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Shekhar’s biggest regret is that he has just two fingers he can use to treat his patients. “Please don’t write about me. I already get more people than I can treat,” he says. The 54-year-old healer works from a tiny crevice in a narrow bylane of Balepet in old Bangalore.

A massage tradition from 150 years ago

Written by Friday, 12 July 2013 11:09

150 year old medicine

LEGACY OF TRUST Ravindra Babu at the Akkipet Kayangadi Papanna clinic. His clients include IT professionals.

Therapy with a twist and a coin

Written by Friday, 12 July 2013 11:02

coin theraphy

When Vijaylakshmi and Sreelata, two educated women in their mid-forties, land at Bangalore airport from Hyderabad, they seem no different from other visitors to the city. But they give a somewhat unusual destination to the cab driver: Karekal village near Nelamangala. They have come here to visit native healer Shivanna, popularly known as Coin Cut Shivanna, who practises at Ashakirana Ayurvedic Hospital.


The hospital is actually a small house by the highway with a hall, two bedrooms and a kitchen. Twenty chairs are placed in the hall for patients to wait. Separate rooms are used to examine men and women. Shivanna has just one assistant, Narayanappa. When it was their turn, Sreelata enters the examination room. She tells Shivanna that she has chronic back pain. Shivanna does not ask anything further, nor looks at the medical reports she is carrying. He simply applies a specially prepared herbal oil on her back, touches the spot with his forehead and meditates for a few moments.


He then lifts both her legs and sets them on the ground again. He applies plaster of Paris on the spot. He then places four coins in four corners around it, and applies four to five layers of plaster of Paris. “Now tell me where it was paining, for how many days. Do you still feel the pain?” he asks. Sreelata, who is now standing, says that she feels better now. She recollects her extreme back pain, which made it impossible for her to stand in the kitchen even for 20 minutes. “By the time I could fry two chapattis, the pain would be unbearable. If I stood a little more, I felt I was going to collapse,” she said. Sreelata had undergone treatment at several modern hospitals, but had found no relief.


When she heard of Shivanna, she decided to come to Bangalore along with her friend Vijayalakshmi who had the same problem. Thanking Shivanna, she asks when she should come next. “Come again only if you have pain. There is no need to come otherwise,” is his reply. The knowledge of coin healing has been in Shivanna’s family for generations. As a child, he watched his grandmother Hanumakka prepare the medicinal oil. He accompanied her to the forests, helping her collect herbs, and learning how to make the oil. “It is the same oil that I make and use on my patients to this day,” he says. He later learnt under his uncle Muniyappa and father Gangayya. “It is a divine gift to our family.


I am of tcoin cuthe sixth generation practicing this technique,” he says. A simple man, Shivanna betrays no signs of pride, arrogance or greed. He charges just Rs 100 per consultation. His father Battarahalli Gangayya is a famous native healer who practices in his 150-bed hospital nearby. Shivanna worked with his father for 20 years from 1982 to 2002. He then started his own hospital at about one km from his father’s hospital in Karekal village by the Bangalore- Mangalore National highway. He treats 50 to 150 patients every day. The rush is so much that Shivanna doesn’t find time to even eat his meals. He hasn’t taken a day off for the past 30 years. “People come from as far as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh trusting me.


How can I let them down? So I try to be available to my patients every day,” he says. His family has been complaining that he doesn’t spare time for them. “When I see patients who had come moaning in pain go smiling, I feel happy. People’s love and trust is more important to me,” he says. A majority of his patients are women. Shivanna blames it on the modern tiles on the floors of houses and toilets. “They slip and fall in their own houses and have to undergo surgery,” he says.


People come to him with fractured limbs, spinal cord problems, weakness, rheumatic pains, dislocated joints, sprains, cervical spondylitis and slip discs. “I have handled critical cases too. In certain cases, doctors from hi-tech hospitals had conducted two-three surgeries and had given up. But I have treated them and they started walking again,” he claims. Shivanna’s fame has spread so wide that his clientele included Kannada film idols Rajkumar, Ambarish and Vishnuvardhan. Former Lokayuktas, Justices Sudheendra Rao and Santosh Hegde are also regulars at his clinic. Rao calls on him at least once a month, and has helped organise camps in his home town Bangarupete, where Shivanna treated hundreds of people.


From 1982 to 2002, Shivanna would attend to patients out of town every Friday. He has conducted camps in Mysore, Hyderabad, Guntur, Vishakapattana, Bangarupete and Shimoga. In October 1985, Shivanna participated in the Open Challenge held in USA, where orthopaedic doctors from all over the world participated. Shivanna and his father Gangayya treated 10 patients without even seeing the X-ray. The father-son duo was awarded the Best Doctor title.


His father Gangayya is 95 now and is unable to attend to patients. His assistants run the hospital in Yantaganahalli. “Many are claiming they are Gangayya’s sons are treating patients. People have to be careful,” he says. “It is fine if they are able to really treat patients.” Shivanna has three daughters and one son. He also does some farming in his five acre land, where he grows bananas, tomatoes and beans. He is unhappy that people are leaving agriculture and migrating to cities. “People are lazy. They sell their land for a pittance and spend the money on liquor. Instead of farming, they go to cities and clean toilets. The same people who would feed others, beg for food in cities,” he says. Perhaps Shivanna’s art draws on acupressure, but he only understands it his way: what he has inherited came from his loving grandmother.


Anxiety about allopathic methods propels some towards local medicine. Some trust native healers more than big hospitals. And the masses neither have insurance nor the money to be able to afford allopathic treatment

Recorded history tells us native and folk healers (like bone-setters) have been serving Bangalore for 200 to 250 years. The big picture is that local healing traditions in India are old, and go back several thousand years. Dr MN Balakrishna Nair, advisor, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore, says local health traditions are the future of health care. Western medicines, especially antibiotics, have many side effects. In his view, people in the West have realised it and are turning towards systems like naturopathy. “India has the longest tradition of local medicines.


It is perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 years old. We have over 50,000 formulae in therapeutic use. Indian medicine comprises not just the scientifically acknowledged Ayurveda, Unani, Sidda and Swaralpa. We have a rich tradition of local medicines,” Dr Nair told Talk. Even now, in rural areas, primary healthcare is provided by traditional healers, and not by Western medicine. Over 63 per cent of India’s population gets its primary treatment from local medication. “Home remedies are used for mild illnesses like colds and coughs. For all kinds of chronic illnesses like arthritis, traditional medicine is the key, because it has no side effects. It is effective,” he says. Dr Nair’s grandfather was a healer of epilepsy. He treated people for over 40 years, with Dr Nair being one of those treated.


“I trust local medicines,” says Dr Nair. The Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, which he advises, is trying to preserve and revive local traditions. “We have been studying and testing the local medicines. We document only those that are safe and reliable,” he says. People say not all local healers are genuine. “But you have quacks in Western medicine, too, says Dr Nair. “The existence of quacks in traditional medicine cannot discredit traditional medicine.” His regret is that our education system has marginalised all traditional medicines, and privileged Western medicine. “I am not against allopathic medicines, but we should not wipe out our traditional knowledge,” he says. People continue to throng to native and folk healers even in the age of allopathy.


“Families pass on the knowledge. While lower middle class people mostly go to them, even highly educated people believe in them,” says sociologist GSR Krishnan of Bangalore University. According to Krishnan, such healers get a clientele from the lower middle class. “You find them around Nelamangala, Bidadi, Doddaballapur, Ramanagar and Kanakapura. Some are in the interiors of the city too, but their numbers aren’t that high. They survive because they have established a reputation over time,” he explains. One of the reasons such healers work from the peripheries of the city is because they get volumes of patients—working people who don’t earn enough to go to the big hospitals.


“These healers are in some sense niche and they don’t worry about competition from allopathy,” says Krishnan. A deep fear of modern surgery pushes patients towards folk healers. People also hold that allopathy complicates ailments. They are willing to endure unconventional methods, Krishnan believes, because they feel they may be cured permanently. Ayurveda is an ancient, indigenous form of medicine, and has greater cosmopolitan appeal than folk traditions like bone-setting. “Ayurveda goes back to the Vedic times and various texts mention healing through herbs and plants. India has a medical tradition going back to the pre-Vedic times. Records show the antiquity of Ayurveda. Non- Ayurvedic medical practices like bone setting have existed in the immediate pre-colonial and colonial periods. In all, we have a native medical tradition that pre-dates modernity certainly,” says Krishnan.


With the arrival of modernity and colonialism, native medicine began to be sidelined by modern medicine, while systems like Ayurveda gained mass appeal and became institutionalised. “Nonestablished practices like bone-setting existed as individual acts, though there were several such. Ayurveda clearly established itself as the primary indigenous medical practising system in the country,” he explains. Native healing methods survive not only because they have been passed on from generation to generation, but also because people find allopathy not delivering results. “Highly educated people go to native healers. Whether native medicine works or not, it is their last hope. Many people with cancer try traditional treatments. Traditional medicine is sometimes the first hope, but it can also be the last hope,” says Krishnan. The sociologist believes that as long as cities have vast catchments of working population, the folk healers will survive. “The lower middle class cannot afford modern medicine, they don’t have insurance and they don’t have large savings to invest in allopathic treatment. Where will they go?”


Caring for the Parkinson’s-afflicted

Written by Friday, 14 June 2013 09:09

Akhila Rao (name changed), an academic who cared for her father, speaks about the psychological and physiological consequences of Parkinson’s disease, and offers first-hand insights into how to deal with hallucinations and obsessive talk


AWARENESS IS KEY Boxer Mohammed Ali and Hollywood actor Michael J Fox at an event to spread awareness about Parkinson’s syndrome. Both have been diagnosed with the disease.


TESTING PATIENCE Patients must wait at least four hours for a consultation at Nimhans

‘The prayers of mentals’

Written by Friday, 14 June 2013 08:36


Em and the Big Hoom, the acclaimed novel by journalist Jerry Pinto, presents a stark fictional portrayal of mental illness. In this excerpt, the narrator reflects on the terrifying ups and downs of his mother, and his own troubled response to it

The cases that shocked Bangalore

Written by Friday, 14 June 2013 08:20

The two mentally ill persons found in an abandoned state in their own homes have since recovered. But, doctors say that the public should also take note of the challenges faced by their families



 RELIEVED Ananthaiah Shetty at Nimhans

Less drama, please

Written by Friday, 14 June 2013 08:13


Media coverage of rescued mentally ill people tend to cast families or faith healers as villains and the media itself as the hero. Such self-serving exercises overlook the complexities of mental illness, and sidesteps the real issues, saysRadhika P

What is it like to lose your mind?

Written by Friday, 14 June 2013 07:46

lossyour mind

Living with someone who is mentally afflicted, and demands constant care and attention, can be a frustrating experience even for their loved ones. What should family members and the rest of us know—and do—that would make it better for everyone involved? Savie Karnel speaks to city psychiatrists and counsellors to find out


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