Dhanavantari … and his leech.

Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.
Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.

Today is Dhanvantari Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Dhanavantari, patron-god of Ayurveda and the healing sciences.

Bhagvat Purana tell us that Dhanvantari emerged during Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean.

Dhanvantari’s anniversary falls on the thirteenth day of the dark half of Ashvina, two days before Deepavali. Hence, it is called Dhantrayodashi. This day also honors the goddess of wealth, and is also called Dhanteras.

Ayurveda is the world’s first organised system of medicine. Acharya Charaka’s Samhita is the first written compendium of Ayurveda and dates back to 800 BCE.  Acharya Susruta, the world’s first surgeon, compiled his Samhita during 600 BCE. But the actual practice of Ayurveda goes back much further.

Dhanvantari is accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu and is usually portrayed with four arms. In his upper arms, he holds Vishnu’s Shanku-chakra (Conch and Discus). In his lower left hand, he holds a kamandal (copper pot) containing amrita and more important, in his lower right hand, he holds a leech.

That’s right. A leech.

Known as ‘jalouka’ in Ayurveda, leeches have been used in India since Vedic times. Susruta describes twelve species of leeches, of which six were used by him for various ailments.

Over time, leech therapy spread across the world. Leeches are still used in modern medicine. What is significant is that leeches are still used for the same ailments that Susruta used them for, two thousand years ago.

Leeches are used in reconstructive surgery, varicose veins, psoriasis, thrombophlebitis, arthritis and gangrene. Leech saliva has several proteins with medicinal properties, notably anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, vasodilation and anticlotting.

There are just a few temples in India specifically devoted to Dhanvantari, most of which are in Kerala. However, in almost any major Vishnu temple, like the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam for example, you will find a Dhanvantari shrine.

And he will invariably have a leech in his lower right hand.

Many ‘modern’ discoveries that the West lays claim to, originate from India. Leech therapy is a typical example.

Om Dhanavantaraye namaha!

Cheers … Srini.

Perambulations in Puttenahalli.

Scared witless by dire warnings from medical friends about the horrifying ailments that will befall those who turn fifty, one decides to embark on a fitness drive.

Thus, clad with one ‘Reeback’ tracksuit from a roadside boutique (made as USA, assures the label), one pair of cloned Nikes, one Chinese iPod and hot walking tips from the Net, one sets off on a morning walk.  In Puttenahalli.

The walker’s website advises ‘Start with a deep breath’.  So, one goes ‘Aaaahh, Inhaaaale !’ Bad mistake. There’s an overflowing garbage bin at the corner. Gasp, choke, gag.

puttenahalli-1-2-c‘Avoid main roads’, the website further advises.  That’s easy, no main roads here. In fact, no roads here at all. There’s a huge bottomless pit where 15th Cross used to be. This bottomless pit, the notice board says, is the JNURM Underpass – that should have come up in Feb 2009. So much for the IT City.

One trips and stumbles across the debris, and ducks into a side-lane. Another bad mistake. No tar on this road. The stones slice into desi Nikes. The feet howl in protest. One takes a detour into muddy 8th Cross. Soft mud may be dirty but it doesn’t chew up your soles.

Mud doesn’t chew up soles but the local canine brigade certainly does. For sheer raw excitement in the morning, there’s nothing like five growling feral dogs charging right at you.


One takes very quick detour into the next lane. Right. We start again.

Feel the air in your lungs, the website says. The air has a misty feel. Just like a dream sequence from Bollywood.  Gasp, choke, wheeze. Dream sequence shattered. The mist turns out to be dust from a local maid’s vigorous broom.


Website walking tips be damned. One finally seeks refuge in the newly tarred main road.  Nice smooth tar, no dogs, no vigorous brooms, no bins. One can put in some serious walking finally.

Impact of one round object on the cranium. “Ball please!”, yell ten future Sachins, in one collective scream, from the playground across the road. One doesn’t wish to ruin the future of Indian cricket.  So one tosses ball. Which bounces back from the fence. Future of Indian cricket giggles loudly. With a mighty heave one clears the fence. And adds injury to insult as one’s ancient shoulder screams in protest.


Now it’s one lonely man against the Elements. Dusty lungs, torn feet, aching arm, but one walks on grimly.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”  “Daari bidee Saar !”


Entire cardiac system skips one colossal beat.  It’s the local milkman and his bovine employees. One doesn’t wish to incur the wrath of 300 crore devis and devtas that our scriptures say reside in those cows, so one makes a strategic retreat. The Gods have won.

One retires hurt to one’s pavilion, and one bows to the inevitable. One joins the local gym, for an astronomical fee. It’s expensive, it’s crowded with brash, pushy IT types, the music is loud enough waken the dead but it does have a couple of good treadmills – and it does have several nubile nymphets in clingy garments, merrily jiggling away with no concern for the laws of gravity or for an elderly bachelor’s pounding heart.

Finally, one can put in a brisk walk…and flirt a bit in the process. And maybe get oneself a nice young girlfriend. Thus filled with hope in one’s heart, one grins broadly at the nubile nymphet merrily jiggling on the next treadmill and says, “HI. Isn’t it a fine morning?”

And afore-mentioned nubile nymphet sniffs and says, “Hello, Uncle”.

Next morning – armed with one TV remote, one tunes into the aerobics show on ESPN , and firmly settles down into nearest couch.

Potatoes are good for the heart, say my medical friends.

Naturally, that includes couch potatoes.

Cheers … Srini.

Great Drugs of the 20th century – Viagra – 1998.


keep-calm-and-have-a-viagraOn March 27, 1998, men across the world stood up to be counted. Literally.

On this day, the USFDA formally approved a drug called Sildenafil citrate, better known as – Viagra.

And the world was blessed with a new form of adult humor – Viagra jokes.viagtoon

But make no mistake. Erectile Dysfunction (ED), or primary impotence, isn’t funny at all.  It can be devastating. Right from the dawn of recorded history, quacks have been peddling all kinds of ‘remedies’ for this extremely embarrassing and traumatic ailment.

Viagra is mankind’s first serious drug against ED.  It’s reported to benefit about 80% of ED patients who have taken it.

Actually, we’re lucky. Sildenafil was almost discarded as a failure. In early 1990, Dr. Ian Osterloh and his research team at Pfizer’s lab at Sandwich, UK, began work on drugs that could expand blood vessels and reduce hypertension. One promising molecule was code-named UK-92480.  This compound had a moderate effect on blood vessels but it did not remain in the body long enough and it could cause muscle pains in some volunteers. By 1992, Osterloh was about to abandon the drug as a failure.  Until some test subjects said they were having erections.  Osterloh and his team investigated this finding further and the results were, well, ‘upstanding’.

Osterloh convinced Pfizer to invest in extensive clinical trials on this potential treatment for erectile dysfunction. Eight years after UK-92480 was first made by Osterloh’s team, several clinical trials and a few hundred million dollars later, Pfizer formally applied to the drug regulatory authorities for a license in 1997.

viagra_45305Viagra is now regularly prescribed to more than 30 million ED victims. It has ‘uplifted’ men and saved millions of relationships.

Technically, Sildenafil is a vasodilator, i.e. it can dilate blood vessels. Sildenafil blocks an enzyme in the body called phosphodiesterase (PDE5). By blocking PDE5, certain blood vessels in the body expand and allow more blood to flow through. And this in turn causes a rush of blood to, well, the “right” place. What is special about Viagra is that the rush of blood it causes is in a specific direction – the afore-mentioned “right” place. Until Viagra came along, no other vasodilator could increase blood flow specifically to that one organ.

Incidentally, Viagra can cause other things to stand up as well. Israeli and Australian researchers have discovered that small concentrations of Viagra dissolved in a vase of water can double the shelf life of cut flowers, making them stand up straight for as long as a week beyond their natural life span.

Viagra, however, is not a toy.  Osterloh cautions that, ‘It is a serious medication for a serious disease.  It is not intended for healthy, functioning men.  It is not a ‘stud’ drug.’

Dr. Ian Osterloh says he has never taken Viagra himself.  Presumably because he does not need it!

And in case you’re wondering, yes, sildenafil is available in India, from several Indian manufacturers – but only on prescription.

Great Drugs of the 20th Century … Concluded.

Cheers … Srini.