Tourist interest in Ayurveda lends new life to old Indian mansions

At the peak of its cultural glory in the 20th century, Poomully Mana boasted of patronage to a whole lot of classical south Indian arts.
Today, it has narrowed its engagement with heritage to just one subject: Ayurveda.
The result: an imposing mansion-turned-wellness resort that has for the past 15 years been providing health care based on the ancient Indian medical system, which is attracting many tourists to the southern state of Kerala — India’s tourism superbrand.
Down the state, Koothattukulam — another green and rugged pocket— has a similar enterprise called Sreedhareeyam; only that it specializes in eye-care.
Till 1999, it was known as Nellikkattu Mana, which was basically another Namboodiri household known for its Ayurveda physicians.
Up in Malabar, Poonkudil Mana in Malappuram district senses the prospect of boosting its age-old fame in Ayurvedic cure for mental ailments.
The treatment facility near hilly Manjeri brings people to the vaidyas in the family and buy their home-made herbal concoctions.
Overall, when feudal-era joint families have paved the way for nuclear households today, the owners of some of the rambling abodes are reinventing themselves by converting them into Ayurveda resorts.
The state government views the trend as a harbinger of brighter times for Ayurveda.
“Ayurveda is a time-tested healing system,” says Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.
“In modern times, its benefits are fetching us more tourists. They come for rejuvenation and treatment.”
Top functionaries of the heritage Ayurveda resorts, too, are happy over the change of fortune. Poomully Mana in Palakkad district, for instance, was losing some of its massive residential blocks and storage houses to non-maintenance and desertion of members (in search of greener pastures) a quarter century ago.
That phase of decay prompted some disciples, followers, friends and relatives of late Ayurveda and Kalarippayattu (the martial art unique to the state) master Neelakantan Nampoothirippad of the mansion near Pattambi came together.
A Poomully Aramthampuran Smaraka Trust they formed in his name in 1997 led to the conversion of the mansion into a new-age Ayurveda resort.
Neelakandan Poomully, president of the Ayurveda mana, notes that the facilities in the heritage rooms do not confine to just treatment techniques such as dhara, kashaya vasti, shwedanam, pizhichil and vamanam.
“We also have a private herb garden, yoga room and traditional bathing pond, a library of books on the subject, and a collection of related antiques in a museum,” he reveals.
“We also provide training in the martial art.”
Vasudevan Nampoothiri, another trustee and member of the family, notes that new blocks, built in classical architecture, are occupied almost throughout the year — more so by foreigners during the salubrious monsoon season.
The trust runs another resort at Perumbayil Mana in Pavaratti, near Guruvayur, a famed temple town.
The Sreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital and Research Center, in a quiet locality 35 km northeast of Kottayam town, has now become a popular haven for people desperate about problems of varying degrees related to eyesight or lack of it; in fact, even blindness of some types.
“We never resort to surgery. It works with our constant practice based on the deeper study about the tenets of Ayurveda — through herbal medicines, ointments and eye exercise,” says Dr. NPP Namboothiri, chief physician of the 14-year-old institution, which also addresses issues of ear, nose and throat.
The entrepreneurship may be recent, but Nellikkattu Mana’s tryst with Ayurveda dates back to at least four centuries during which its members provided eye treatment to local people more on a non-commercial basis.
As if to highlight this fact, the central part of the 55-acre campus (which also grows medicinal herbs) has the wooded tile-roof nalukettu— the quaint old structure that housed members of Mana.
“We have only respect for allopathy,” says Hari N Nambudiri, managing director of Sreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Medicines Pvt Ltd.
“In fact, some of our own doctors have passed MBBS (in modern medicine); only that they subsequently mastered the eyesight science of Ayurveda.”
On the Manjeri-Mankada road, Poonkudil Mana is not that crowded these days, as the mansion, which specializes in Ayurveda treatment for mental diseases has discontinued with the practice of admitting patients.
“That stopped it in 2003 — for practical reasons. All the same, we continue with consultations; give them homemade medicines,” says Devan Namboodiri, the chief physician.
The mode of treatment at Poonkudil Mana, which has a practicing history of more than five centuries, follows prescriptions from traditional Indian psychology based on tips from Ayurveda.
“The disease is all a matter of Heenasatwa (a worsened condition of the mind),” notes Namboodiri. “The medicines are made of herbs; some are prescribed special oil bath.
“We even make Brahmi ghee; it sharpens the brain of the patients and cools the body and mind.”
Malappuram district, which houses Poonkudil, boasts of one of Kerala’s Ashta Vaidyas — the eight traditional Ayurveda families from the Brahmin community. That is south of Perinthalmanna, in Pulamanthol.
Pulamanthol Sankaran Mooss, who heads the household now, runs a dispensary in the compound adjoining a tributary of the Nila river.
“Ours has been one family where no generation has lost its Ayurveda link for centuries together,” says Mooss.
In fact, not far from Poomully Mana, there is the Vaidyamadham — another family of the Ashta Vaidyas.
Today, the Vaidyamadham Vaidyasala and Nursing Home prepares 700 varieties of medicines at its factory that was set up 100 years ago in a modest way.
Its chief physician Cheriya Narayanan Namboodiri, who died recently, researched majorly in cancer to have come up with two types of medicines for the malignant disease. Treatment of arthritis was his specialty.
Thrissur and its vicinity have two major Ayurvedic hospitals that are new-age versions of treatments by Ashta Vaidyas.
The 1920-established SNA Ayurveda Nursing Home is an offshoot of the renowned Pazhannellippurath Thaikkatt Mooss who were royal physicians to King Zamorin of Malabar before they migrated to Thrissur to serve Kochi king Sakthan Thampuran (1751-1805).
A dozen km south of Thrissur is Vaidyarathnam Oushadhasala, run by a branch of the Thaikkatt Mooss, which has its business flourishing. It has a hospital and Ayurveda college.
“Soon, we are opening an Ayurveda museum,” adds ET Parameswaran Mooss of the establishment.
It is not just mansions; but even royal palaces have metamorphosed into sprawling Ayurveda resorts in modern times. Kalari Kovilakom, for instance, used to be the abode of the Vengunad kings of Palakkad region.
In the 21st century, the CGH (Casino Group of Hotels) runs it as a wellness center — at Kollengode, in the scenic foothills of Vadamala. The 1890-built palace was acquired by the hospitality group in 2000.
“It took us four years to refurbish it to suit the changed needs,” recounts Jose Dominic, managing director of the CGH based in the port city of Kochi (Cochin).
Every year, an estimated 6.7 million foreign tourists visit India. The sharp fall in the rupee, which is currently hovering around 62 rupees against the greenback, also makes India attractive for holidaymakers.
Kerala attracts a major chunk of them, mainly high-end tourists rather than backpackers, through innovative marketing using social media platforms and a wide range of products.
Last week, it won the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance, said to be the highest honor given to government bodies for shaping global tourism policies through innovative initiatives.
It received the recognition for its ‘responsible tourism’ project in Kumarakom village, a popular tourism destination located near Kottayam city.
The project links the local community with the hospitality industry and government departments, creating a model for empowerment and development of the people in the area while sustaining eco-friendly tourism.
“By building healthy private-public partnerships at the local level with the active involvement of the local community, we can create jobs locally, improve the lives of members of the local community and preserve its culture and ethos through sustainable tourism,” says AP Anilkumar, the state’s minister for tourism. ( ARAB NEWS/25 January14)

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