During the ‘70s Auroville earned an international reputation for its restoration of severely eroded wasteland – but who is taking this arduous work up in today's modern Auroville?
One is Shivaraj, a man born in the local village of Kottakarai, grown up in Auroville, whose successive experiences in Auroville – of learning at Isaiambalam School, helping at Auroville Greenwork Centre, keeping accounts at Roma's Kitchen, managing Uma's quilting unit, carrying out Verite's community maintenance, slogging it out with Satprem at the Earth Institute, assisting in Pitchandikulam's biodiversity projects and training as a Development Worker with Village Action -- prepared him to start the Martuvam Healing Forest.
With help from Ivar Jenten and Lisa Borstlap, Auroville supporters from Holland, he drew up a project and the Auroville Planning and Development Council allotted him unoccupied waste land near the village of Annainagar. In 2002 he moved there with his family and started planting medicinal herbs and trees to create the basis of a local healing center based on traditional herbal medicines.
The basic idea is to grow the plants which produce local herbal remedies, and to supply them to local healers, and also run a clinic where villagers can come for diagnosis and treatment of common ailments.
By now, the 3.5 acres are green with indigenous medicinal plants. For example, Avarampoo , the Tamil name for Cassia arculata, is a bush with yellow small flowers, which are boiled in water and drunk daily to control diabetes and remove oedema. Thulsi, which we all know as wild basil, is used as a tea to cure colds and fevers, especially for children. Veeralli , Tamil for Dodonomo viscosa, has small deep green leaves which are crushed into a paste and applied to cuts and wounds. These three of the almost 150 species in the forest, are particularly well known. They are used directly, without much preparation, and people from the local villages can receive immediate treatment.
The older green units in Auroville, Fertile Forest, Palmyra, Pitchandikualm, and the Forest Group have given support with funds and technical advice and assistance for planting, irrigation, solar electricity, and appropriate building technologies. A gravity powered irrigation system (christened “Divine Flow”), earth-brick buildings, and solar power for domestic purposes are the highlights of the environmentally friendly infrastructure. But the open toilets which do return waste directly to the earth are not be be continued and await funding to be replaced with more sophisticated composting toilets.
After two years of planting and building, Shivaraj had an opportunity to join a 2-year course with a state-renowned Siddha medicine guru, Dr. Selvarasu, who has a large training centre in the plains near Kolimalai. Studying with about 25 others, he attends a monthly weekend of full-day classes and practice. His guru has taught them how to diagnose basic diseases, how to calm the patient psychologically, how to read the pulse. They are learning which herbs apply to what diseases and how to make mixtures of herbs for particular disorders. And they also meet the patients who are lying in their Guru's centre. While most of the students are city-bred doctors, Shivaraj is exceptional in growing his own herbs and being rooted in the local agricultural and medicinal traditions. He's already earned his Government of India S.I.S. Certificate in Herbal Production, and will gain at the end of the course a Diploma in Siddha Medicine. Shivaraj is happy – he says he'd always thought he'd build the clinic to which he would invite practitioners, now to his delighted surprise he can be the healer.
Shivaraj is currently researching among the local healers and midwives, hoping to assist them to pass on their knowledge and skills before they disappear. Particularly, Pachiammal, an old lady with an extensive knowledge of the local plants and their healing uses, is eager to share her knowledge. None of her children are interested to learn from her and take up her role in the village, giving immediate treatment to people screaming with pain, to those bitten by dogs, burning with fever, doubled over with stomach cramps.
Healing Touch practitioners have also been a great support to the project, coming in teams for the last three years to teach energetic healing, and also helping to fund the Training Centre. The new building constructed of natural local poles and thatch, provides a cool and effective space for training. Forty five women followed the first level of Healing Touch this year at Martuvam, while 25 boys received the same training at the Mohanam Centre.
The new building also allows for the regular visits of Pondicherry orphan children, from both private and government homes, who spend weekends at Martuvam meeting and playing with the neighbouring village children and bridging the urban-rural divide.
With the planting of more medicinal plants, the study of Siddha medicine, and building of new facilities, not to mention the programmes with children and with trainees, Shivaraj is a busy man. But he's happy knowing that he is moving steadily toward his dream of seeing Martuvam become a vibrant clinic serving the poor of the area with wholesome remedies for common ailments.