THE GUARDIAN OF A DYING HERITAGE AND THE DEVOTE CONTINUER OF AN AGE-OLD SYSTEM OF MEDICINE TALKS TO US FROM HIS SHOP IN MATTANCHERRY, AMID SOOTHING AROMA OF NATURE.

Narendranath is the guardian of a dying heritage. At his tiny shop in Fort Cochin, shrunken in the course of time with the dwindling number of visitors, he reigns as the devoted practitioner of an age-old system of medicine, a rich and valuable legacy left with him by his forefathers.

The shelves are filled with dried herbs, roots, seeds, barks and various other plant products which goes into the making of Ayurvedic medicines. There are bottles containing powders in various colours and hanging hairy roots. Most of the products are plucked by Narendranath from the locality. "The sourcing of medicines happens mostly in monsoon, the time when medicinal plants grow in abundance." says Narendranath.

People visit Narendranath's store with the prescription by a vaidyan (traditional practitioner of the Ayurvedic system of medicine) and he gives them the required ingredients in the right proportions for making the medicines. Traditionally, the prescription by a vaidyan is like a formula, listing the ingredients for a medical preparation in the required quantities, along with the method of preparation. After buying the ingredients, the patients make the medicines at home. "Earlier, before the market was flooded with ready-made ayurvedic medicines, we used to visit houses for preparing Kashayam (medicinal potion in Ayurveda.) But now, it is completely stopped." says Narendranath. As he observes, no body wants to take the trouble of preparing medicine at home when they have the ease and convenience of buying a bottle of the factory-made version of the same medicine. Still, in a much smaller way, he continues this invaluable practise by preparing the Karkidaka Kanji (medicinal soup made from a blend of rice and various herbs) every monsoon and selling it from his place.

Narendranath is the guardian of a dying heritage. At his tiny shop in Fort Cochin, shrunken in the course of time with the dwindling number of visitors, he reigns as the devoted practitioner of an age-old system of medicine, a rich and valuable legacy left with him by his forefathers.

“The business has gone down because there aren’t many vaidyans around who write traditional prescriptions. Even then, I would like to continue this tradition bestowed on me by my father and grandfather. Our ancestors migrated to this place from Goa and we have been doing it since then. It is a God-given skill.” says Narendranath.  

Standing in the midst of a multitude of medicines, he explains the uses of some popular ones. He talks of aloe vera, the lovely green plants hung from the roof. The plant is often used for making oils and is well-known for its ability to purify the bloodstream. From a bottle he takes out dry and spinous ‘Njerinjil’ (puncture vine), used as an additive while boiling water. Drinking this water helps in giving relief from inflammation. Kalkandam (crystallised palm sugar) used for relief from cold and cough is shown in another bottle. In a spoon, he brings an aromatic powder called ‘Malvatdavai’ which, in certain communities, is used for scrubbing the body of a bride during her ritualistic pre-wedding bath as it gives the body a tantalising aroma.  

The secrets and the tips and tricks of medicines were taught to him verbally by his father and grandfather, following their oral tradition. While talking about the future of his shop, the tradition and his family legacy, he seems to be unsure of what lies ahead. His children are well-educated and he has let them follow their passions. Whenever people approach him for knowing more about the science, he feels happy about their willingness to learn a dying tradition and helps them wholeheartedly.          

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