I have a healthy dislike of gurujis and babajis of all ilks. Top of my list are the miracle workers who claim to cure uncurable diseases - they so obviously prey on the helpless and the hopeless, people clutching at straws of hope.
Second on my list are the preachers who say recite this mantra or embrace this form of worship and thou shalt attain salvation. As if.
Both of the above, invariably, get drunk on the money and power that fame and following brings. And then come the whispers of sexual favours, molestation, even murders involving the 'Holy One'. Does not sound God-like to me!
However a New Age calls for New Age Gurus. This guru is one who offers more of practical and psychotherapeutic advice than deep religious or spiritual fundas. And in a format that's nicely packaged, easy to digest.
The two gurus who fit the bill are Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Swami Ramdev .
The key take away from Sri Sri's 'Art of Living' course is the 'sudarshan kriya' breathing technique while Ramdev is chiefly known for teaching ordinary individuals of varying shapes and sizes all manners of yoga asanas and pranayams.
Art of Living has a more premium brand image while Ramdev has a wide, mass appeal. But both, I think, are doing a great job of delivering ancient Indian wisdom to a modern, skeptical and stressed population.
The Bone of Contention
And now, Ms Brinda Karat is accusing Ramdev of selling 'adulterated' medicines. Financial Express reports:
"We came to know in June-July last year that herbal ayurvedic medicines prepared by Divya Yog Pharmacy, owned by Ramdev, contained animal material and human bones. We then handed over the medicine samples to Department of AYUSH and now they have confirmed our apprehension," she said.
But the swami's followers as well as leaders across the political spectrum have come out in support of Ramdev. Because medicines have never been his primary appeal.
As Acharya Balkrishanji, director of Ramdev's Divya Yog Pharmacy pointed out in an interview with the TOI,"While Swami Ramdev started teaching pranayam about 15 years ago, we started selling medicines only a year and a half back. The turnover is Rs 1 crore annually."
The 'overall assets' of the Divya Yoga Mandir Trust, incidentally, are worth Rs 45 crores.
Sach kya hai?
As of now, Ramdev denies adding animal content to his medicines . What, then, of the samples tested which Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss says contain some ' animal residue'?
And does 'animal residue' necessarily mean 'animal and human bone' as Ms Karat and ex-workers of Ramdev's pharmacy allege?
Dr Madan Gulati, Deputy Director, Ayurveda, UT, said to the Tribune: "Ayurveda is not a system of medicine for vegetarians alone. In fact, it is incomplete without the use of minerals and animal parts. Ayurvedic medicines contain herbs, minerals, shells and corals but there is no place for human bones".
This is what the description on Ramdev's own website states:
Medicine: Divya Arshkalp Vati (for curing piles)
Main Constituents: Pure rashont, termalia, chooti harad, bakayan seed, neem seed, reethatawka, desi kapoor, kaharva, khoonkharaba, makoya,alua, nagdaun etc.
Khoonkharaba? Apparently there is a herb by that name.
What I find more interesting is the "etc". Etc could be anything.
If Ramdev stands firm that his medicines do not contain any 'non-veg' content then he has to be able to prove this by getting more samples tested at a nationally recognised laboratory.
If they do contain some 'animal' elements he should simply come out and say: "Some medicines may contain animal content - but they work. You decide if you want to buy them!"
To my mind even that would not pose a problem:
a) as long as no people or animals are actually killed for their bones
b) those buying the medicine are aware of the facts and accept them
When I was growing up 7 Seas Cod liver oil was a much favoured prescription for 'health and vitality'. My brother and I consumed those yucky transparent yellow capsules for years. (God forbid if one opened in your mouth before swallowing!)
And this, in a family that has always been strictly 'vegetarian'.
But then, the question arises - would Ramdev's medicines qualify as 'ayurvedic' if they contain animal / human bone?
What is ayurveda?
The big mystery today is - what is an ayurvedic product in the first place. My first memory of a product that unabashedly called itself thus: Vicco vajradanti toothpowder and toothpaste. "Ayurvedic jadi bootiyon se bana sampoorn swadeshi..." went the jingle.
Then, multinationals discovered Ayurveda.
a) For tax purposes: If an OTC offering or cosmetic product is labelled 'ayurvedic' - there are several commercial benefits.
The most famous example is Vicks Vaporub which uses the exact same formula in America and India, except here it lists the Indian (herbal) ingredients on the label. The company was able to establish that all of its ingredients were listed in traditional Ayurvedic texts.
b) Customer appeal: Companies realised that any product labelled ayurvedic or herbal connoted 'natural' and 'chemical freee' to the customer. The Hindu reports that the Rs 300-crore segment is perceived to be "the hottest and the fastest growing". And hence everything from toothpaste to shampoo to face cream went ayurvedic with a vengeance.
So we saw new and amazing products like Clinic Plus Ayurvedic Hair Wash with natural ingredients such as neem, tulsi and cinnamon leaf oil...
Do a few drops of one or the other plant extract make a product 'ayurvedic'? How herbal do you need to be to qualify as truly herbal??
Someone, somewhere urgently and immediately needs to set clear and definite standards for what constitutes 'ayurveda'. Both in medicine and cosmetics. Or, in the name of ancient India, consumers will continue to be taken for a ride. Maybe one they are enjoying - but a ride nevertheless.
Meanwhile the Brinda Karat vs Ramdev slugfest continues... And at the end of it all, both will come out unscathed. Looking good in the eyes of their respective followers. Make no bones about it!