A Malabar Household That Treats Mental Ailments

The rugged compound of the rambling mansion has always been sprawling, and little Vivek Sankar would spend his evenings playing cricket with peer-group children of the joint family. That is when they would be joined by people with mental ailments.

It used to be so till his early teenage because the Namboothiri household in Kerala was also a reputed Ayurveda centre that specialised in treatment of psychological problems. “Those days, we had inpatients sometimes totalling 30 at a time. Some of them would be seen chained,” recalls the scion, now 25 years old. “Those with less serious illness would bat and bowl at the ground — regularly.”

Today, the open space doesn’t feature such sights. For, Poonkudil Mana in Malabar has discontinued with the practice of admitting patients — 12 years ago. Reason: “We found that the families of inpatients increasingly began abandoning them — even after cure,” reveals Vivek’s father, Vasudevan Namboothiri, the chief physician in the present generation at the clinic near Manjeri in upstate Malappuram district.


Namboothiri recalls that the onus to return the inpatients to their families fell upon his household. “Some of them were from places as far as north India. We had to take them back, based on the address at the register.”

The severity of the task notwithstanding, Vivek wants the family to revive its healing activity to its older glory. “That is one reason why I’m myself doing a formal Ayurveda course,” gushes the student of Sushrutha Ayurvedic College in Bangalore.

In fact, a couple of Vivek’s cousins are also into similar academic rigour.

Namboothiri says that the mode of treatment that Poonkudil Mana, which has a practising history of five-plus centuries, follows prescriptions from traditional Indian psychology based on tips from Ayurveda. “Also, there are nuggets of knowledge scattered in the Upanishads and the Vedas,” he says.

“The disease is all a matter of Heenasatwa (a worsened condition of the mind). The treatment ends only if the patient shows no tendency to repeat the symptoms,” notes Namboothiri. “We would prepare the medicines ourselves — even now (for outpatients).”

The potpourri involves herbal medicines, including special oil bath. “We prepare them in the mana itself. Importantly, there is brahmi ghee; it sharpens the brain of the patients and cools the body and mind. There are quite a few other herbal plants,” he adds.


On his part, Vivek shows a pond at the backyard of the mansion. “This was completed more than two decades ago by refashioning an unused well. It was done largely by a single patient who was admitted to the mana because he was suffering from anxiety neurosis.

“The man, I’m told, was restless. One day, he volunteered to make a pond out of the well. The physicians okayed it. Eventually they sensed the project was shaping up well. Then they also joined!” says Vivek.

Sooner than later, the boy’s task too will be to drill deeper into ancient knowledge in a new era.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and media consultant based in Delhi.)