India must anchor Ayurveda in the next decade

Soft power in the 21st century is completely different from soft power in the 20th century. There is now an urgent need to re-imagine, re-think and re-invigorate ways and means for a country to attract or influence, as opposed to any form of coercion, be it economic or military.

India is a civilisational state and not a nation-state. In this context the contribution of Ayurveda to its civilisational legacy cannot be understated or undermined. In the 21st century, the time is ripe for India to concretise and take measured steps to posit Ayurveda as a health science and knowledge system, not just for herself but for the world.

In 2008 during his visit to India, Michael Levitt, Former US Secretary of Health, said something fascinating in an interview, which is being paraphrased here to understand its depth:

“I recently spent a considerable amount of time in China looking at their traditional medicine. We have at our National Institutes of Health (NIH), one centre that focuses on alternative and complementary methods. We think there is a great deal of potential that can be learnt using traditional methods of healing as long as we are applying good science. So our effort is to take things, understand it better, apply good science to it and apply it or use it. I met in China Mr. Chim, who is world renowned for treating leukemia. He told me that he had been trained in traditional Chinese medicine and had a hunch that if arsenic was introduced into the treatment it could have a potent effect, because he had seen that in traditional Chinese medicine. And it became the keystone to saving tens of thousands of lives all over the world. That is an example of how using traditional methods of healing will benefit us. There is a lot to be learnt from what has been in practice in India for many, many centuries — we are interested in that.”

China began its efforts to promote its traditional form of medicine since its founding as the People’s Republic of China. Having said that, this important statement from Levitt gives credence to the fact that India’s contribution to Ayurveda has in it the unique essence to address the needs of the fast changing world and to be a constant.18

The impact of Ayurveda from a global perspective does not stop there. Katy Perry, the famous global pop star, referred to her investigation into traditional Indian medicine for some of her treatments. In an interview to an Australian radio show she said, “There’s ancient ways to heal yourself besides just taking a pill, which is something I love to always investigate. So I did this thing called panchakarma — it stems from India and its Ayurvedic eating and cleansing.”

In addition to this, several states in India are also emerging as Ayurveda hotspots; a recent addition being Himachal Pradesh, where a large number of professionals from various fields in the US are visiting which is also enabling the state’s local tourism substantively. But what is the future of Ayurveda in say the next decade? Where would policy makers, leaders, practitioners, doctors and therapists wish to see Ayurveda in 2030?

In 2017, the Confederation of Indian Industry and Frost & Sullivan came up with a comprehensive roadmap to outline the prospective growth of Ayurveda in 2022. The report was drafted by several Ayurveda pioneers like Rajiv Vasudevan, the founder of India’s first Ayurveda hospital, AyurVAID. The report articulated the need for India to anchor and establish brand Ayurveda. It said, “A clear brand identity for ‘Ayurveda’ is a sine qua non for building correct awareness, market acceptance, and to propel dynamic growth across it. Since different sub-segments constitute the larger Ayurveda sector, and with a global spread of demand and supply of Ayurveda products and services spanning casual leisure applications to the most rigorous healthcare provision in hospital settings, backed by insurance/payers, misconceptions abound about the true nature and scope of Ayurveda.”

But the report importantly also forewarned that policymakers and practitioners must be careful to not Ayurveda be appropriated by other countries in the world.

It is in this context that the India Foundation’s Center for Public Diplomacy and Soft Power has taken a small step to anchor the first ever global initiative of celebrating Ayurveda Day in over 35 countries, at 150 plus locations and in collaboration with 60 plus global partner organisations in a synchronised manner, on October 25 this year, which coincides with Dhanwantri Day. The initiative is being guided by internationally renowned Ayurveda experts and supported by the Ministry of AYUSH and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

As part of this initiative, each location in each country will discuss ‘Ayurveda in 2030’ as well as take a common pledge:

“I pledge to make Ayurveda an integral part of my daily life and thereby enable good health and well-being for myself, my family, and my community, in harmony with nature.”

It is for the first time that so many countries would be taking a common global pledge for Ayurveda, and the entire global initiative is in alignment with United Nations – WHO Sustainable Development Goal: 3 of good health and well-being.

It is imperative that anchored in India; Ayurveda must be posited as a global health science and a sophisticated and rigorous knowledge system. With such efforts in the right direction, the world will no doubt soon accept the most ancient form of medicine and this may perhaps pave the way for a World Ayurveda Day celebration next!

Simon Anholt, Founder of the ‘Good Country Index’ emphasises why people admire countries which support the international community. Through Ayurveda, India has supported the international community for eons, and the next decade will certainly enable its further contribution for the well-being of all.

Views expressed by the author are his own. The article has been republished with permission of the author, it first appeared in:

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