The lush green tropical state of Keralam hugs the southwestern edge of India, like a child trying to hold the mother away from any harm. How many came for its spices, its coconut groves and the simple love that permeates the land, the same warmth and gentle acceptance that India has always shown to all those who came to her. For millennia Hindu kings let other faiths come and helped them build their places of worship, never once thinking that many and varied people could not live together, for is not, this infinite variety, the real glory of our Creator?
The Ayurveda Center at the Taj confirms that this belief is still alive and well. The staff as well as the people seeking treatment was testimony to this diversity. The Taj group is owned by persons of Parsi origins, now in India for so long that they have become truly the people of the land. Originally, as many may know, displaced from their ancestral home in Persia (Iran), they landed in what is the state of Gujarat now. The King welcomed them and requested that they sweeten the existing culture of the land as sugar sweetens milk. I think among the multitudes that came to the shores of the पुण्यभूमि (Punnyabhumi) of India this group has truly sweetened the milk. This Ayurveda setup is authentic and maintains the traditions meticulously, while providing long and short-term treatments for people from near and far.
Among the group that became my Ayurveda family for the two weeks that I spent at the facility, there was representation from several areas of the globe including many states of India. Arab women mostly covered up even in so tropical a place and men somewhat less covered; Swiss and Italian women not covered much; a German married to a Bengali; a mother, daughter and granddaughter traveling together of Punjabi origins (who were cause for surprise to the Swiss ladies as three generations traveling and staying together for 35 days was mind-boggling to them), a few businessmen from various cities of India seeking refuge from the familiar overstressed lifestyle of cities everywhere. How did we humans come to create these mega-cities that are becoming inefficient places to live in and often a cause for the increasing breakdown of our sensibilities? But for now let us relax in this beautiful, medium-sized hotel away from the human-created craziness of our lives.
There is a pool surrounded by bamboo and banana plants, the latter loaded with flowers and reaching to touch the ground in anticipation of future bananas. Walls that seem to be made of a zillion flowers all looking happy and content like the people tending them. A very soothing thought flashed across my relaxed mind. Maybe next time I will be a gardener in some part of India, either tending alpine plants in the upper reaches of the Himalayas or a cacti garden in the Thar Desert or maybe here in the tropical South of my favorite country. I could be even a traveling gardener. Having the greenest thumb for any type of plantation! Sounds better than a traveling salesman, don’t you think? Maybe all people of Indian origins want to be this way, for living in my adopted country I find that we Indo-Americans generally lack the astute selling and marketing abilities that is so much a part of the Euro-American friends of mine. Living in a highly commercial culture we do poorly in selling our talents, our traditions, or products. I, however, am improving by osmosis! This non-commercialization is very evident at the Taj. There are a couple of shops selling books and artifacts but no pouches of Ayurvedic products are sold nor a multitude of other things that in most other countries we have come to see as essential fixtures—not even t-shirts with Taj Avurveda written all over them along with recipes for Kerala food or some other thing. Maybe that is what makes India attractive and still peaceful to those of us living in the highly commercialized West. Is it this desire to stay simple that makes one side of the globe the poor cousins of the rich Western side?
History studied a long time ago flashed in my memory. Not in school, of course, for I was educated via English medium. There I mostly memorized when different Viceroys came to teach a less civilized country the language and mannerisms of the more advanced! Strange, to my way of thinking. अपने मुंह मियां मिठ्ठू बनना (Apne muh miyaamittu) – Self-praise – is strongly discouraged in the Hindu tradition. Elaborate descriptions of the fabled Mughal Empire, so rich that all of Europe wanted that wealth; almost nothing about the Hindu kingdoms that made such wealth possible.
Sitting in these exquisite surroundings, my silly mind kept reminding me of the history that is part of my genetic code I think, pieced together from vernacular literatures, descriptions of pre-Islamic and pre-colonized India by foreign writers like Basham in The Wonder That was India. Al Biruni in the Indica, even dance dramas by writers in every language and all parts of India itself brought to mind a nation that was rich, way before the people who came to dominate and made every attempt to destroy the spiritual traditions that was the reason for its peace and prosperity. In fact, it was the fabulous riches of the subcontinent of India that attracted the attention of the outsiders in the first place. The indigenous wealth was neither from plunder nor from severe oppression of others. It resulted from production and knowing not to spend more than what is reasonable and sustainable. So couldn’t that model of wealth creation be applied to our modern world today? Sitting in these idyllic environs far from the concrete jungles of the advanced world and the squalor of the plundered nations, relaxed by an hour-long massage by soft-spoken, well-trained and gentle people, everything seems possible. Even in India’s worst times people came from other parts of the world seeking comfort from a generally harsh world.
Lying on a table made from an ancient design of wood from the neem tree, indigenous to the sub-continent and famed for its medicinal properties, I could let my mind go to my childhood days. In early spring when the new neem leaves sprouted, my Bengali grandmother made a dish to eat with rice. The bitter taste was not a favorite with the children but eaten because in those days if something was offered with authoritative love then there was no resistance. Later I got used to it and later yet, I miss it! Must be this eating of bitter neem leaves that leads to lasting marriages. Family members with an individual’s input arrange a marriage between two well-matched families, after initial adjustments between the two people; we get used to it and then spend a lifetime liking it. There are many such learning opportunities at the Taj Ayurveda Center. One was the custom of praying to Dhanvantri the link between God and the knowledge of Ayurveda on this earth of ours. Everyone began that way. In India everyone prays to everything, so no matter how or where we pray it ends up at the feet of our Creator. Sounds a healthy way to live in this world where variety seems to be God’s will.
Spiritually nourished, one starts the treatments each day for nearly an hour and a half or longer for some. I only took the two-week rejuvenation program. Each morning we started with some kashayams to drink and lehyams to lick, as recommended by a physician on the first day of examination. Four times every day these medicines were to be taken. These were brought to each of our rooms. There were two qualified Ayurvedic physicians in residence and a senior one visited from the main institute in Coimbatore. The Ayushman Ayurvedic Hospital runs a hundred bed hospital in that town and also coordinates some outreach programs.
Ayurveda is the Hindu system of medicine that was banned by the British regime as they thought everything that was from the East, researched and perfected by people of a darker hue had to be inferior. How we humans keep losing by this superiority complex! The strangest thing is that such ideas are perpetrated by those who claim a belief in universal brotherhood and equality. The other amazing thing is that Ayurveda, Yoga, meditation all known to be Hindu ideas, thus automatically condemned, are now being claimed by many traditions as based in their own predatory religions. For us Hindus it is nice to see more and more people adopting it whatever may be their reasons for improving themselves. A spiritually mature person is one who eventually cannot harm anything in this wonderful creation of ours. That in fact is the goal of Hindu Dharma anyway—live and let live!