with laxatives) nasya (cleaning the nostrils and mucous membrane), vasti (enema) and rakta moksha (bloodletting).
Tambe claims credit for introducing panchkarma to cancer and heart patients. He says: ‘A patient can get at least 10 per cent of the benefit of kaya kalpa (a form of body renewal practiced by yogis for longevity) through panchkarma. Cleansing is absent in all ‘pathies’ but it forms the basis of ayurveda. Before curing, you have to cleanse.’ There are also external cleansing procedures such as shirodhara (application of a stream of oil on the head), heart and head basti and various other massages.
The kundalini massage is an Atmasantulana special, which nourishes the nerves and increases blood circulation. It is recommended for spondilitis, slipped disc and even lower back pain. All these applications are handled within the spacious therapy room. In addition, there are rooms for steam massages, where the patient is folded into a wooden box, head jutting out, and for electrotherapy and water therapy. Equal weightage is given to the right diet—anna yoga. For Tambe, improper diet is one of the main factors behind disease. Others include stress, lack of trust and confidence, irresponsibility and inadequate relaxation.
But food first. ‘You should not eat food after 10 p.m. more than 10 times a year. After sunset, the body cannot digest food easily.’ He adds: ‘There are at least five things that disagree with each person. Find and avoid them.’
Tambe recommends holistic food in accordance with seasons, the vata, pitta, kapha doshas (constitutions), agni (digestive fire), six rasas (tastes) and seven dhatus (body substances such as blood and virility).
The Village has been inspired by the lifestyle of ancient rishis who managed large communities of students in perfect harmony. Tambe’s recipe for happy coexistence is open relationships with all. ‘Discrimination is valid only in the areas of skill,’ he says. The meal at the Village is ceremonial. Patients, healers, staff, Tambe, his wife Veena and son Sunil, all gather in the community dining hall. The kitchen staff move from plate to plate, serving half a chapati (Indian bread), a small mound of rice, some vegetables, pulses and fruit salad. Next, all intone a Sanskrit shloka. Lunch commences. The waiters serve with alacrity, returning for small helpings again and again. Finally, Tambe pours water into the cup of his hand and drinks it. Others follow suit. This not only indicates the conclusion of the meal but also acknowledge breaking bread together. The food is light and delicious, with subtle spicing. Ghee is used liberally, poured on the chapati, the rice and even on the dessert that concludes the meal.
The other lynchpin of the treatment is medication. ‘We follow pure ayurvedic principles,’ says Tambe. ‘Our oils are boiled for over 100 hours.’ He makes no bones about using metal in his medicine. Indeed, his visitor’s room contains rows of plastic containers holding gold, diamonds, pearls, even musk. He pooh-poohs side-effects. ‘You ingest more metal through pollution. Ayurvedic metal is non-toxic and used to potentate herbs. Ayurveda has often used gold, lead and other metals. Has there ever been a mercury or lead death?’
In his consulting room, all kinds of patients pass through his hands. A frail heart patient is advised panchamrut. Another, who was advised surgery for uteral fibroid, is told to use henna to bring down the bleeding. Balaji speaks to them in their own language, shifting from Hindi to Gujarati, Marathi or English as per the need.
Uwe Jungling, 47, a German, approached Tambe for his enlarged heart. He has been coming to the Village for panchkarmatreatment for a couple of years and describes his condition as super! The feeling of pressure in the heart area has disappeared and fear has diminished. ‘He’s my spiritual master,’ says Jungling.
Amar Makhija, 50, a businessman, is another heart patient cured of his blocks. Every year since ’91, he has been coming for panchkarma treatment. He says: ‘I feel fantastic physically, mentally and spiritually.’
In every case, Tambe emphasizes the relationship between body and mind. He says: ‘A good medicine can become poison if the psyche resists it. It is not what you take but what you convert it into that matters.’
For Tambe, healing is holistic, embracing body, mind and soul. ‘The body is made of five elements—water, earth, fire, air and ether—and all these require treatment. The elements of earth and water are treated by massage, fire by karma, and air and ether by mantras and meditation.’ Service is primary to him. He attributes the Village’s success to the fact that all work is couched in a loving and meditative atmosphere. ‘Determine to stay healthy so that you can serve. Sickness will disappear,’ he says.
Tambe first ventured into music to find out why the efficacy of mantras had declined. There he discovered a whole universe of healing possibilities. ‘All musical notes have a particular vibration, which correspond to some part of the body. The Indian ragas are calibrated towards activating these vibrations. The ragas are designed in keeping with the various cycles of the season and times of day. These are then aligned to the corresponding meridians in the body.’ The afternoon raga Sarang, for instance, is effective in treating epilepsy. He says: ‘Sankara and Tulsi Das composed music with healing properties. Some of Sankaracharya’s compositions are good for digestion and the heart.’ Tambe has pinpointed seven Indian ragas that have specific healing effects: Bhupali, Todi, Malkauns, Asavari, Bhairavi, Sarang and Shivranjani. Bhairavialleviates hypertension and reduces violent schizophrenia. ‘While western classical music is also moderately healing, rock music,’ says Tambe, ‘is a polluting sound.’
The Village makes full use of the therapeutic effect of music. Evenings are devoted to impromptu concerts, usually performed by Tambe himself. It has also released cassettes and CDs—Healing Music for Energy and Relaxation. Visitors are recommended different ragas, depending on their ailments. ‘This is the space age (air, ether), and therefore music is an important part of healing. I am planning to take concerts from place to place to heal man and nature. Music is also a cheap form of therapy. So, we should popularize it.’
Tambe was born into a family of ayurveda experts. While learning spirituality and ayurveda, he also acquired a degree in mechanical engineering. Initially, he juggled both occupations, healing people free of charge. He dropped his engineering career as late as 1980, when his large coterie of disciples insisted that he concentrate on healing. That’s when Atmasantulana came up. Today, Tambe has centers in Germany, Australia and Switzerland.
There’s a catch though. Treatment is expensive. Tambe justifies it by pointing to the salubrious hill station location and the fact that medicines are prepared by traditional and expensive methods. But if you have money salted away, and could do with a rest cure, the Village is definitely a good choice. And do take advantage of Tambe’s discourses. Priceless as they are, they at least come free.
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