Kerala is famous the world over for its Ayurvedic system of medicine. Many consider the Kerala system of Ayurveda more holistic and hence superior to other forms available across India. So what makes it so?
Herbal v/s Minerals
Long before organized Ayurveda came to Kerala people in the state were using herbal pastes and concoctions and oils made of them to treat diseases. Because of the abundance of medicinal herbs of all kinds available and this hoary tradition even now Kerala Ayurveda has a preponderance of herbal medicines and oils. As different from those made with minerals and heavy metals prevalent in the Northern Indian states. In fact many of the formulas of the early Malayali physicians are even now prescribed by the Ayurvedic doctors as practical home remedies.
Humid climate and rejuvenation treatments
There are two sides to the Ayurvedic medicinal system, the treatment of diseases using medicines and preventive care using certain therapies. In the second there are a number of rejuvenation and relaxation procedures like Kizhi, Pizhichil, Dhara, Vasti, Tarpanam and Lepanam which Kerala is famous for. Various oils and concoctions are applied to different parts of the body either directly or as muslin boluses to cleanse the body and relieve the stresses and strains of daily life. The humid climate helps the body to perspire and opens up the pores during the treatment with heated medicines. This in turn makes the treatment more effective as the medication seeps deeper into the body.
Reliance on Ashtanga Hridaya
The Kerala system of Ayurveda is holistic in nature because unlike other states where the Charaka and Susrutha Samhitas are extensively followed, in Kerala, Vagbhata’s Ashtanga Hridaya is considered the final authority in all matters medicine. The Ashtangas are the eight areas of medicine namely, General Medicine, Pediatrics, ENT, Surgery, Toxicology, Geriatrics, Aphrodisiac and Occult or Tantric medicine.
There were thirty two villages (Gramas) in Kerala in ancient times and there were eighteen and a half families who were the Grama physicians. These families were called Ashtavaidyans because they followed Ashtanga Hridaya strictly. The half family was the Sala Vaidyan - the physician in charge in the Yaga, the greatest of all Hindu rituals - who studied but did not do practical surgery. The rest of the physicians who practiced Ayurveda but were not well versed in all the branches were called Arya Vaidyans - the Arya is a respectful term derived from before the Mahabharata times. In fact, there were certain families and physicians who specialized in certain areas like Pediatrics, Toxicology, Geriatrics etc.
The Grama physicians in the olden times were paid a fixed salary from the Grama temples and this remained the same irrespective of whether there were no patients or an epidemic. There is a joke going around that they were hence very concerned that nobody contracted any disease as their job went up but not their income! No wonder they popularized the preventive care therapies!!