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Updated: November 11, 2013 14:18 IST

A vanishing breed of snake-bite healers in Kerala

Giji K. Raman
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Valayathu Ouseph Antony and his wife Thresiamma, traditional healers of snake-bite, at their house in Upputhara in Idukki district. Photo: Giji K. Raman
The Hindu Valayathu Ouseph Antony and his wife Thresiamma, traditional healers of snake-bite, at their house in Upputhara in Idukki district. Photo: Giji K. Raman

Traditional healers of snake-bite are a vanishing breed. But Valayathu Ouseph Antony and his wife Thresiamma at the High Range Settlements here are the last link of a line of traditional healers who provide anti-venom treatment for the bites of poisonous snake, leech and spiders.

Their ‘vishakallu’ (snake-stone) treatment is facing a slow extinction though it has saved many lives over the years.

Showing the ‘vishakallu’, Antony in his eighties, says he learnt the traditional treatment from his grandfather. His brother, who lived in Malabar, also used to treat patients but he died six years back. Now, Thresiamma also treats people who approach them with bite injuries. Their non-descriptive house situated near the tea planting area was once abuzz with patients seeking treatment.

The dark coloured ‘vishakallu’ is not a real stone but seems to have medicinal qualities and is fragile. When a snake-bitten patient reaches them, they first attach the stone on the bitten part and it absorbs the venom. “Immediate neutralisation of the circulating venom is most important,” Antony says. Ayurvedic medicines are also given depending on the type of snake after it is identified from its bite marks. People from far away places reach him for anti-venom treatment.

Antony says ‘stone’ is cleansed by putting it in milk or some herbal medicine. Earlier, the ‘vishakallu' was available in Kozhikode where a family traditionally made it.

Patients with snake-bite were a common feature in the estate area here, he says. There were others healers like Vishakari Krishnankutty and Ramadas Vaidyan who also treated snake-bite but who passed away, he says.

For a patient bitten by a snake, immediate treatment is crucial and that is why patients knocked even in the middle of the night at his door ever since he settled in the place in the 1950s. Those days it was difficult to find transportation to main hospitals and that is why people preferred him,

Antony’s three sons are not interested in the profession and do not know how to treat patients. “They are not keen as it gives no regular income,” says Thresiamma.

It is not only snake-bite victims who reach their house but also those bitten by leeches, poisonous spiders and scorpions.

Ammini Mohan, bitten by a leech while harvesting cardamom, said Antony’s treatment had almost cured her.

“There are three categories of leeches and one among them is the most dangerous one,” says Antony.

The number of children with spider-bite reaching them has suddenly increased, says Thresiamma.

Thresiamma says that they are not interested in monetary rewards but the satisfaction of treating poor farm workers and their families is what motivates them.

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