Remedies from the backyard

Sri Lanka is second to India in housing an Ayurveda museum. Set up by a doctor couple, the museum boasts of a herbal garden, pharmacy and boarding facility for students too

While India boasts of the world’s first Ayurveda Museum, its neighbour Sri Lanka -- with whom it shares civilisational links and history -- has the second Ayurveda museum. In the sleepy beach city of Wadduwa, situated on the western coast of Sri Lanka, stands Withas Mahal, the three-storeyed Ayurvedic Medicine Museum. The two-year old museum is a storehouse of knowledge on Ayurveda, the ancient holistic system of medicine.

Ayurveda doctor couple H.M. Withanachchi and Malee went from village to village in the Southern province of Sri Lanka, collecting ancient pots, containers used in preparing medicines, ancient surgical instruments, dioramas and specimens of over 500 local medicinal plants to create this space. “There are so many people who don’t know about this healing tradition. What will happen to this heritage if not preserved? It will disappear. The present generation in Sri Lanka is also not much interested in these traditional healing practices,” says Withanachchi, who has expanded the museum to include a boarding facility for students, herbal garden and a pharmacy.

Step inside the museum to find some compelling exhibits like finger millet grinders, oil making pots, talepot manuscripts, walking sticks of the physician. One wonders why a stick that can be assembled? “You know, those days healers used to be different. It wasn’t a profession. It used to be their passion so they were always prepared. They wouldn’t expect patients to come to their clinic. They would also roam around and keep different medicines inside different compartments of these sticks. And as and when they came across a sick person, they would take the required medicine out and give it,” explained museum guide N. Perera.

A special clay pot with its mouth sealed with termite clay catches attention. The pot is used to process a medicinal herb for which it needs to be disinfected using sandalwood. The herbs are then placed inside the pot and stored for five days. It is opened when it starts to ferment and then sealed with termite clay. Taken out after 28 days, it is supposed to be beneficial for intestinal disorders.

Another reminder of our shared culture is betel leaves. Not just in weddings and other auspicious occasions, betel leaves have medicinal benefits as well. It can help in cough, stomach disorders, boils, burns and bad breath. The traditional tray to hold betel leaves is called bulath heppuwa. At the museum, one finds an old bulath heppuwa.

A very rare exhibit is talebot manuscipts on Palmyra leaves with recipes of herbal medicines inscribed on them with an iron stylus. “They used to be very precious. Parents would pass on the knowledge to their kids like this. Fathers would give these to their daughters during their marriage. And not just for recipes, they would be used for making deeds and legal documents,” explained Perera. The museum may not have expansive number of exhibits but Dr.Witha has ensured that they bring out the essence of the subject. Dioramas of different treatments like poorvakarma, panchakarma and paschyat karma, steam bath are also part of the display to enhance the viewer’s understanding.

One of the oldest exhibits in the collection is 500 year-old Ox horn, a traditional medicine container believed to have been used by a king. With a cobra carved at its edge, the 18 cm deep container will have the medicine stored for 90 days before it will be administered to the king. “It was a container specially made for the kings and it was believed that by having it, king’s sexual powers will be enhanced,” says Dr.Witha, who has offered a proposal to the health ministry of Sri Lanka to create the National Ayurveda Museum in Colombo. “My objective is to bring back this ancient practice because it has a lot of scope to be explored. Ayurveda is becoming popular through its massages and oils but people should also know the history,” concludes Dr.Witha.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 4:42:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/remedies-from-the-backyard/article17983514.ece

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