By Suryamithra Vishwa/Harmony Page-DailyFT
Colombo, April 18: In the background of one of the worst global pandemics in recent history, the COVID-19 virus, South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and India could be described as nations gifted with a rich and diverse medical heritage, such as Desiya Chikitsa (Sinhala Hela Beheth), Ayurveda and Siddha.
Encompassed within the broad Ayurveda system are many life-saving healing methods, disease preventive methods and knowledge of the use of the many of nature’s gifts including medicinal herbs, plants, trees, fruits/vegetables, a significant number of which are considered luxuries in the West.
Most of these comprise our traditional diet and contribute to boosting our immunity against diseases. It is pertinent to mention that the meaning of the Sanskrit term AyurVeda could be translated as knowledge or science of life; Ayur meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge or knowing.
In the face of the global pandemic, where we do not know what more intriguing diseases are in store for us, in both Sri Lanka and India, there are those lobbying for our traditional values of well-being, agriculture and nutrition as well as avoiding harmful ‘modern’ diets of genetically modified and chemically induced foods that are not part of our agro heritage.
Even those who are more comfortable with Western medicine or allopathy would agree on the point that the philosophy of Ayurveda is largely around prevention of disease with a correct lifestyle, thought patterns and diet practices where the mind, body and spirit are all taken as an integral whole, a time-tested outlook. Sri Lanka and India share a near common medical history.
Sri Lanka, which was thought to be an ancient medicinal hub, has a medical system that pre-dates Ayurveda, known as Desiya chikitsa or Sinhala Wedakama (medicine of the Sinhala race). It is believed that Ravana, the prehistoric king of Lanka of Ramayana fame, was well versed in medical lore. It is mentioned that he represented Sri Lanka at a medical conference held in India during his time (where he met Seetha and unleashed the first Indo-Lankan war), points out Dr. C.G. Uragoda, author of the book, ‘History of Medicine in Sri Lanka’.
Uragoda, an allopathic doctor and past President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association and the Ceylon College of Physicians, explains in the book under the 2nd chapter ‘Ancient medical practices’, that a majority of the medical plants used in India and Sri Lanka are the same.
Sri Lankan author, Dr. Seela Fernando in her book ‘Herbal Food and Medicines in Sri Lanka’ quotes Dr. George Clarke, M.D., M.A. of Philadelphia, as stating as follows, after reading the Charaka Samhita, the ancient text on the Ayurvedic medical tradition: “As I go through a part of Charaka, I come to the conclusion that if present day physicians drop all modern drugs and chemicals from their Pharmacopoeia and adopt the methods of Charaka in treating diseases, there will be less work for undertakers and fewer invalids in the world.”
Dr. Clarke was referring to the overall medical system of both India and Sri Lanka.
Against the coronavirus backdrop, what is being recommended by the Chinese and other experts who have studied the COVID-19 virus (and found it being eliminated when exposed to high levels of heat) are methods such as steaming which Indian and Sri Lankan traditional medical practice uses for respiratory health. The herb-infused inhalation clears the lungs and restores respiratory health.
Among the herbs (raw or dried) used are lime leaves, coriander, thulasi (holy basil), ginger, garlic, nidhikumba (mimosa) flowers, karapincha (curry leaves), kuppameniya (Indian copper leaf), kohomba (neem leaves/bark), devadara and vishnukanthi (to name a few). The general regular consumption of herbs/spices such as lime, turmeric, pepper, ginger, onion and coriander that is part of our diet, is known to enhance and fortify immunity.
Ayurvedic practices such as oil pulling (gargling with coconut oil, putting drops in nose and eyes) is used especially in India for ridding impurities from the body and boosting overall immunity.
Revive ancient medical heritage
Although it is allopathic medicine that has taken a central stage in India and Sri Lanka there are calls to revive our ancient medical heritage to face present and future threats of global pandemics.
Indian Padma Shri award winner for his services for promoting Ayurveda, J. Hareendran Nair, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor and entrepreneur from Kerala, opined that it is sad that Ayurveda medical practices have today become an ‘alternative medicine’ for countries such as India and Sri Lanka where Ayurveda is and was a key part of our collective inheritance.
Meanwhile, D.H. Tennakoon, former Director of Sri Lanka’s National Ayurveda Teaching Hospital, who is currently talking to the media to educate people on Ayurveda in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, points to an ancient Sanskrit sloka that advised, through Ayurveda, contact based prevention techniques when faced with human to human transmitted contagious diseases.
He points out that this is the same as those prescribed today by the World Health Organisation (WHO), pertaining to the prevention of the COVID-19 virus.
The sloka advising distancing/isolation/avoidance of touch, when threatened by contagious diseases is as follows:
Prasangath (close intimate contact, sexual) gathra
sansparsath (touch; such as shaking hands)
nisswasath (exhalation and droplets thereof)
sahabojanath (shared meals or community eating)
ekashaiyasanaschaiwa (close proximity habitation such as in a family; carrying children, etc.)
wastra (exchange of clothes/sharing of clothes)
malanu (ornaments such as chains and exchanging such)
lepanath (cosmetic application such as lipstick)
jawaran kushtancha shoshan cha (diseases such as rashes, TB, fever)
nethra abhisyanda mewacha (eye diseases such as sore eyes, conjunctivitis)
awupasargika rogas thu sankramanthi naran nara (all these that are passed from person to person).
“Well, isn’t this what is told to us now by Western medical experts for the prevention of the coronavirus, which our ancient physicians told us so many hundreds of years ago in exact precise detail, advising us how to avoid the spreading of such diseases?” asks Dr. Tennakoon.
He also points to the Ayurvedic advice to communities during pandemics in ancient times. When a disease was widespread, ‘Janapada Udwansa’, there was a directive to ‘lockdown’ as we know now in today’s parlance, or ‘isolation’ of villages and towns. Within families the sick person would be isolated. He or she would use separate plates, cups etc.
“If one looks at the ancient Sri Lankan/Indian medical practice; when there was a sick person in the family , herbs and leaves such as lime fruit/Kohomba (Neem) leaves were hung outside the door indicating that the particular house is temporarily under isolation because a member in that household is having an infectious sickness. Well that is exactly what the Public Health Inspector (PHI) of today is doing in Sri Lanka, pasting a sticker on the door (indicating that the house has a patient with the COVID-19 virus). The only exception is that the sticker is not a herb having medicinal properties and anti-bacterial benefits that all the medicinal leaves have,” Dr. Tennakoon points out.
Turn attention to nature
“We have to turn our attention to nature of which we are all a part,” says Meera Sai Murali of Coimbatore, a former banking professional who is now an example of how to live with and in nature without disease, cultivating her own food/medicine through organic nature-based methods and following the path of nature cure for disease prevention.
Right now, when many of us in Sri Lanka and India are struggling with food shortages and fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, Meera lives happily in the security that she will neither have a lack of food nor fear for her immunity.
“This lockdown is not affecting me and my family as we are anyway in a permanent ‘lockdown’ with nature where we have in our forest garden everything we need; what mother earth gifts us are our foods. All the elements of mother earth are our medicine. We spend a maximum of only around Indian Rs. 2,000 a month and that too for expenditure such as fuel,” points out Meera who engages in what is called ‘nature-based cultivation’ (dictated by nature and not by man and his devious modern introductions of pesticides/weedicide).
Known in Sinhala as ‘Swabahdaham govithena’ that Sri Lankan experts on the subject such as Tilak Kandegama promote, is the pathway for the future for us to become what we were before colonization/globalization. We were strong, using our formidable ancestral knowledge.
“The sun and the air and clean water are all compulsory for good immunity. Every plant has multiple uses. Nature is providing all of us multiple options; it gives us tooth cleaning material, body cleaning agents, fruits, greens, vegetables, medicines, toys.. the list is endless,” says Meera.
There are others who echo Meera on awakening to self-sufficiency in nutrition, both at an individual and national level.
Begin a new path
“Countries like Sri Lanka and India have to begin a new path to secure their food and nutrition based on traditional/indigenous models. Ayurveda emphasizes disease prevention and it is time we resurrected our own philosophy of living right,” says Western and India trained Lankan food and nutrition specialist, Dr. Damayanthi Perera who holds a PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of London and M SC, B Sc, P.G. Diploma in Public Health and Policy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in UK. She also holds a Masters degree in human nutrition from the University of Bombay and B.Sc from the University of Allahabad, India.
She opines that the Western economic, agriculture, food and nutrition models have failed to serve humanity.
“During the early days of the Indian lockdown, a friend from India called me and the conversation was on COVID-19. He informed me that his Indian doctor friend had advised him to take zinc supplements to boost immunity,” recalls Dr. Perera.
“I immediately responded by reminding him that he is from the ‘Land of Ayurveda’ and that there are plenty of foods recommended in Ayurveda for boosting immunity. I told him that we are taking ‘Golden Milk’ with turmeric, ginger and black pepper and milk… which is a traditional Ayurvedic recipe for boosting immunity. I also informed him to consume at least one teaspoon of virgin coconut oil (VCO) three times a day since it has been reported in scientific literature that VCO destroys lipid coated viruses,” she said.
“Western consumers have been gulping down synthetic vitamins and minerals for long, but the comparative data from the global north and the global south on COVID-19 pandemic indicate that consumers from the global north are immune-compromised. Further, synthetic vitamins and minerals may be toxic in the short and long-run. Our traditional food cultures and traditional agriculture have been destroyed by the West. This is our last chance to reform our food and agriculture to prevent both non communicable (NCDs) and communicable diseases,” she emphasizes.
The coronavirus is a dark cloud over the world but let our Sinhala Wedakama and the Ayurvedic system and our nature based agro heritage be the silver lining on disease prevention and immunity boosting.
(The Harmony page will continue to publish interviews, articles, analysis and book reviews on our wealth of traditional indigenous medicinal and lifestyle practices recommended through Hela Wedakama, Ayurveda and Sidha as well as continue our mission to draw humanity closer to Mother Earth. We therefore will continue to actively promote the cultivation methods that are in sync with our ancient Lankan heritage where we did not poison the earth and ourselves or kill any other creature; weed or insect just because humans have to be fed.)