Meet Lakshmikutty – The poison healer from Kallar who won Padma Shri award in 2018
Kallar – One need to take the route of Thiruvananthapuram-Ponmudi road for 43 kms to reach this forest area. Take a short path distance of 2 kms by foot towards the interior of forests to reach the home of Lakshmikutty. She was earlier just an ordinary woman with name Lakshmikutty, but now Padma Shri Lakshmikutty. She lives in an isolated hut thatched with bamboo and palm leaves in an Adivasi colony and the hut is named as Sivajyothi.
The floor is polished using traditional cow dung solution and near to hut, there is a small kitchen with a big hearth at one corner. A small clinic, with mantras and traditional healing methods, Lakshmikutty prepares medicine in this wooden hearth. At late night too, she never puts off the flame. Medicinal herbs, leaves and roots are spread around the whole place, and only this grandmother know their secret ‘recipes’. Just near to her hut, there is another home, and a place filled with Ilanji trees. It’s Daivathara – the place of divinity and worship, where a small temple is constructed dedicated to goddess Parvati. A lamp is lighted even during mid-day time, and the whole place has the odour of several nameless and unknown medicines.
Her bond with forest and its medicinal herbs earned her name far wide, even in foreign countries. She practises traditional medicine and can make 500 herbal medicines from her memory. Every year, thousands of people reach this hut of Kallar, who believe in her magical healing powers. The patients need to cross Kallar to reach the hut. We can also spot foreigners among the groups which reach here. A few of them come for treatment, while the rest to acquire knowledge from her.
Indigenous system of treatment with deep knowledge in forest plants, a famous poison healer, occasionally a teacher at Folklore Academy, a writer known for stories, non-fictional writings and poetry – She is not just as simple as we imagine to be. Now she is 74 years old, and she has captured in her mind the route map of every corner of deep forests. She also plants medicinal plants around her home. Now she is in the limelight, soon after the declaration of 2018 Padma Shree awards, one among the very lucky Malayalis who qualified to win accolades this year at National level. She is the first person from Gotra Tribal community to receive Padma Shree. Now visitors are regular to the deep forests of Kallar, who want to meet this ‘forest lady’ in personal.
God is disease, medicine and mantras too
She believes that diseases should be seen as god and using mantras in the form of medicines, try to please him. Though she is happy that the nation recognized her through Padma Shri and the Prime Minister admired her efforts, she doesn’t want to show off, and wants to keep her happiness within the limits. Forest doctor says that human body should never be added the extra pressure of extra joy or sorrows and everything should be kept in equilibrium.
She has learnt a lot of things from her personal experiences, deep bond with nature, many things unfolded by plants and many facts told by trees around. If someone approaches her with diseases a little bit old, she talk to them seriously, to find the ‘roots of all evils’, and origin of disease. She believes treatment to be divine, and each medicine to be a mantra, communicated to her by god. That’s the reason why they believe treatments to be sacred and divine.
Similar to other physicians, she asks never to kill the animal which caused you poison. You need to identify the reptile or insect first, before you start treatment, and it also helps throughout the procedure. While praying before giving medicines, a prayer goes to that insect too, and if it’s killed, it’s a bit difficult task for the physician. He may feel tired and sleepy and the effort turns tedious too. She quotes from her personal experiences. Except rabies, she treats all forms of toxins. Some medicines are not easily available, that’s the reason why. She often gets inner call that someone is to approach her for the treatment of snake bite, and if so she starts preparations before they reach her hut. She also lights the lamp.
In some cases, patients stay with her in her ‘clinic’ for a few days, and she serves them food along with medicine. Her medicine needs to follow strict rules with restrictions to a few habits and eating, and if not taken with confidence, may not yield positive results. Majority of the medicines which she prepared over the years – is the end result of her experiments and true dedication towards the work. She also calculates time observing sun shine and length of shadows.
In 1995 she earned her first award in this field
She was recognized by Kerala state government in 1995 through Naattuvaidya Ratnam award. Expertise in local medicinal plants and herbs, and her brilliance in poison healing earned her the first award. For the local people in the forest and exterior world, she is known as Vaidya Rani. As of now she has cured more than 300 people from snake poison, using her own treatment method and medicinal herbs. She has even guided research students in this matter. To seek knowledge about healing effect of forest plants, many people reach this remote area frequently, both from India and abroad.
A visiting professor of many universities who has failed in 8th grade, she has also travelled to neighbouring states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to participate in seminars related to the matter. In this mission, she exposed the medicinal values of many forest plants to the outer world. Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden, Kerala University, State Biodiversity Board, International Biodiversity Centre – Many organizations have already recognized the talents of Lakshmikutty and conferred her with several recognitions.
She is one of the last chains of the generation who is well familiar with culture of tribal groups of Kerala, and many things related to their knowledge and magical healings. The knowledge she has accumulated over the years is indeed an asset for future generations.
Her story goes like this….
During her early childhood days, the forests were ruled by Arachans, known for their virtue. They ruled forests as the true representatives of forest gods. Traditional treatments were followed by locals.
She is the granddaughter of Shathangan Kaani Mooppam, the leader of their group (Ooru Mooppan). Her mother was Kunju Thevi, a mid-wife who takes delivery, and she was indeed famous. Her father Chaathaadi Kaani died when she was only 2 years old. She had 3 more siblings, and her mother strived hard to bring up the kids since young. Lakshmikutty was admitted to government school at Vidhura, and she had to travel 9 kms through deep forests to reach the school. Till 5th standard, she studied at the same school, and continued studies at Kallar.
There was a large horse stable owned by Travancore royal family at Kallar, and the place was later offered to start a school. When the well-disciplined teacher Inchiyam Gopalan joined here, young Lakshmi reached the school along with her friends. She was the first tribal girl from Mottamood Ooru who joined a school, which was then known as Pallikkoodam. She was accompanied by two more students to school, and one among the two was her uncle’s son, Maathan 10 years senior to her.
The ‘three-men’ group had to travel long distance through deep forests, and the most of the paths were isolated then. There was threat of wild animals in dense forests too where tiger or elephant can appear on the paths, and Maathan protected young Lakshmi throughout their journeys, as his aunt (Lakshmi’s mother) requested him to. Kids knew well, how to handle such situations to protect themselves from wild animals. Years later Mathan Kaani married Lakshmi Kutty when she was 16, and they became life partners. Their marriage stood for long years, and he died only two years ago in 2016 February when Lakshmi was 72. The couple had three sons – Dharaneendran Kani, Lakshmanan and Siva Prasad, and the couple never wanted to bind the kids within the forest boundaries. They were educated well too.
Lakshmi studied till 8th standard and learnt to handle Sanskrit, Hindi and English, apart from Malayalam. Mathan’s father was also a local physician who identified the hidden talents of Lakshmi and encouraged her to take up the same field. As of now, she has completed many decades in treatment field, and in her memory books, she has made note of more than 500 medicinal plants. She has bi-hearted everything, and is an expert in local knowledge of herbs and shrubs. By seeing a forest plant itself, she can explain the different characters and the medicinal values if associated with it. In 2007, a book was published titled – Naattarivukal Kaattarivukal, which included her deep knowledge of forest plants.
This forest doctor is quite active in the local circles of Kavi Sammalenn. Once the famous poet Sugathakumari happened to read her poems commented so, “Never stop writing. You should continue your fighting through words”.
A few deeps cut still not healed in the inner corners of her soul
Though she owns a lot of happiness through the way her work got recognition from outer world, she owns some deep sorrows too. One among those deep agonies includes the death of her elder son, Dharaneendran Kani. He went to perform some religious rituals for a local temple (Kavu) inside the deep forests. But he was attacked by a group of elephants on the way, and got killed. The sight which she saw her wounded son has not faded away from her eyes. Soon after the death of her elder son, she lost her youngest son Sivaprasad too. He died of heart attack. She tries to comfort herself with the belief that, god takes those precious things which we keep close to heart. Her second son works in Indian Railway, as ticket examiner. She has one granddaughter Poornima too (daughter of Siva Prasad), who stays with her.
Lakshmikutty believes that her granddaughter Poornima is to follow the tradition. A Plus-two science student, Poornima follows her grandmother everywhere as her shadow.
A poetess hidden inside the soul of a forest doctor
Whatever she wants to say, Lakshmikutty expresses it through the poems she write. Poetry remains her true passion and she mostly ponders her thoughts in silence at late nights, when everyone sleeps. She still preserves with her, a few books filled with her poems like a treasure. Her writings are also quoted in Kathaprasangam style, with a nice blend of poems and speech, and also Vilppaatt. All of them have strictly follows some kind of rhythm. Only a few people know that her written stories are recited by kids at many literal festivals like Kalolsavam, winning many prizes.
Forest is the life of Lakshmikutty
A burning genius inside, a willing heart to strive hard – if both these traits are seen together in a single persona, recognitions will reach even deep forests, that’s what Lakshmikutty’s life tells us. Such an inspirational story, she teaches us how to love our nature and develop a bond with Mother Earth. A security guard of deep forests, her life is a true inspiration to many. Her writings are filled with her infinite thoughts which will definitely stay relevant in many generations to come. Her sincere efforts and inspiration stories give a spontaneous reply to all those Ayurvedic treatments which we conduct within air conditioned rooms, and very often seen as ‘Sukha Chikithsa’ only. A return journey to mother earth, Lakshmikutty’s life is a true example.
Whatever you get from forest, you can make it either food or medicine. Yet, forest resources bless you with every way they can. A day in Lakshmikutty’s life is so simple. A little farming, and a little kitchen work, and after that she reaches Vanchipara river to have a bath. She feels energetic to bath in forest streams listening to the sounds of crickets. It’s now three decades since she started giving medicines to patients, and at any cost, she is not willing to leave the forest.
Now, she has some dreams. A good house to preserve her awards and a bridge for tribal people to cross Kallar river at Vanchipara – she has already started dreaming. The road was actually approved in 1952. She recollects from her memory that her son lost his life, as the local people were not able to take him to the hospital due to the lack of proper transportation in the remote forests. Very often, people fail to bring patients to her home, solely because of this reason. A doctor to all kind of snake poisons and other sort of diseases, let us hope her dreams are fulfilled very soon.
Some handy medicines suggested by Marunnamma (Mother of medicines)
Remedy for agnail (Kuzhinakham) – While plucking the leaves of Velipathal (Kadal Aavanakk/castor), you get a few drops of stains from the stalk. You can apply this milk as drops into the inner side of nails on the affected areas.
Remedy for spider poison – Make a fine paste of neem leaves and turmeric (pacha manjal) and apply on the areas to reduce the effects of poison.
Remedy for stomach pain and burning feel – Leaves of Adam-Eve plant (locally called chuvanna shavam naari) can be used for this purpose. Make a fine paste of 5 or 6 leaves and have it to reduce the discomforts of stomach.
Remedy for skin problems – Boil water adding the leaves of Kiriyaath plants, and drink it to get rid of skin related issues. You can continue it for 30-40 days.This plant is abundantly found in forest areas, and occasionally in rural villages. Leaves of leucas plant can also be used as alternative. Make a fine paste of leucas leaves adding a little salt and apply on your skin. Continue this treatment for 10-15 days.
Remedy for constipation – Boil 2 handful tamarind leaves in two glasses of water, and boil it till it reduces to half. Filter it and drink before you go to bed. Yet another remedy – Take tamarind (two small gooseberry sized), make a juice adding hot water and drink.
Remedy for piles – For piles, boil water adding neem leaves, turmeric and a little salt and allow it to cool. Then sit inside this water placed in a container for 30 minutes.This treatment is called ‘Arakuli’ (half-bath) in the treatment methods of Adivasis.
How to cool your body? – During summer seasons, use the roots of fig tree to boil water used for bath. It cools your body.
Extra bleeding during periods – Crush the leaves of adhatoda (Justicia adhatoda) to extract the juice (15 gms). Add 15 gms of jaggery to it and serve twice a day.
She states that very household should plant these three medicinal plants – Curry leaves, turmeric and maize. Curry leaves purifies atmosphere and reduces air pollution. Fresh turmeric can be added to any curries and can also be used as a skin product. It can also resist cancer, as per recent researches. Maize can get rids of pests in plants, and also helps in the growth of friend insects. If you plant maize in a particular location, you can grow vegetables in plenty without the fear of pests and insects.