Case Studies > Krishnan Master

Krishnan Master - Traditional Healing Practice

Traditional Healing is the oldest form of structured medicine, that is, a medicine that has an underlying philosophy and set of principles by which it is practised. It is the medicine from which all later forms of medicine developed, including Chinese medicine, Graeco-Arabic medicine, and of course also modern Western medicine. Traditional Healing was originally an integral part of semi-nomadic and agricultural tribal societies, and although archeological evidence for its existence dates back to only around 6000 B.C., its origins probably date back from well before the end of the last Ice-age. There were and of course still are some regional differences between the principles and philosophy of Traditional Healing although there are also many fundamental similarities that arise from the profound knowledge of natural laws and the understanding of how these influence living things, which is shared by all Traditional Healers.

About the Practice

WHO defines Traditional Healing as "the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses." Within this, herbal medicines "include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations, and finished herbal products that contain parts of plants or other plant materials as active ingredients". Traditional medicine is widely termed as alternative medicine today.

Practitioner & Background

Krishnan master, aged 79, a retired school teacher is a fairly well known and sought after herbal medicine practitioner in Kannur and nearby districts. His father was knowledgeable in medicinal plants and their usage. Krishnan master, right from his child hood days, showed immense interest in nurturing the medicinal plants in his compound. His interest in take care of them grew with age. It was after his retirement that he seriously began to collect common as well as rare plants. Simultaneously, he also started treating neighbours and acquaintances using herbal preparations from his garden for various diseases and illnesses. His fame spread in the region and soon he was busy in this activity. He has never had any formal training in traditional/herbal medicine. Whenever he comes to know of some rare remedy for some disease, especially in adivasi regions, he visits and stays in the area and learns it from the adivasi moopan (tribal chieftain) or practitioner. In this way, he has collected a lot of rare plants and uses rare remedies based on them. His herbal garden now includes about 750 varieties of medicinal plants, of which 300 are rare ones. He claims to treat about 35 diseases (including cancer, diabetes, jaundice, asthma, snake bite) using his own herbal preparations as well as numerous minor illnesses.

Sustainability Issues/Constraints

The major constraint for sustainability of Krishnan master's practice is that he has not trained anybody in it. While his son and daughter have acquired knowledge about the plants and their usage, there is very little likelihood of them taken up the practice after his time.

Sustainability Issues/Constraints

  • As is evident, Krishnan master's major source materials are plants. Most of the plants he requires are grown in his one acre garden, which has about 750 varieties.
  • The rare plants include one which is capable of killing a snake if it stays under its shade for some time, one which causes itching that can last a month (and so can be used as a hedge to deter thieves)
  • Many of the local traditional/practitioners depend on him for plants, especially rare ones. This provides a commercial outlet for his garden.
Innovative Response/Practice:
  • Collecting rare plants and growing and conserving them in his garden
  • Learning indigenous remedies
Future Sustainability
  • Krishnan master, besides growing the plants he requires, also does his own processing for preparing the medicines. He has helpers to take care of the garden, but not for processing. This is creates worries about the future of his practice after this time. He himself confessed that he doesn't know what will happen after this death.
  • He has one son who has acquired the knowledge of plants and their use from his father, but he works with the police department and does not practice. The likelihood of his taking up practice seems low. His daughter has acquired enough knowledge to take identify and take care of the plants he grows but does not know how to use them for treatment.
  • He has written down the details of all the plants he grows along with how to use them and what to use them for. But nobody has been trained in it by him.
  • He charges nominal fee for his treatments and hence it does not sustain him fully. He gets government pension which helps to sustain him. It is out of interest that he pursues this activity.
  • It is possible to make a living if he advertises and widens his practice. But his passion is for conserving the plants and he fears that his garden will be destroyed if too many people visit.
  • He claims to have cured three cancer cases - uterine cancer in a young girl, mouth cancer and breast cancer. This has not been passed down to anybody and is likely to remain just unique incidents.
  • He maintains meticulous records of the treatments he carries out on his patients. But this may not be sufficient for somebody coming later to make use of the knowledge.

Interview of Krishnan master by Prasannan and Neethu of Kannur office on December 23, 2011

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