A Special Place in Kerala’s Tourism Map

Two months ago, visitors at Kerala’s unique ecosystem of reptiles got a new slice of refreshment when a reputed snake park in the state’s northern region opened facilities for beverages and snacks. On August 25, the Parassinikkadavu Snake Park in Kannur district put up a coffee kiosk along with parlours that sell ice-creams and sweets.

In short, the mini zoo’s leafy premises today have visitors relaxing over stuff to drink and eat over chitchat in generally quiet afternoons. This pleasing picture contrasts with the mood that prompted the genesis of the venture half a century ago.

It all began in the mid-1960s when Kanthalottu Kunjambu was bitten by a snake. The Communist leader had to be rushed all the way to a place called Edakkad on the Malabar Coast for treatment. The man from Pappinisseri survived, but the detour did give his well-wishers enough tension.

That was when many in Kunhambu’s locality began feeling the pressing need for a reliable snakebite treatment facility in the locality. Soon, Leftist leader M V Raghavan became head of the Pappinisseri Panchayat — and moves in the direction gained momentum.

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PVCS: effectively countering snake bites

These days, the broader area called Parassinikkadavu occupies a special place in the state’s tourism map. One cannot call it a typical traveller’s paradise, but then amid several Ayurveda centres dotting God’s Own Country, this upstate village has given a fresh lease of life to no less than 1.10 lakh people in the past five decades.

All because of a pioneering organisation’s acumen to improvise upon one segment of the grand old medical treatment system — and effectively counter snakebite. The Pappinissery Visha Chikitsa Society (PVCS) has fascinated the medical fraternity across the globe as the only institution that blends the wisdom of ancient Ayurveda with new-age allopathy.

Only recently, the unique facility completed its two-year-long silver-jubilee celebrations—and that happened to coincide with Kerala Tourism’s 2013 focus on Ayurveda as the key theme.

It is the PVCS that runs the snake park. Its three-decade-old environs have a variety of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes — a unique enterprise in Kerala, attracting an average of three lakh visitors every year.

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Agadatantra

Experts say the state’s grand Ayurveda lineage gifts Kerala with the advantage of being a destination for studies on Agadatantra — the ancient science’s toxicology branch — and allied research.

The state government, too, has taken note of the potential. Says Chief Minister Oommen Chandy: “Our traditional systems of medicine and its effective usage in managing diseases and leading a healthy lifestyle have now caught widespread attention and acceptance.”

The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) recalls how a three-day national seminar called ‘Vasukeeyam’ here on Agadatantra in April 2012 made Parassinikadavu a place of convergence of Ayurveda toxicology scholars from across India. “The event saw exchange of amazing experiences and broadening of academic horizons,” notes a senior KTDC official.

The PVCS was formed in 1964 amid rise in instances of death and trauma owing to snakebites in the rugged region known for its bushy growth.

“Those days the locality abounded with snakes, and had no proper facility to treat cases of snakebites,” late Raghavan, a senior politician and a former state minister, used to recall. As the PVCS’s founder president, MVR (1933-2014) would always note that his moves to open such a facility received big support from the people. “I also owe it to a traditional doctor called P Kumaran Vaidyar, who volunteered his services,” he had written down in a pertinent souvenir.

In 1973, the PVCS eventually registered itself as a charitable society.
Prof E Kunhiraman, who is director of Parassinikkadavu Ayurveda Medical College (PAMC) which functions under PVCS, notes that the research activities in the institution have contributed to Agadatantra.

“The PVCS is currently a part of the Agada department of the 2002-founded college, which also treats bites of scorpion, spider and such insects besides skin diseases,” he informs.

PAMC principal Dr Muraleedharan A K notes that the beneficiaries of the hospital and research institute here are the common people. “For,” he explains, “snakebite happens only rarely for the upper class—they don’t generally live in such vulnerability. Also, our treatment cost is far less compared to the allopathic alternative.”

Dr Muraleedharan, who earlier headed the PAMC’s Department of Agadatantra, points out that the patient at the PVCS is initially administered anti-venom — thus borrowing from allopathic science. “We do it only after confirming that it is a case of poisonous bite. Else, we straightaway resort to Ayurvedic medicines after keeping the patient under observation for two hours,” he says. “In fact, data shows only 10 per cent bites are of poisonous snakes. Of that, 80 per cent is owing to viper bite.”

The course of treatment after injecting anti-venom is all based on Ayurvedic medicines such as Kashayam (syrup), lepanam (ointment) and gulika (herbal pills). “Overall, the expense comes down by two-third,” according to Dr Muraleedharan.

Besides being cost-effective, there is no potential complication that antibiotics allopathic treatment can trigger during the post-antivenom course. “The modern medicine resorts to surgeries to treat intestinal ulcer that is possible after viper bite. Ayurveda solves is through oral medicines.”

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The park doubles as a mini zoo

As for the Parassinikkadavu Snake Park, which recently got recognition for a master layout plan from Central zoo authority, has five species of mammals and as many species of birds besides 17 species of reptiles. A marine aquarium with lots of ornamental fish like lionfish, moray, eel, triggerfish, moorish idol, parrot fish, clown fish, damsel fish, green-carpet anemone, bubble-tip anemone and tentacle anemone, it has been functioning since April 12 this year.

The mammals at the park include porcupine, Indian palm civet, jungle cat, lion-tailed macaque and bonnet macaque. The birds are barn owl, fish owl, brahminy kite, pariah kite and woolynecked stork.

The reptiles comprise king cobra, spectacled cobra, Indian rock python, Russel’s viper, checkered keel back, mugger crocodile, Bengal monitor, tortoise, Indian krait, wolf snake, saw-scaled viper, pit viper, rat snake, trinket snake, common sand boa, red sand boa and green whip snake.

“The king cobra, which is the world’s largest venomous snake with nesting behaviour, is a major attraction,” says Dr Mithin Madhav of the institution. “We have a pair of king cobras, housed in a 150-square-metre enclosure with environmental enrichment like pond, bamboo and trees to make the environment congenial for the snake.”

Dr Santosh Patil and Dr Mahesh P Savalagimath of Kankanawadi Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya of Belgaum in Karnataka note that ‘Visha Chikitsa’ is the only answer to one of modern India’s burning problem: teratogenicity, which is malformation of the foetus.

Adds Dr S S Suryawanshi of Government Ayurveda College, Nagpur: “We need to give primary substitution to a snakebite patient before serum therapy. That will increase the survival period.”

Overall, it’s a mix of toxicology sciences and facilities at Parassinikkadavu, but the mission is driven by the idea of giving a balm that would plough oneself back from the jaws of death.

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

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