With an unbroken 5,000-year old tradition of Ayurveda, Kerala is home to one of the sciences of healing. Regional folk medical practices utilising Kerala’s rich medicinal flora and Ashtavaidyas, traditional physicians who are experts in the eight branches of Ayurveda, as laid out in Ashtangahridayam, have contributed much to Kerala’s rise as the centre of Ayurveda. Of the original 18 Ashtavaidya families, a few still practice in the state.
Kerala’s tropical forests are home to over 900 different Ayurvedic herbs and medicinal plants and Agasthyakoodam, a peak in the southern part, nurtures some of the rarest varieties – most of them endemic to the region. And as most of these potent herbs are available throughout the year, continuity in treatments is ensured to make them effective.
The popularity of Ayurveda has today led Kerala Tourism to take stringent measures in sustaining the quality of the products and services offered. A certification system has been introduced by the state to classify centres into Green Leaf and Olive Leaf categories based on the quality and standard of services and products. The Ayurveda centres in Kerala are graded based on the quality of technical personnel, medicine, health programmes and equipment. Only those centres which are classified/approved are promoted by Kerala Tourism.
Suman Billa, secretary, Kerala Tourism affirms, “You cannot undermine the importance of classification especially when it involves something like Ayurveda. When a tourist travels here, he needs to be assured that what he pays for is what he gets. Ayurveda is unfortunately not like a hotel room which can be viewed online. It involves medication so we have to ensure not only the infrastructure but also that the manpower is well trained, that the medicines used in the treatment are of appropriate quality so that the health of the patient is not compromised. So the two tier classification was introduced – Green Leaf pertains to five-star standard while Olive Leaf is three-star. So whichever standard a tourist chooses, he is assured that he is in safe hands. Ayurveda is a traditional science so people can be easily fooled. When we go for the inspection, we check not only the premises, but also the staff working there and how trained they are and their educational qualifications.”
Commenting on the manpower requirements of the sector, he says, “There are two types of manpower needed in the Ayurveda sector: one is the doctors who are critical to the treatment. Thankfully we have good medical colleges and medical institutions in Kerala so the doctor pool is sufficient. Then we also have the reputed institutions of excellence like Kottakal Arya Vaidyashala, Vaidyaratan and Nagarjuna who have been practicing unbroken Ayurveda for many centuries. The second level are the masseurs and the therapists for whom there are courses conducted by the Kerala Institute of Travel and Tourism Studies (KITTS). There are also courses done by Ayurveda practitioners like Pankaja Kasturi College of Ayurveda in the private sector. So all this ensures a steady stream of well trained manpower for the sector. The responsibility to ensure that the therapists work well lies with the doctor.”
Rani George director, Kerala Tourism says, “The classification system is a good thing as it helps maintain standards of Ayurveda. Many Ayurveda centres are applying for the classification because it is an acceptance of their standards of quality.”
She adds, “We have being selling Kerala as God’s Own Country owing to its natural beauty. But we also realised that Ayurveda is another niche product and that we need to brand Kerala as the home of Ayurveda. So we rolled out a campaign for this in 2011. We launched the campaign in Germany because a lot of tourists come from there for Ayurveda treatments. We followed this with roadshows and workshops in Germany, released ads in their print media and also participated in international wellness fairs. Then we found that other countries were also showing interest in our Ayurveda like Austria, Sweden, Switzerland. So we used the print media in these countries to create awareness about this niche product. We also released a domestic campaign in India at airports, roadshows, etc.”
Monsoon is dream season
George points out that lots of visitors come from these countries to Kerala for Ayurveda. “And this is despite the recession. There are inflows even from the Middle East and Russia. Keeping this in mind, we created a campaign for the Middle East last year for the monsoon season as tourists from there come during this season to escape the heat in their countries. This year too we will be creating a campaign for the Middle East for the monsoon season. We plan to sell the off season as the dream season for Ayurveda. Earlier we were focusing on the price factor but now we plan to focus on the experience factor; that is making it more experiential. We will focus on June and July as the season for Ayurveda. Especially as the monsoon season is most suitable for Ayurveda.”
Ancient texts prescribe the monsoon season (June-August) as the ideal time for Ayurveda. It is during this season that the atmosphere remains cool and dust-free – letting the pores of the body open to a maximum, making the skin most receptive to therapy.
Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort is a Green Leaf certified centre that recently won the state tourism award for Best Ayurveda Centre. Located at Chowara Beach on a hillock nine km south of the famous Kovalam Beach, in Kerala, the resort is spread over 15 acres of lush greenery. The resort accommodation is built in the traditional style of southern India, and most of the bungalows called Kerala Houses and Cottages have a lovely view of the sea.
According to a Somatheeram official, “We do get domestic guests but majority of our guests are Europeans who come for the Ayurveda treatments that we specialise in.” She adds, “South India and especially Kerala offers the ideal climatic conditions required for the efficacy of Ayurveda. A moderate temperature, ample rainfall ensured by two monsoons, humid air and abundant natural wealth. All this makes Kerala the perfect natural setting for Ayurveda’s healing touch for the rejuvenation of body, mind and soul.” Commenting on whether the resort sees a rise in numbers during the monsoon season, she says, “We get guests round the year but yes, in the last two years we have seen an increase in guests during the monsoons as there is increasing awareness about the monsoon season being the ideal climate for Ayurveda.”
Somatheeram has a diet plan that is integral to each course of Ayurvedic treatment. During the initial examination, the Somatheeram doctors compile a personal Ayurvedic diet plan for each guest – in accordance with his/her personal Dosha or constitution. Roughly 200 different Ayurvedic dishes are available and are served in the resort’s restaurant in traditional mud pots that retain the flavours. The Ayurveda resort also has its own facility to manufacture the medications required for treatment.
The manufacturing plant at Somatheeram has been awarded the Good Manufacturing Product Certificate (GMP) by the Indian Government in appreciation of its high quality products.
Kalaripayattu’s link with Ayurveda
Many seasonal rituals and religious ceremonies in Kerala also echo the tenets of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic massages have long been customary for Kalaripayattu (the traditional martial training and physical culture unique to Kerala) artistes to increase flexibility of the body. There are around 65 active Kalaris under the aegis of the Kerala Kalaripayattu Association affiliated to the Kerala Sports Council. In fact the healing aspect of Kalaripayattu was the first known sports medical system in the days when there were no hospitals. Foot massages and ortho treatments were used to heal sports injuries.
According to CVN Kalari Sangham set up in 1956 in Thiruvanathapuram, the training to become a master or Gurukkal involves many years of teaching of young and senior students in the Kalari and the learning of various advanced Kalarippayat techniques and the whole body massage system known as Uzhichil. The specialised branch of treatments done by the Kalari Gurukkals is known as Kalarichikilsa or Marmachikilsa having its foundation in Ayurveda, with special emphasis on treatment of orthopedic injuries and ailments. CVN Kalari also runs a traditional ‘Kalarichikitsa’ clinic specialising in Ayurvedic orthopedic treatments. The Sangham runs a traditional Kalari training centre and also organises perfomances and workshops in many countries and has represented India in many prestigious international festivals. It also receives many students from overseas for training every year.