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Traditional Knowledge, Natural Growth – An Incisive Introspection on Traditional Remedies

Posted Nov 12 2013 10:07pm
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Most of my childhood days were spent in the bosom of nature, far from civilisation, far from development and modern healthcare. It is in this setting that natural process assisted by traditional knowledge plays a pivotal role in fostering health and wellbeing amongst scores of villagers across India.

India is a land of plenty in some respects – for example, people and villages are not that hard to find! Often, India has been seen as a land of crowded villages, with over 6 lakhs 38 thousand villages, populated by over 72.2% of the robust 1.166 billion total population of India.

It is here in the rural humdrum that the village dai and the  traditional healer  become an integral part of the community, and perhaps provide for the most crucial role of fulfilling the healthcare needs of the rural community. Often, they are the only persons that are concerned about the health of the villagers. Various herbal concoctions and lotions are often the only life-saving medicines available to poor village folk, and by a lack of choice, the traditional healer becomes a demi-god and the dai becomes the home-grown specialist. It is traditional knowledge of these learned villagers handed over from generation to generation that still remains the only kind of healthcare available in many parts of India.

Indian Village

This realisation has made the Indian Government take steps for inclusive healthcare by training the traditional dai in tackling common complications associated with her profession. It also caters for the healthcare needs of the villagers by training ASHA workers from within the community. I feel that this is a positive move by the government and should be our focus while implementing various health programs across the many villages of India.

An incident in my childhood still remains fresh in memory. One cold winter’s evening, I lay sick on a cot running a high fever. I was barely twelve then, but by village standards I was a boy big enough to hold the plough. My dad had just returned from a rough day at the paddy fields. He saw me unwell and rushed to my side. He lovingly inquired about my health while admonishing me for getting wet in the first showers of winter.

My head hurt like crazy, and I responded in anguish, “My head feels like a smashed tomato and my nose is blocked and running at the same time. Plus, I am coughing out weird, greenish sputum.” He comforted me, and yet he rushed out of the house and into the backyard, where a small kitchen garden was. After what seemed like eternity, he returned with a handful of what looked like some common garden weed and a clove of garlic. He placed some of it in his palms and started grinding it until I could see some greenish liquid ooze out. He carefully placed the liquid in a teaspoon and brought it to me.

He asked me to lie down with my chin held up in a sniffing position. Gently, he tilted the spoon until a few drops of the weird greenish liquid trickled down both my nostrils. “Oooooooooouuch! Are you trying to kill me, Daddy?” I asked, mad with anger and anguish. I fought hard to hold back my tears, but they poured out like a river. It was the most painful experience of my life this far.

As I lay there in pain, I could feel a throbbing sensation inside of my cheeks. After about five minutes of agony, the searing pain had left me, but leaving behind a strange feeling and an acrid taste at the back of my throat. I got out of bed and ran outside. I racked in and coughed out a huge blob of multi-coloured mucus that looked like a cat’s fur ball.  All of a sudden, I felt my head light as a feather. My nose was clear as well. It had been a regular nag every winter for a couple of years, but this was the last winter headache ever. Never again in my life did I have to face that headache and fever. However preposterous it may sound, I presume that my father had cured me of sinusitis that day.

When I returned home triumphant after medical graduation, I recollected the incident and wondered if such a simple remedy could find itself in the market for the benefit of others. Why can’t some research be done to identify the active ingredients and see if they can be standardised for regular use? Of course, I would have preferred a less painful ordeal!

This is where standardisation comes in handy – to ensure regular quality and potency of these traditional remedies sans the ill effects.

Similar stories abound when it comes to using traditional knowledge in child rearing. My nephew, Austine, was born in the winter of 1998. He was a dark yet handsome little boy, and the pride of his parents. It was after four hours of anxious waiting in the wee hours of that chilly morning that the village dai announced a baby boy for my brother. He grew up to be a fine boy. Of course, growing up in a village has its perks – pure mustard oil laced with medicinal herbs for a well-nourished skin and toned muscles, good sunshine for strong bones, and a doting grandma with the keen senses of a trained bomb squad dog to ensure compliance of laid protocol!

Grandmother and Baby

If you thought you could give the mustard oil-herbal massage combo a miss, you were out of luck for grandma was very particular about oiling the skin and muscles for strong and healthy bones, muscles and a glowing skin. And, a good half hour of sun-baking a child after bath was a dictum that deserved rigorous execution. According to Grandma, these were the caring deeds that made the baby strong, healthy and ready for a world spoiled by pollution and germs.

Who could deny these traditional ideas as being good for the baby? In fact, medical science today recommends a daily dose of Vitamin D, scientific for adequate sunshine for the baby to ensure strong bones and a healthy skin. It even recommends moisturising the baby’s skin with lotion or oil for nourishing the growing skin for a healthy, glowing look and feel. You see, traditional knowledge does promote natural growth in an incipient manner.

And we make tall claims that Grandma is archaic? Think twice before you chide her the next time!

Massage oil for babies has been advocated since ancient times in India, having realised that developing healthy skin, muscles and bones depend a lot on physical stimulation of the skin, muscles and bones along with a ready supply of vitamins and minerals. Standardisation and isolation of active ingredients used in these traditional blends will be naturally beneficial for the baby in avoiding adverse effects caused by pollutants in the preparation.

Development of the ancient Indian medical practice, Ayurveda as a standardised scientific discipline has become the wind of change that ushered in an era of alternative medicine to complement modern medicine. India is a front-runner in encouraging various alternative medical disciplines such as Ayurveda, Siddha and Homeopathy.

Standardised preparations of various herbs and their derivatives have been used for prevention of diseases, supplementation of essential nutrients and for treatment of various ailments since ages. Now, the medical community needs to acknowledge this and consider a more holistic approach towards medical practice by integrating alternative medicine in healthcare.

Justifiably, here are 5 reasons why standardised ayurvedic medicines and other health products have found an undeniably enormous user base:

Have you been to any typical village in India? If not, I urge you to take a weekend off, spend time far from the hustle of the city – where man is one with nature. Certainly, it will be an enriching experience, a real eye-opener!

What do villagers do when a child is born? It is with much celebration that a child is welcomed into the home and the village, particularly if it is a baby boy. It is educational to watch the lady of the house bathing the child with herbs, after which the baby is exposed in the sun having lubricated the baby’s skin with oodles of mustard oil to strengthen his bones and nourish his skin.

Baby Growth

Or, better still, what do they do when a child falls ill? The commonest reaction is an instantaneous visit to the village baid or natural healer. He hands over a phial of dark coloured liquid that looks like horse pee, or worse still, he asks the patient to swallow a live, wiggly fish, whole or to apply cow dung on a freshly cut umbilical cord.

Such is the story of most villages in India, and children are exposed to practices that could be beneficial or cause serious harm. Is there a scientific basis for these seemingly mundane treatment modalities that have been practised since time immemorial or are we just taken for a ride?

The onus lies on us to solve this dilemma squarely by introducing scientific evidence as proof of efficacy and safety for these traditional remedies. It is here that companies like Dabur, a front-runner in research, development and production of standardised naturally-sourced products has done its share by bringing products like Dabur Honey,  Dabur Lal Tail , Dabur Chyawanprash, Dabur Dant Manjan, Dabur Honitus and many more for use by people.

These standardised natural health and fitness products have become household names in fostering a naturally healthy India – a healthy you! Thus, traditional knowledge vetted by research studies indeed help in fostering natural growth in children of all ages!
This article is written for the contest “ Traditional Knowledge, Natural Growth ” by
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