Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ayurveda Museum

That's me at the entrance of the museum
 On a not so busy tarred road, three kilometres from Ollur railway station in Thrissur district, lies a tiny village: Thaikattussery. As the unrelenting April sun seems determined to drain you, coconut groves and paddy fields which grow nearby rush to your rescue by offering to neutralise the heat. A well-planned wooden gate, opposite the Vaidyaratnam Corporate office, allows one to spot a statue of Jagadguru Sri. Adi Sankaracharya seated on a granite slab with a Sanskrit shloka inscribed below it. The Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda Museum, established by the Ashtavaidyan Thaikattu Mooss’ Vaidyaratnam Group of Institutions is the first museum in India dedicated to promoting health tourism.

Regarded as an upaveda (subsidiary), the knowledge of Ayurveda is firmly rooted in the millennia old Vedic knowledge systems. Hence, Ayurveda is the oldest form of healthcare in the world. Simply put, Ayurveda means the science of life which by itself is a system of holistic medicine by achieving a perfect balance between man and nature, thus furthering the ideals promoted by Indian culture. The inception of Ayurveda in Kerala is roughly dated to the time when Lord Parasurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu roped in the Ashtavaidyan families to preserve and disseminate the knowledge by maintaining its purity.

A bird's eye of the Ayurveda Museum (Pic Courtesy: Ayurveda Museum)
Diorama Presentations (Pic Courtesy: Ayurveda Museum)
Housed in an old traditional spacious two storied main building, built in the traditional architectural style of Kerala, the walk around the museum begins with a short introductory video that depicts the origins, growth and development of Ayurveda in an audio-visual theatre. Visitors are then taken on a leisurely stroll to observe diorama presentations which map the history of Ayurveda from the mythological to the modern age. In each of them, there are presentations referring to kayachikitsa (general medicine), balachikitsa (paediatrics), grahachikitsa (psychiatry), oordhvangachikitsa (ophthalmology and ENT treatments), salyachikitsa (surgery), damshtrachikitsa (clinical toxicology), jarachikitsa (rejuvenation therapy) and vrushachikitsa (reproductive medicine).

As one walks further into the first floor, the evolution of Ayurveda is narrated using a slew of media such as artifacts, sculptures, scriptures and pictures. A pleasant and unexpected surprise is a 3D gallery. These developments narrate the manufacturing process of Ayurvedic medicines and treatment techniques that have been evolved and prescribed over the years. The museum also houses sculptures of Dhanavantri, Adi Sankaracharya, Lord Buddha, Acharya Vagbhatta among others. The museum also has procedures of Ayurveda along with local specialities that have been followed in the previous years while also developing initiatives to preserve the science for future generations.

With a rich and diverse collection of rare manuscripts, books and documents along with scriptures which were used by the traditional Ashtavaidyans of Kerala, a digital library stocked adequately with a huge CD collection based on ayurveda, the museum owes much of its immortal contributions to the Ashtavaidyan Eledath Thaikkattu Mooss family, a part of which is also narrated in the Aithihyamala, which is a collection of century old stories from Kerala. This leads us to the conclusion that the museum is a tribute to the highly revered Ayurveda gurus.

A visit to Ollur or nearby Thrissur would be incomplete without a stopover at the Ayurveda Museum, thanks to the ardent endeavour of the Vaidyaratnam Group of Institutions. The various modalities of Ayurveda which have been observed in the years gone by and the modern age are granted a new lease of life here. For its importance in promoting medical tourism to presenting a cache of rare antiquities, the Ayurveda Museum communicates the rich history about India’s tryst with medical science. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Beef Bans:

Among other important issues facing the country, an interesting debate on the beef ban in Maharashtra gained traction on the news wheels and social media. Understandably, the outrage industry was back in business with reactions varying from in support to the other extreme of condemning the ban. A similar ban was imposed in Haryana, which gives the police powers to arrest anyone possessing beef to be charged under Section 302 that deals with murder.

Sentiments govern a particular set of beliefs that make it necessary to be adhered to. Killing a cow in Hinduism is believed to be a sin since India’s culture advocates for peaceful coexistence. In the early chapters of the Mahabharata, Ganga narrates an interesting story to Shantanu when the eight Vasus beheld Vasishta’s cow Nandini. When Dyu forcefully carried away Nandini, Vasishta cursed them to be born on earth to suffer the fate of mortals. It is interesting to note that this story, though rich in symbolism, justifies the reverence Hindus place for cows. Hence, it becomes only natural to condemn killing an animal which is special for the majority. The directive principles that govern the law making process explicitly mentions: ‘Organisation of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry: The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle.’

Indian intellectuals intimidate others by quoting Hindus have consumed beef during the Vedic period. Culture, as we know it, is a dynamic process that changes according to time and is not static. While it is understandable that the outrage industry works predominantly on denouncing the BJP and its allegedly communal representative politics but if a group like the Dalits, Muslims and Christians depend on beef for their daily intake of protein, the BJP will surely pay a price for it electorally in 2019.

While meat and milk can surely be made cheaper, most of them understand that it comes at the risk of animal welfare. It is common knowledge that the beef industry does not exist and it is only the dairy industry that exists which produces both milk and beef. However, given that not many restaurants serve beef in public, it does amuse when people outrage as though it is a staple diet for many. The question here is not about how cows and other animals are milked but about the treatment of animals. Intensive dairy production has led to several unhealthy means being adopted: for example, cows which are impregnated by bulls so that the calves survive long after their birth. In order to ensure a win-win situation for both, the efficient way is to ensure that cows are milked only for the first two lactations and stay in indoors. The productivity of cattle falls after the first two calvings that produce the milk yields.

The beef ban, in many ways, also highlights the treatment of unwanted animals. Owners of abattoirs are technically free to release the cattle into the wild. Given that many strays are usually deprived of food and water, the state and the people have a social responsibility towards ensuring the protection of such animals. YouTube has extensive videos that depict slaughter houses, trucks that are overloaded with cattle. This sight evokes strong emotions and it is unfortunate if animal rights exist only for the sake of convenience and not for the cause truly. The real question that the ban intends to pursue is to have public deliberations on animals are treated and the shocking methods of transportation and the public perception about slaughter.

Lastly, there are several ways that governments globally commit to protect endangered species and also to ensure that animals are not raised for food. I agree that cows so far are not an endangered species but the issue is about respecting animal welfare as well. Eating animals is not a fundamental right. In India, however, beef is not yet a staple food and not many restaurants serve it. Within the realm of animal rights, one wonders why animal rights therefore become a matter of convenience. The argument posed is not about the superiority of one religion among others.

As I said in the beginning, it is about the sentiment that governs the animals are treated. The beef ban once again proposes to remind us about how animals are treated. Hence, the ban needs to be welcomed and must force us to spare a thought for the animal world which also forms an integral part to sustain the ecological balance. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Kissa Dilli Ka: The AAP Rift

In a short span of time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has once again revealed its penchant for theatrics and drama. The alleged 'rift' within the party ranks, owing mainly to lack of internal democracy and depleting spaces for dissent has brought the party back into the news wheels and has dominated the agenda on social media for nearly three weeks. For the uninitiated, the rift began with a letter: 'Note on the Way Forward' penned by Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav which was written to the National Executive of the comparatively new political party. In these two weeks, various leaders from the party articulated their views on the rift across different media platforms. 

It is indeed surprising that the party's principle face: Arvind Kejriwal conveniently chose to distance himself from the controversy citing his naturopathy treatment in Bangalore. While he did tweet twice expressing pain over the infighting, Arvind Kejriwal refused to communicate to the media and clarify his stand. It is understandable to assume that such petty matters such as an ego clash would not affect the citizens of Delhi on a daily level especially when they have voted for the Aam Aadmi Party with a decisive mandate. It would not be entirely wrong to perceive that the focus for the Delhi residents has to be that the party focuses on governance instead of squabbling among themselves under the media glare. Hence, Arvind Kejriwal’s comment that suggested that he is committed to fulfilling the Delhi mandate sounds surprising.

In a city-state like Delhi, with limited powers, Arvind Kejriwal successfully manipulated the people by assuring them of free WiFi, cheaper electricity and water. While one may assume this to be election rhetoric, it remains to be seen how this can be actually implemented. In a country with an ingrained sense of socialism, it would be desirable to hope for a balance between excessive socialism and capitalism thereby adopting a centrist approach. Unfortunately, in the case of Delhi, the actual implementation is the key. Unless a government knows where the money is coming from to fund these subsidies, it would be difficult to provide unlimited subsidies. This idea gains importance especially when basic utilities such as power and water supplies are dependent on economic factors such as profit and loss. It would again pose as a challenge as how long a government can recover money by way of additional taxes and levies.

Secondly, one is not entirely sure if Arvind Kejriwal is committed to being the Chief Minister of Delhi. Politics, as we know it, demands full-time concentration and commitment. Unfortunately, Arvind Kejriwal’s track record has not been impressive. He squandered his mandate by ‘sacrificing’ power within a short span of 49 days thus forcing fresh elections. In one of his dharnas, he proudly announced that he was an anarchist. The unfortunate handling of the midnight raids at Khirkee Extension sadly does not inspire confidence. It would be unfortunate if Arvind Kejriwal resorts to the same brand of politics that he has perfected. The politics of disruption in the end unfortunately does not bring any productive results. It may well be positive if Arvind Kejriwal learns that the mandate he has got this time is for him to govern and agitating at every second issue will not help.

The citizens of Delhi have voted decisively that focuses on governance. In fulfilling such a decisive mandate, the challenge remains to stay grounded and work on implementation of such promises. During its election campaign, the party repeatedly raked up the issue of policing since the Delhi Police is under the Ministry of Home Affairs and promised full statehood for Delhi. There is no doubt that the intent deserves to be congratulated but it requires extensive deliberation among different stakeholders that would rest its premise based through consensus. It would also require adequate support from the Central Government. It would be premature to judge whether if AAP would be willing to compromise on its original stand. Secondly, it is natural for citizens to expect quick delivery of results given the high expectations. In the age of social media and constant media glare, every passing day would bring forward uncomfortable questions especially if the government fails to perform.

The lack of a credible opposition in the Delhi Assembly is disturbing. Given that his party is known for practicing a brand of economics that deviates towards the extreme left, it is worrying to learn how the assembly would function. Given that the BJP has just three seats in the assembly, it would be anyone’s guess on their limited role in the decision making process. The absolute power that they enjoy in the assembly due to their numerical strength makes them vulnerable to succumb to temptations and behave in an autocratic manner. The lack of a credible opposition could also result in a loss of focus making them complacent.

Internal contradictions certainly remain as one of the biggest threats for the party. The contradictions on various issues such as the implementation of free WiFi, installation of CCTV cameras, full statehood and the lack of a vision document remain unanswered. Arvind Kejriwal is known for his autocratic style of functioning, given the way many founder members and senior members were expelled from the party for questioning him. It remains to be seen whether if the AAP can aspire to expand its wings nationally given the tiny clique that Arvind Kejriwal seems to retain. With a diverse background among members, it is heartening to realise that many of them do not have corruption cases pending against them. However, as experience shows, personal integrity alone cannot be a measure for good governance.

Hence, given the media perceptions of Arvind Kejriwal as an autocratic leader with high ambitions, it would only be rational to hope that internal contradictions coupled with infighting and the difficulty in implementation of these promises that the AAP will not be able to complete a full term in Delhi. Given the previous experience, it remains to be seen whether if Arvind Kejriwal has the maturity to commit himself for a demanding job. Lastly, history teaches us that absolute power has the ability to corrupt an individual. Whether or not, this perception holds true for a city-state such as Delhi remains to be seen.