Why Ayurveda needs a new apex body

An excerpt from veteran expert Dr G.G. Gangadharan’s new work on India’s science of life

Dr. G. G. Gangadharan | June 14, 2021


#Ayurveda   #medicine   #healthcare   #AYUSH Ministry   #education   #books  


Ayurveda: The True Way to Restore Your Health and Happiness
By Dr. G. G. Gangadharan
Ebury/Penguin, 224 pages, Rs 299

Dr G.G. Gangadharan, a champion of Ayurveda for three and a half decades, has penned an introductory book on India’s ancient science of life, and situated it in our times. A sound, scientific framework of healthcare that has saved countless lives – and improved the quality of living for many more – over five millennia. In a world that needs Ayurveda more than ever, Dr Gangadharan shows that Ayurveda has so much to offer; its simple application can transform daily life. The secret to greater happiness, Ayurveda says, is through balance and long-lasting health, and healthcare must address the individual as a whole and not just the disease.

After his seven-and-a-half-year Ayurvedacharya course from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Dr Gangadharan acquired a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has conducted training programmes in the US, the UK, Germany, France, China, South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Italy and Hong Kong, in addition to India. He has collaborated with social and corporate organizations, government think tanks, and international agencies that are interested in improving healthcare.

In this excerpt from the book, he talks about what the government has done for Ayurveda, and what more needs to be done, especially for its education.


GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES AND POLICIES

The Union Government of India has acknowledged Ayurveda to be on a par with allopathic medicine. This is most evident in the formation of the Ministry of AYUSH in 2014. Due to this and other reasons, insurance companies have started covering Ayurveda treatments. These are welcome changes.

However, one cannot help but notice that every time, the entire budget for the Ministry of AYUSH is the same as the budget allocation for one allopathic institution—AIIMS in New Delhi. In the 2021 Budget, the AYUSH Ministry got a mere Rs 2,970 crore, which is only 4.2 per cent of the health budget (Rs 71,269 crore). It’s safe to say that the Union government’s heart is opening up to Ayurveda, but its purse strings are sewn tight. Whereas the state government in Kerala recently announced Rs 3 billion and 300 acres of land for the establishment of the International Research Institute of Ayurveda.

There is a need for such investments. Perhaps it will also be a good idea to nominate one of the existing institutes—or a totally new one—as the apex body of the science. This institute will work closely with the AYUSH Ministry and be the de facto leader of the science of Ayurveda in India. It will champion worthwhile initiatives in the spheres of research, education, agriculture, entrepreneurship and pharmaceuticals. This apex body will act as the conduit between the government and the rest of society.

Also, through this apex body or the Ministry of AYUSH directly, the government needs to formulate comprehensive policy changes in multiple realms, starting with education.

EDUCATION

Centralized Syllabus
Today, all over India, Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery (BAMS) students study the same syllabus. While this sounds great, there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

A standardized syllabus means that students from the length and breadth of the country get no exposure to local botany and local healing techniques. So students practising in a desert region might have received minimal exposure to the ailments afflicting their patients. This is akin to a Siberian doctor not receiving training to treat hypothermia or a student in the equatorial jungles receiving only one session in the treatment of malaria.

It makes sense for students to study the unique plants available locally and the unique treatments that people of the region have successfully practised for ages. While the basic course needs to be standardized, individual educational institutions should be allowed to customize the course to impart locally relevant knowledge.

Another point to be considered: The human anatomy is studied using the approach followed by Western medicine. Perhaps some curriculum time can be allocated to understanding the unique anatomical perspectives brought forth by Ayurveda.

The post-independent India’s political scenario is dominated by a Western model, especially in the areas of education, development and health. Contrary to the Gandhian philosophy of Swaraj and his critiques on modern Western civilization, the political leadership in India has ignored the views of thinkers such as Gandhiji.

While the Nehruvian idea of development has helped us achieve success in certain areas, it has done damage to indigenous knowledge systems and indigenous notions of development. Keeping this scenario in the backdrop, one should look into the development of institutionalized education of Ayurveda in India.

By an Act of Parliament in 1975, the Central Council for Indian Medicine (CCIM) came into existence to regularize and bring uniform standards into the Ayurvedic education in the country. Thus, the basic reason for establishing CCIM as a national body was itself based on a distorted understanding of Ayurveda as a conventional system of medicine like modern biomedicine, which is comfortable with a uniform syllabus.

Curriculum & Syllabus
Is a uniform syllabus for Ayurveda desirable?

The strength and beauty of Ayurveda lies in its diversity. Ayurveda has been enriched with contributions from various scholars, different ethnic cultures and floristic diversity over a long period of time.

Each geographical area in India has come up with various applications of Ayurvedic practice. For example, Kerala has a rich tradition based on Sahasrayoga, Chikitsamanjari, Yogamrutham, Arogyakalpadrumam and experiences of Ashta Vaidya traditions.

Likewise, Karnataka has various texts and procedures in Ayurvedic treatment based on the region’s experience, climate and flora.

Maharashtra is rich in practices based on regional classics. For instance, the state has traditional places of excellence such as Nanal traditions similar to the Ashta Vaidya tradition of Kerala.

The state of Kashmir has a Kashmiri version parallel to Charaka Samhita, which has recently been re-edited by interested groups.

Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are well known for their use of minerals, metals and other rare plants of that area. The use of oils, ghritams and kwathas are not very popular in their practice.

We do not see any of this regional excellence reflected in the syllabus. The student who comes out of the current uniform curriculum is kept away from his or her own regional excellence in a given area. If a student comes out of a Kerala college and is not exposed to the centres of Ayurveda practice prevalent in Kerala itself but outside the university, he or she will not be able to understand or assimilate the Kerala special treatments such as Dhara, Pizichil, Kizhi and Kadivasthi.

A more balanced way of framing a syllabus for Ayurveda should have taken into consideration this regional excellence. Thus the uniformity of the syllabus poses a great danger of extinction to all the regional diversity in Ayurveda, unless we act consciously to bring those elements back into the curriculum.

Another serious concern for Ayurveda practitioners is the structure of the syllabus. The structure is, unfortunately, a distorted replica of the modern medicine curriculum. It should be known that Ayurveda has its own pedagogy, which has laid down certain principles and methods for teaching Ayurveda.  Slokas, chapters and sthanas are all interconnected. We must teach Ayurveda through the traditional, classical approach, reflected in the way the Samhitas are written, rather than disintegrating it into subjects that mimic the syllabi of biomedicine. The traditional textbook-based learning helps the student to understand the overall perspective of the science.

If one seriously goes through the chapters of a classical text, from Suthrasthana to Uttarasthana of Vagbhata, one can perceive the rhythm and the ambience of the shastra. Ashtanga Hrudayam is a typical example of how a healing science can be put into a precise and logical form with minimum words. On the contrary, if you divide Ayurveda into modern subject categories, the holistic approach of the knowledge system is lost and the student will not be able to use the thantra yukthis (the logical methods for understanding and interpreting the medical texts) to dissect and elaborate on the implicit meanings of words. The student can thus have only superficial comprehension of the subject.

[Excerpt reproduced with permission of the publishers.]

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