The breeze had just set in clearing the overcast clouds .The coconut trees gently swayed ,touching the backwaters which lashed against them. I stand at the edge of this wide shore and take in the scene , as Dr. Ratheesh joins me , exclaimining.“ This could not have been done by a human.. ..” I look up to see him holding a book on Ayurveda.
“Can you imagine 4000 years ago..getting all the herbs from various parts of the country and mixing them in the right proportion ? I mean there was no documentation at all ,” adds the doctor about this science of life.
I am in God’s own country , getting a taste of God’s own medicine at Svaastha, an ayurvedic spa in Ashtamudi. The doctor goes on to explain that Brahma, the creator of this science has passed on the formula to Dhanavantri, the divine doctor . “It is part of Atharvana veda, created by Gods and preserved by man .” he says.
A lone boat comes into the horizon. The Ashtamudi Lake stretches out in front of my eyes with the coconut trees interrupting the seamless flow.Several small islands are home to locals who live in these backwaters. “It is called Ashtamudi for you can almost see eight branches of waters joining the Arabian Sea like an octopus’ arms ,” describes the doctor
The second largest lake after Vembanad and yet , tourism is a recent phenomena here .Shades of blue emerge from the waters as I was lost gazing at the colours.It is one of the best kept secrets of kerala.. It seems to be the perfect setting – not just to discuss Ayurveda, but to pamper the self with an Ayurvedic massage. I am spoilt by choices – from a traditional massage to various spa treatments, Svaastha promises a balance between body, mind and spirit. But before that, a complete diagnosis follows as the oils are chosen accordingly.
“Yours is a pitha-vatha combination.” Says Dr Ratheesh . He refers to the bio energies in the human body – vatha,pitha and kafa .”Vatha is air and ether, pitha is fire and kafa is water and earth. “ he explains as ayurveda is based on these five elements called Panchamahabudhas .”
My eyes close as a heady fragrance lulls me to sleep. The distant flicker of the lamp goes slowly out of focus. A lilting melody floats out of nowhere. “It is the jasmine flavour,” she says softly by way of introduction. The kohl brimmed eyes smile at me coyly. “This is the Shrishruka thailam .It treats sinus,”she adds. I open my eyes as she pours the oil from a miniature bronze jar onto her palms. Sandhya, my therapist is a demure young woman whose delicate fingers work magic on my scalp .
I try not to think. After all massages are about shutting your mind and pampering your body. The fingers soothe every ache and coax the rigid muscles as they move from the head to the neck .I feel the essence of ayurveda inside me – a harmony of mind, body and spirit . I float into semiconsciousness . The wooden bed is soaked with the oil –Pinda thailayam as Sandhya deftly strokes my body, caressing and fondling it . She suddenly pounds it and awakens every dormant muscle. Her fingers go deep,the strokes get faster and then she gently lets go .I become limp and let my senses take over .The herbal steam lets my skin glisten as the warmth seeps into my body.
I step out ,rejuvenated and the beauty is mesmerising. The calm lake add to the serenity. Small clusters of clouds float in the sky. The Chinese nets lay scattered on the waters as the fishermen are waiting for the night to dawn. I ask Dr Ratheesh as to why he chose to become an ayurvedic doctor . He laughs, amused .”As children, we used to go only to ayurvedic doctors even for a cold or fever like the way you go to a doctor..its quite common in Kerala .There are universities teaching ayurveda here like allopathy ,” he adds, saying that he graduated from Trivandrum after a five year course.
I wonder how an ancient science like ayurveda has become an exotic treatment, restricted largely to resorts and a few centres.”Thats because tourism thrives on wellness , but ayurveda can even be used for surgery ,” explains the doctor adding that there are nine branches of ayurveda which includes general medicine, surgery,ENT, pediatrics,toxicology, gynecology ,psychiatry,infertility and antiaging Reading my mind, the doctor continues,”.The basic principle of surgery as we know today was earlier created by Susruta,but after the advent of Jainism and Buddhism , dissection as we understand today was not encouraged..then of course, western medicine took over..”
I sip cool coconut water and walk around the small herbs garden.My initiation into ayurveda continues.”There is hardly any documentation. Families have preserved the various formulae on palm leaf and hand written manuscrips and they have been handed down every generation.Thats how this science has actually survived across centuries.”
I watch as cormorants dip their beaks into water and look for their morning catch. There is complete silence but for the breeze . The landscape is devoid of people , but for us. I look at the vast expanse of water, the sun’s rays stroking it, the birds and the islands..Its little wonder why Kerala is called Gods own country. The doctor’s words come back “Svaastha or Ayurveda is a balance of body,mind and spirit.”Standing on the fringes of the Ashtamudi lake, I feel the balance restored inside me.
Kollam or Quilon is the closest town to Ashtamudi as its on the banks of the lake. The lake connects to the Arabian Sea forming an estuary and it can be viewed from the Needakara bridge enroute to the Kollam town. The beach at Kollam and the old lighthouse at Thangasherry are some of the common sightseeing options for tourists.
PS – I want to acknowledge that most of the pics of the lake were taken by my husband, Sharath