“There are pros and cons of both Ayurvedic and Western medicinal practices. Many assume that the Ayurvedic system is unique to Sri Lanka. Simply the reality is that the existing Sri Lankan Ayurvedic system was influenced by the Indian Ayurvedic system. Before the Ayurvedic system spread, a traditional and indigenous medical practice existed in Sri Lanka. This purely Sri Lankan medical practice isn’t a descendant of Indian Ayurvedic system,” traditional medical practitioner Dampe Weda Mahaththaya told the Daily Mirror.
This Ayurvedic doctor, from Madapatha, Dampe, said that the traditional indigenous medical practice is deep-rooted in the Sri Lankan history.
Prefers treating serious patients
Speaking about the specialized areas in Ayurveda he said, “I am dedicated towards curing the poorest of patients who are suffering from diseases which have been termed incurable. Among them are patients who have been told to undergo bypass operations. I prefer to treat patients who have serious ailments since any doctor can cure simple illnesses likes coughs and influenza. I am interested in curing patients with Diabetics, Arthritis, High/low blood pressure, cholesterol and wheezing,” said Dampe Weda Mahaththaya. Answering the question as to how he entered the field of medicine, the weda mahaththaya said, “Well, I am hailing from an ancient weda (Medicinal) generation whose roots are in Anuradhapura. We have been familiar with medicine and treatments since childhood. As children, we would go searching for medicine in the forest with our elders.
“Later I met an elderly weda mahaththaya from Ratnapura, who had no predecessor to pass on his vast knowledge to. He taught me the art of pulse reading known as ‘Naadi Wedakama‘. Therefore I am skilled in a medicinal practice known as ‘Sanyoga Wedakama’ which I inherited from the family. This method of treatment has pulse reading incorporated into it. Pulse reading is based on temperature and the activeness of the patient,’ the weda mahattaya said. According to him in latter years his family had moved to Madapatha. “After settling down, we were treating the villagers and soon patients came in numbers and formed queues at our residence. Our home was always filled with patients,” he reminisced.
Every plant contains poisons within. The indigenous medical practitioner, also known as weda mahaththya, has the ability to mix the poison in safer quantities so that it cures the patient
Lack of herbs and plants
Making medicine from plants and herbs at present is a difficult task for Ayurvedic doctors like him due to lack of material. He explained how he is overcoming such difficulties. “I can identify any medicinal plant just by biting into a dried-up part of a tree, which grows in this country. Now the forests are degrading fast, and it’s difficult to find herbs needed for medicine. Mahogany, Teak and other invasive plant species are destroying our indigenous trees and plants and also disturbing the pollination process. The bees, a critical part of pollination and the forest life cycle, are going extinct. Thousands of trees are facing the threat of extinction.” is how he described the present precarious situation.
“We usually obtain herbs from Anuradhapura, Vavuniya, Mulathivu, and Polonnaruwa. We obtain them especially from the dry zone. We have helping hands everywhere in the country. They collect and bring the medicinal herbs which we combine carefully to produce the medicines, ourselves. My family members support us in all these endeavours.” he noted.
“Every plant contains poisons within. The indigenous medical practitioner, also known as weda mahaththya, has the ability to mix the poison in safer quantities so that it cures the patient,” he specified.
He said that a doctor is responsible in prescribing the right medication for a patient. He added that regardless of whether the ailment was simple or complicated prescribing any medicine should be done with a great understanding of the patient’s condition. “It’s essential that the doctor has a clear sense of the three ailments afflicting a patient which are identified in Ayruveda as Thridosha, (waatha, pitha, and sema),” he said.
We asked the weda mahaththaya why he started treating patients who have been recommended to undergo bypass surgery. “Well, I had the idea to make medicines for patients who have been told to do a bypass surgery. I started experimenting with medicines which can be used to cure such ailments. This was early as in 2001. My experiments produced successful results by 2005. As a result, we are able to cure any patient who has been told to undergo bypass surgery within two and half months,” he said.
Many people think that indigenous medicine and Ayurvedic medicine are the same. Dampe Weda Mahaththaya explained the differences between those two medicinal practices. “The Ayurvedic system came to Sri Lanka from India and later mixed with traditional indigenous medicine that was existing. Consequently, the Ayurvedic medical practice surpassed the practice of traditional indigenous medicine. Concoctions, dry balls, arishta (syrup) and other medications are given to the patient in the Ayurvedic system. However, in traditional indigenous medicine practice, we give only the dry version of medicines taking into account convenience and practicality. Both medical practices have transparent differences” he said.
“However, in traditional indigenous medicine, almost all plants and leaves are used to make medicine. We combine the barks, leaves, fruits, roots and other natural substances and use our knowledge to experiment with new medicines and treatment. That’s the most obvious difference between the two systems. They (Ayurvedic) can’t find solutions for new diseases, but we (Traditionalists) can,”he emphasised.
The wonder of this traditional indigenous medical practice is that there are treatments for every disease and we can find treatment for newly originated diseases, even for plagues. It is possible to make medicines by experimenting
No miracle oils
Airing his opinion on quack doctors or so-called weda mahaththayas and the harm done by them to this practice known as “wedakama” he said, “Nowadays, there are hundreds of Sinhala medicinal products manufactured for the sole purpose of marketing. There are no common medicines in the traditional indigenous medical practice that can be given to everyone except for herbs like Kottamalli, Aralu, Bulu, and Nelli etc. Those various oils, that promise miracles and cures, are mere consumer products since no genuine weda mahaththaya can make cure-all oils.
“The first thing a general physician does is to reveal the bitter truth about a serious illness to the patient. This causes a major mental break down in the patient. As doctors, we should cultivate a friendship with the patient and utter words of encouragement. Not only the body, but also the mind of the patient needs care.” he said underscoring how the traditional indigenous medical practice is bound not only with the physical self, but also with the spiritual self of a patient.
Asked what the taboo foods are from a traditional indigenous medicine perspective, he said, “It depends on the disease and the condition of the patient. Pineapples, tomatoes, fish and meat are considered taboo in Sinhala wedakama. I advise my patients to avoid these food and ask them to consider avoiding foods that raise the ‘heat’ in the body. Fish contains formalin and are months old and meat also includes certain hormones that are detrimental to my mode of treatment”. Speaking about the diseases, Dampe Weda Mahaththaya said that the traditional indigenous medicine is a vast subject. “The wonder of this traditional indigenous medical practice is that there are treatments for every disease and we can find treatment for newly originated diseases, even for plagues. It is possible to make medicines by experimenting,” he said.
(Dampe Weda Mahaththaya can be visited at 79/1/A, Dampe, Madapatha)