By: SUREKHA DHALETA
‘Himvanaushudhi Bhuminam’, an old Sanskrit saying, loosely translated as, ‘the herbs grow in abundance’, where else can the place be, other than Himachal.
Owing to a variety of conditions, Himachal Pradesh has been a rich repository of medicinal herbs and plants. The varying agro-climatic condition from sub-tropical to temperate and extreme cold, make Himachal Pradesh a natural habitat for a large number of medicinal and aromatic plants that are used as raw material for making a large number of Ayurvedic medicines.
Speaking about the glory of Himalayan region for medicinal herbs, Basham cites from the Susrut Samhita in ancient India, “Particularly noted for medicinal herbs were the Himalayas, the home of the God Siva, the lord of Vaidyas, and the Soma, the king of plants, from which the narcotic beverage drunk by the Brahmanas at sacrifices was produced. Though not mentioned directly, there must have been a considerable trade in drugs from the mountains to the plains.” (#1)
A large number, 55 to 60 species of medicinal plants are known to exist in Himalayan hills because of high diversity in habitat ecology ranging from tropical, sub tropical, wet temperate, and arid temperate. However high value of plants which are being extracted in large quantity from their natural habitat include Aconitum heterophyllum (atees), aconitum palmatum (patis), podophylum hexandrium(bankakri), dactylorhiza hataginea (salam panja), nardostochys grandiflora (jatamanasi), picrohiza kurraoa (karoo), jurinea macroephaln benh (dhoop),arnebea benthamii (ratanjot), rhododendron acanthopon, tanus baccata (talispatra).These are rare and endangered species. There are a large number of other plants which are used medicinally in villages. (#2)
In Lahaul-Spiti ‘Chief medicinal herbs are species of ‘artemesia’, ‘epherda’, ‘aconitum’, ‘podophyllum’, ‘karu’ and ‘hyoscyamus niger’. Jelly of fruit of hippophae rhamnoedes is recommended by Lamas in lung complaints. ‘Rattanjot’ is found in Spiti valley. (#3)
Kangra: Surgery of the ear and nose
In the western Himalaya region, the sources of nearly 80% of Ayurvedic, 46% of Unani and 33% of all the Allopathic medicines are known to exist. (#4)
These aspects reveal Himachal as a storehouse for herbs and medicinal plants. Ayurveda has been prevalent in Himachal since ancient times. The royal courts used to appoint Ayurvedic physicians as court physicians called ‘RajVaidyas’. The present day Kangra district has a strong history of royal patronage. In ancient literature this area was known as ‘Trigart Pradesh’. Kangra was renowned for reparative surgery of ears and noses, hence giving it a name Kangra. Kangra had been reined for a longest period by Katoch dynasty and Katoch kings used to appoint Ayurvedic physicians as Rajvaidyas. Ayurveda was deeply rooted in the socio cultural background of Kangra. Kangra region spread in the past up to Lahaul-Spiti in the north and Punjab in the south.
Ancient Kangra now being divided in to districts like Una, Hamirpur, Kullu, Mandi (partly) has a strong hold of ayurveda tradition and is rich in the number of institutions and presently the sole college in Ayurveda is in Paprola, district Kangra. There are many families practicing Ayurveda in Kangra who have been collectively called the Vaid Tabbar, (the family of Ayurvedic practitioners) The trading community has traditionally been trading for herbs like Dhoop, Brahmi, Harad, Baheda, Kuth, Arjun, Daruharida etc. from this area.
State government has attached a great importance to the indigenous systems of medicine, in deference to which, a separate department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy was created on November 7, 1984. Though a separate wing of Ayurveda had been established in the year 1976, from 1976 to 1984, this wing was a part of the Health Department; it was in 1984 only that it started functioning as a separate department.
What accounts historically for the credence being given to Ayurveda in the state is the presence of extensive flora and fauna, a strong hold of Ayurveda in the state in the pre-independence phase governed by a royal patronage and preponderance of practitioners. These factors cumulatively became instrumental in giving a vantage position to Ayurveda in the state which was further strengthened by a strong state support in the post independence phase. In the post independence phase, state investment has played a significant role in fostering growth of Ayurvedic institutions over time, both Ayurvedic hospitals and Ayurvedic health Centres (AHC’s) have grown, but it is largely at the primary level that the institutes have grown.
There are variations in terms of Ayurveda being skewed in some districts of the state and concentrated largely in the rural areas. District variation is largely characterized by presence of strong institutional network in Kangra, Shimla, Mandi etc. The uneven pattern for institutional network could be likely explained as these districts are large in terms of population density and have had a strong tradition of Ayurveda in the past. Ayurveda is doing a commendable job in the periphery i.e. the rural areas of the state.
What ails Himachalis?
Owing to severe cold conditions, people in Himachal suffer from problems of arthritis, rheumatism along with other problems, for which they seek relief in Ayurveda, also respiratory infections are a cause of high morbidity in the state along with gastroenteritis and diarrhoeal diseases for which they also seek relief in Ayurveda. Treatment for paralysis is also largely sought for in Ayurveda. According to practitioners now people are also seeking treatment for stress related problems, high blood pressures, diabetes, heart ailments in Ayurveda.
Himachal has many renowned hill stations, and the new initiatives that have been taken up in the recent decades by the Ayurveda department have been to marry tourism with Ayurveda i.e. introduced several packages in collaboration with HPTDC. The website of HPTDC announces: Himachal Pradesh is celebrated for its clean and green environment and its peace loving and friendly people. The availability of rare and fresh herbal medicines from the Himalayas provides great potential development of the Health Tourism through Ayurveda. Panch karma being super specialty of Ayurveda has achieved tremendous popularity in the state in recent years; therefore the Ayurvedic department in collaboration with HPTDC has started Ayurvedic rejuvenation packages in two hotels of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) at Hotel Sarvari, Kullu and Hotel Uhl, Jogindernagar.
Need of the Hour
A vast traditional medical knowledge in Himachal has been lost due to lack of documentation, though Government has taken many initiatives to recognize the practitioners and document the procedure of herbal cures.
Gujarat and Uttaranchal as benchmarks
What comes forth to surface as the need of the hour for us as responsible citizens is to create a database of practitioners or of people who have some knowledge of herbal medicines or learn something from initiatives like the ‘Jasud Kendra’ and ‘Sanjeevani Kendra’ which are being run in Gujarat and Uttaranchal respectively. Under the aegis of the Mahila Samakhya program initiatives to form medical centers on basis of traditional knowledge have been undertaken in Gujarat and Uttaranchal which has given thrust to documentation, validation and production of herbal medicines. Few women who have knowledge of traditional knowledge have formed a collective and received training under the MS program and run a medical centre where knowledge of herbal medicines is articulated, taught to coming generations, dispensed and patients are examined at these centers. It is indeed surprising that the name ‘Jasud’ derives from Hibiscus flower or the China rose, which is known for it potential medicinal properties, especially for menstrual problems. A visit made to a ‘Jasud Kendra’ in Baroda revealed that every member of the collective has grown Hibiscus in the backyard.
I beseech all the readers to not let the vast knowledge go awry and lets make an effort at the basic level to document the procedures of herbal cures or bring in what so ever information available on traditional medical knowledge from the locals near you or someone elderly in your family to this forum. Let’s reach out to nature through this small leap.
(#1) Basham, (1976) The Practice of Medicine in Ancient and Medieval India’ in Leslie Charles (ed.) Asian Medical Systems: A Comparative Study, California University Press, California pp:30
(#2) Sharma,2002: 25 Sharma, B.D, (2002), ‘Social Significance of ethno-botanical Studies’ in Thakur Laxman (ed.) ‘Where Mortals and Mountain Gods meet’, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla
(#3) Balokhra,( 1995) The Wonderland Himachal Pradesh, H.G. Publications, New Delhi pp:200
(#4) Chauhan, N.S (1999) Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Himachal Pradesh, Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi