Man’s pursuit of scientific excellence has reaped many rewards. Advancement in the field of medicine is one of them. Developed through the ages, India’s prowess in holistic medicine is acknowledged by researchers and physicians around the world.
In Haridwar, on the banks of the Ganges, stands Vishnu Dham Ashram, abode of Pandit Vishwanath Mishra. An alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Pandit Mishra has dedicated his life to research on traditional Indian medicines. Rows of ancient manuscripts and awards that adorn his shelf testify to his mastery and grasp of the field.
Pandit Mishra’s nephew, Aryamann, has freshly graduated out of AIIMS, New Delhi, with a gold medal in endocrinology.
It is a cold, December morning in Haridwar. As Pandit Mishra was about to settle himself comfortably with his morning fix of turmeric tea and Hindi daily, Aryamann walked into his room. Pandit Mishra was fond of his nephew, for they bonded over discussions about the efficacy of Indian medicines.
Though Aryamann was brought up in a metropolis like New Delhi, never once did he disregard the efficacy of Unani or other traditional medicines, for that matter.
Pandit Mishra reached out for an edition of Sushruta Samhita from his bookshelf. As he lay out the thick volume on his table, he noticed his nephew watching with great interest.
Pandit Mishra said that the volume was attributed to Sushruta, a sage who walked the earth almost six centuries before Christ, and that it was replete with information of over 700 medicinal plants. The Eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats were among the top 18 biodiversity spots in the world, he added.
Aryamann was surprised when his uncle said that the common Tulsi plantwas replete with medicinal properties that could cure a common cold, bronchitis and various skin diseases. An infusion of its leaves could cure common gastric disorders in children as well, Pandit Mishra said.
Aryamann wanted to know more. He realized that despite having aced his medical internship at AIIMS, there was still lot to learn when it came to unravelling these medicinal gems cocooned in nature, hidden from public view. When Pandit Mishra stated how Haridra — another herb with medicinal properties – could cure diarrhoea, intermittent fevers and even jaundice, Aryamann couldn’t help but marvel at how intriguing these otherwise seemingly modest plants were.
He recalled reading about another wonder herb, Sapragandha. When he asked his uncle about it, Pandit Mishra smiled and corrected him. Sarpagandha, he said, was one of the more important herbs used to remedy hypertension and insomnia.
Aryamann knew that insomnia, though not considered a pressing medical issue, was a growing concern. He recalled the crippling effects of this medical condition and with it, marvelled at how an apparently humble shrub could be the right panacea for it.
With every traditional medicine and its secrets that his uncle unravelled, Aryamann felt humbled. He acknowledged that he had much to learn.
He thought aloud about whether these herbal concoctions would cost lesser than the more popular drugs and antipsychotics used to treat similar disorders. To this, Pandit Mishra replied that they would certainly come cheaper and have a lasting effect as well – one that would go deeper into the problem and fix it at its roots.
Pandit Mishra took the example of a few other medicinal herbs, includingthe North African native,Ghrit Kumari — the leaf juice of which could cure disorders ranging from skin diseases, constipation to abdominal tumour.
Surprises seemed to be in order for Aryamann. He was rather pleasantly stunned when his uncle said that Fenugreek (methi) was traditionally used to resist the onset of severe disorders, including stomach and intestinal ulcers, and diabetes. Pandit Mishra added that Neem leaves were a storehouse of benefits, with its antifungal properties used to address a range of skin and oral diseases.
Aryamann realized how marketers cleverly leveraged these properties of medicinal plants to push their own products.
When Pandit Mishra finished, Aryamann thanked him and was effusive in praise. After all, he realized that his 62-year old uncle, who lived his whole life in modesty, truly knew a secret or two about the glorious heritage of traditional Indian medicines.2