Practitioner and promoter of traditional medicine C. Chokkalingampillai stresses the significance of herbal remedies

“Please don’t step on that plant,” pleads C. Chokkalingampillai as he guides me to his herbal farm. “It is Vishnu Karandhai, a medicinal plant used to heal chronic fever. It is widely found in hilly regions, especially in Himalayan range. The plant is either blue or white in colour. It is said that King Serfoji of Thanjavur has used this herb to treat rogue elephants,” he reveals.

Located at Avudapoigai, a village10 km north of Karaikudi, Chokkalimngampillai’s sprawling farm of 45 acres is filled with greenery. A pleasant aroma greets every visitor. “Many discouraged me when I decided to set up a farm here,” says this Siddha and Ayurveda practitioner. “It was an arid land then and people told me nothing grows here. But I worked on that soil and made it suitable for cultivation by composting dry leaves and ash.”

He is now reaping the benefits of 25 years of relentless work in the fields. “Many visitors asked me why I should grow medicinal plants in my farm when I can use the space for more productive purposes,” he says. But it was his dream to set up the farm to help people dependent on him for treatment of chronic ailments.

His family has practised traditional medicine for more than 200 years. “My grandfather was a seasoned doctor and had relieved many of chronic ailments,” he says. “Somehow my father developed interest in animals and became a trained veterinarian. There is also detailed history of how he treated domestic animals in this area.”

“I have documents of my ancestors writing about ways to treat different ailments,” he says. His library is filled with books on traditional medicine and around 4000 palm leaf manuscripts that are more than 500 years old. “Some are also anonymous,” he says. “But I am preserving these documents including the one on ‘Veeramamunivar Aruliya Vaithiya Agarathi’ (Veeramamunivar’s dictionary of medicines).”

“Do you know Veeramamunivar?” he asks. “This Italian Jesuit priest by the name Constantine Joseph Beschi had extensively researched our traditional medicine and had compiled all the details he had collected in this script.”

Now that he has developed his farm, Chokkalingampillai spends more time there. “It will take four hours for me to go around the farm,” he says. He applies only organic manure and has set up drip and sprinkler irrigation systems. He has also established a factory inside the farm to produce medicines.

Every single medicinal plant in his farm is hand-picked by Chokkalingampillai. There are more than 5000 different species in his farm, of which more than 500 are declared endangered by the government.

Whenever he is free he sets off to explore more about medicinal plants and brings them to this farm. “I have been to almost all the hill stations in south India including Podhigai, Kolli and Thiruvannamalai, besides those located in Tirunelveli, Thiruvananthapuram and other regions in Kerala,” he says. He has also travelled to China, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, and found links to traditional Indian medicine in many of those places.

Chokkalingampillai has opened dispensaries in Singapore and Malaysia with the help of his friends. “I prepare medicines from here and export,” he says

In an effort to spread his message to people around the world, he talks about herbal medicine on radio and television. He has also extensively researched how medicinal herbs can be taken as food and has delivered motivational talks in many forums. He has compiled a book of medicinal herbs and their uses with their botanical and popular names.

Chokkalingampillai’s farm now has become a model for the people in and around Karaikudi and attracts visitors regularly. He organises seminars for them. He has also won the confidence of women’s self-help groups in the region to popularise herbal medicine.

He recently organised a festival to promote herbal medicine and distributed more than 10,000 medicinal plant saplings free to school children. “They are my trump cards,” he says. “I hope they carry forward the message they have gathered to their parents and their friends.”

Plant remedies

Athimathuram (Liquorice): It relieves respiratory infections, cough and the common cold. It is used to treat urinary problems and nerve-related problems. It also is said to discourage a person from chewing betel leaves or tobacco or consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes.

Inji (Ginger): It is used to treat intestinal and throat infection.

Kasakasa (Opium poppy): This herb is used to treat sleeplessness, dysentery and diarrhoea.

Keezhanelli (Phyllanthus amarus or Stonebreaker): It is used to treat jaundice, stomach pain, urinary infections, and skin disease. It is said to improve liver function.

Suraikkai (Bottle gourd): It is used to treat night blindness, intestinal infections, headaches and jaundice.

Thoothuvalai (Solanum tribolatum): It is used in the treatment of common cold, cough and asthma.

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