Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala | Authorized Distributor in the USA

Biography of Vaidyaratnam P.S.Varier

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In 1902, the age-old tradition of indigenous medicine was under severe attack from several quarters. The colonial masters, in their eagerness to assert the superiority of western science, condemned native values and did all they could to delegitimize the authenticity of Indian systems of medicines. The system had internal weaknesses too: stagnant knowledge, ignorant practitioners and non-availability of quality medicines. Thus the Ayurvedic system of treatment was on the verge of extinction at the beginning of the last century.

What P.S. Varier did to retrieve the lost glory to Ayurveda is part of history now. He organized his fellow-physicians, instilled confidence in them and led them to a ‘creative introspection’ based on their own experience. Himself a ‘critical insider’, he could, with their help, rejuvenate the system by integrating it with western epistemology. He introduced systematic study of Ayurveda by his pioneering institutional efforts, disseminated the ancient wisdom through scientific publications and ensured the quality of medicines by adopting modern techniques of manufacturing.

His activities were not confined to the medical field. As a good physician, scholars, poet, dramatist, musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist, his efforts embraced the entire realm of our cultural life. P.S. Varier was not only the architect of the Arya Vaidya Sala but the renaissance leader of the revitalization movement of early twentieth century with its nucleus at Kottakkal. While alive, he dedicated his life to the cause of humanity and bequeathed, by his unique will, all that he inherited to posterity.

In the 19th Century, Vaidyam, the Ayurveda health care system which includes the learning and practice of the science of healing, was still being taught in the houses of the Vaidyas(Ayurvedic physicians) according to the ancient gurukula system, in which a student stayed in the guru’s house for as many years as it took him to complete what he had come to learn-from three or four to even ten, twelve years.

namb_illam_photo_8_2In the year 1886, there were many such sishyas (disciples) in the illam (or residence) of Kuttanchery Vasudevan Mooss, a Namboodiri who belonged to one of the eight great reputed families of Ayurvedic physicians in Kerala, the ashtavaidyans, and a teacher who had trained many well-known vaidyas of the time. His illam was situated in a village called Ottupara in the interior of the erstwhile state of Cochin, near Vadakkanchery.

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The illam was a modest one. It consisted of the main house-a traditional tiled structure, the nalukettu, built around a central sunken courtyard, the nadumuttam, with four wooden pillars at the corners; a gatehouse, also tiled, and a small kulappura, the building that overlooked the bathing tank belonging to the family.

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The tank itself has now shrunk to half its size, but the old kulappura still stands, amazingly untouched by time. The guru, Vasudevan Mooss, used to stay in a small room on the first floor and used the central hall adjacent to it as a classroom for his students.

The guru provided all the students who stayed in his house food, oil for their bath, and vaka powder or soap, whichever they used, to wash off the oil. The disciples brought their own clothes. They attended to their guru’s personal needs from dawn to dusk not only in his own house but also on the occasions when they accompanied him on visits to the sick in other villages.The students occupied the same building. Everyone ate in the main house, where the kitchen and women’s quarters were situated.

 

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Among the students who came to take instruction from Kuttanchery Vasudevan Mooss in the year 1886 was a seventeen-year-old boy named Sankunni(P.S.Varrier). With his long experience as a teacher, Mooss realized very quickly that this boy, serious by disposition, quick and eager to learn and the youngest of the group then residing at the illam, would be an excellent scholar and an exemplary disciple.

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The daily routine at the illam was demanding and rigorous. The disciples had to rise at three. Their duties, which began at that hour of the day, included holding the lamp to light the guru’s path when he went to perform his morning ablutions; heating water for him; laying out whatever he might want for his bath; gathering, preparing and arranging everything he needed for his lengthy puja rituals.

The older Namboodiris ate nothing until they had finished performing their long rituals of worship every morning. The first meal of the day at the illam was therefore often served only after noon. The male Namboodiris ate first, the Namboodiri women and children ate when the men had finished. Only then were people who belonged to other castes served. This meant that young Sankunni, who was not a Namboodiri, had his first meal only at two or three in the afternoon. He had come from a home where he had been used to eating a full meal at eight in the morning and initially, he must have found this change in routine hard to accept.

The instruction imparted to the young disciples by Vasudevan Mooss and Aryan Mooss, the other teacher in the household, was based on the study of Vagbhata’s Ashtangahridayam, a text that all physicians in Kerala had to learn. This text describes the eight branches of treatment and is written in Sanskrit in the form of shlokas. The guru explained these verses to the disciples.

But the unique quality of the gurukula system was not simply the study of this text, nor the lucidity with which it was explained it was the accumulation of everything a disciple imbibed by being with the guru, by accompanying him on his visits to sick patients, by closely observing, understanding and, above all, experiencing the diagnostic and therapeutic talents his guru exercised when he saw patients. Anubhavasiddhi, or the knowledge and powers earned through experience was the acme of this school of learning.

One or two disciples always accompanied the guru on his visits to other villages. Besides carrying what they needed for themselves for the journey, the boys also carried on their heads the metal utensils the guru used for his puja, the clothes and oil he would need on the journey, his betel-leaf box and the granthams or palm-leaf manuscripts that he might have to consult. If the guru traveled in a bullock cart, it was generally driven by someone belonging to an inferior caste; if he traveled by palanquin, the same was true of the bearer. Since the rules of ritual purity were unrelenting in those days, the articles the disciples carried on their heads would have been polluted if they had been placed in the cart or palanquin. Physicians generally set out on such visits after their noon meal and, balancing heavy loads on their heads, the young boys ran behind the transport that carried their guru over rough cart tracks scorched by the sunlight, their bare feet burning.

During these early years he also came up against the difficulty of procuring raw materials to prepare medicines for his patients.

Realizing the magnitude of the challenge that this problem was causing to his colleagues and professional associates, P.S.Varrier (PSV) decided to start an organization, which would provide patients and practitioners alike with readymade Ayurveda medicines, and so transform Ayurveda into a dependable and efficient system of healthcare, that is easily accessible to anyone. This was the idea behind his 1902 initiative to start Arya Vaidya Sala (AVS), a project into which he would put enormous efforts in the course of his life.

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The first pharmacy of Shri P.S.Varier, Kottakkal, 1902

PSV often came up with highly original solutions to problems he faced. One such was that the availability of raw materials is seasonal, and hence his company could not process them all year round. In order to keep the employees of Arya Vaidya Sala busy during lean periods, he started a drama troupe, and with this idea, he was able to provide continuous, year round employment for all his staff.

Fifteen years later, on 14 th January 1917, he founded Arya Vaidya Patasala with his own money as one of the first educational institutions in pre-independence India to teach Ayurveda. In this way, PSV motivated and inspired many youngsters to study Sanskrit, and made it possible for them to learn to practice Ayurveda. Today the Patasala has become an Ayurveda college and Arya Vaidya Sala has evolved into a national institution, with branches all over India and overseas.

As part of his program to promote the institutions he founded, PSV set about popularizing Ayurveda, and spreading knowledge of its benefits more widely. To reach patients, students and Ayurveda lovers alike, he started the Ayurveda magazine, “Dhanwantari”, while out of a desire to promote the unification of the Ayurveda community as a whole, he established the Arya Vaidya Samaj to organize Ayurveda conferences and educational programs. Another of his aims was to write works in which Ayurveda concepts are placed beside those of western medicine in comparative studies that would be of benefit to students of Ayurveda. With this idea in mind, he wrote his books, ‘Ashtanga Shariram’, ‘Oushadha Nirmana Kramam’, and ‘Brihad Shareeram’ etc.

PSV truly believed, and demonstrated through his actions that what was traditional in India could be revitalized and recharged by western thought and ideas. Scientific advances in matters of medicine could, in particular, be adapted to the demands of Ayurveda, and integrated into its practice such as new pharmaceutical techniques; teaching methodology; framing new forms of teaching syllabus by combining elements of various different traditions; branding strategies.

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