Many of you may remember your grandmother insisting you to clean your hands and feet before every meal. Having a bath in the morning is a ritual whatever the season and so is leaving footwear outside the house. Till recent these were considered old fashioned but with the Covid- 19 pandemic striking the world suddenly these practices seem to have a new meaning. Namaste the Indian way of greeting is being followed by leaders all over the world. As we follow the WHO directive to wash our hands for twenty second with soap and water and maintain social distancing there is also a sense of deep respect and dejavu on many of our Indian practices too.
U S President Donald Trump greeting Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar with Namaste
Balance and Prevention
The most robust health care systems considered the best in the world are stressed as they struggle to find a viable solution, prevention is better than cure seems to be right thing to do. Looking at our own native systems of medicine, it followed the principle of balanced living, eating in moderation and consuming food according to the seasons and place.
Ayurveda advises: Hitha Aahara Mitha Ayasa, Mitha Ayasa Hitha Aahara
i.e Affordable food appropriate exercise, Affordable exercise appropriate food.
Food must be consumed such that the 3 Dosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha and the 3 Guna – Satva, Rajas and Tamas remain in balance because the imbalance of these Dosha and Guna lead to disease and discomfort.
Hygiene Practices – Our Achar, Desachar and Kalachar
Many of the Ayurvedic principles have, over the millennia, become part of our tradition. Some of the best practices of personal hygiene and social distancing have been handed down as part of our culture. ‘Achar’ means best practices which encompasses customs like leaving the foot wear outside the homes, not sharing food or water from a common vessel, carrying own food while travelling are universally followed in India. Moreover, each region has its own local customs, food and living habits known as Desachar, which are in sync with that region’s Nature, climate and topography. Though different, when they come together they form the ’Kalachar’-culture of our country.
System of Vaccination in India : Dr. John Holwell’s Testimony
Did you know that there was a system of vaccination in India even as recent as 1804 until the British put an end to the practice? Dr. John Z Holwell, a surgeon who was serving the East India Company has observed and recorded the Indian system of inoculation.
His records state there were designated people from distance provinces who would come annually, divide themselves into smaller groups of two or three and visit all the villages. They would plan their circuit in such a way that they would arrive at the place at the right time. Small pox was most prevalent at the time and these physicians would administer the Tika called Govasuri (cowpox). This system was effective as there was no epidemic of small pox ever recorded until the British stopped the practice after the discovery of Jenner’s smallpox vaccination which in turn was based on studying the Indian system.
India’s Knowledge on micro-organisms
This clearly shows that the physicians of yore knew the existence of microscopic bacteria and virus, its nature and prevention from its effects.
Interestingly, Atharva Veda mentions germs that cannot be seen and uses the term Kirmi for microscopic creatures.
Charaka Samhita, a treatise on medicine describes microorganisms as being invisible, and also mentions their colour and shape.
Did they have a microscope to see and describe them in such detail?
Nyaya Samhita of Gautama does have a description of lenses.
Isolation as Preventive Cure
For humans and gods
Various practices in the Indian systems have used isolation as a cure to prevent contagious diseases and also as a means to contain the problem in a small area even the Gods are not spared. In Jagannath Puri, during Jyeshta Poornima, the lord is kept in isolation for 14 days. Deities in India are also treated as a human being who requires to be bathed and fed, to recuperate and rejuvenate.
The idols at Jagannath being kept in Preventive Isolation
Isolation of mother and newborn
Traditionally, the newborn and the young mother are secured from outside influence for a period of 10 to 15 days after birth, as the immunity level may be low so the new born and the mother may be susceptible to infections.
Isolation on bereavement
Similarly, an isolation period is followed if there is a death in the family. A bath is mandatory if one has visited the crematorium. Though shrouded in tradition, many of the practices have practical application.
Going back to Traditional System
As we grapple with the imminent virus threat, many are seeking advice from various organizations that follow traditional system of healing. Modern medicine has not come up with any solution yet but we can still take a leaf out of our own rich tradition and follow simple routines to boost our immunity system. Simple herbal concoctions with turmeric, black pepper and other herbs commonly available in Indian homes hold the key to keep many infections at bay.
Food is Medicine
Ayurveda’s approach is 80% preventive and 20% curative. “Food is Medicine” is our philosophy. Fad diets, alien cuisine, packaged, ready to eat food and food from outside have become a norm which has contributed to the so called life style diseases. Now is the right time to pause and think and maybe realign ourselves to the environment. Beginning with consuming food that are seasonal and those which are sourced from the local market and grown in the region. Not only are they more nutritious but it will also directly support the local economy and benefit the immediate farmer who has grown the crop.
As humans we have inherited the earth. Other living creatures also have equal right to its resources. Our conscious and ethical choices have a large and long term impact on the environment. It’s only humans who over exploit at the cost of destroying the very nature that is sustaining them. The destruction of forests, drinking water sources depleting at an alarming rate are all a warning for us to get back to our true nature and allow mother earth to sustain us.
We are the virus that Nature chooses to eliminate.