Wealth of health

A hub for recovery

Even those who have a basic knowledge of Indian mythology knows what soma is. It is the elixir of gods that provides rejuvenation and immortality. Borrowing its identity from this divine drink, Kerala-based Somatheeram Ayurveda Group has been pioneering the stupendous growth of the ancient Indian medicinal practice across the globe for 30 years.

“Ayurveda and yoga are the two greatest gifts bestowed upon humanity by India and we are proud to have been instrumental in merging them with modern hospitality practices,” says Baby Mathew, chairman and managing director of the group. “It is our unwavering commitment to the core values and principles of Ayurveda and stellar service that makes us world leaders in this niche sector.” Having expanded the award-winning brand with four other resorts and a houseboat company, the group still continues its tireless efforts to spread the glory of Ayurveda across the world.

Fortune favours the visionaries

Somatheeram Ayurveda Village is a hospital with a resort ambiance and the concept was the brainchild of Baby and his brother Pauly Mathew. Three decades ago, when they launched this idea, people could not fathom their foresightedness. Today there are hundreds of Ayurveda resorts in Kerala and other parts of India, and they all are following the path built by Somatheeram. Baby says, “The time when we started this, Ayurveda was languishing in the shadow of modern medicine. Somatheeram was the first to introduce the benefits of Ayurveda in Europe, when even Indians were ignorant about our great medicinal tradition.”

The road to success was fraught with challenges as this concept was met with scepticism and vehement opposition in the beginning, which Baby credits to ignorance and fear. He says, “The biggest challenge was the opposition from traditional practitioners of Ayurveda who said that the Indian tradition should not be taken out of the country. They had an unwarranted fear that we will lose this tradition to the West. The real reason was that they had never seen anything like Somatheeram Ayurvedic Village.  

“Even a few newspapers wrote against this concept. Those detractors have now accepted that our way was right, and they are modelling their hospitals and facilities like ours.”

The company worked hard to change perceptions as well as to popularise Ayurveda in Europe and other countries. They held seminars and familiarisation events in the West with the help of doctors, invited media from abroad to visit their facilities, and worked with the state and central government tourism ministries. These efforts by the groups was instrumental in the growth of Ayurveda. The group was the first to seamlessly blend international best practices in hospitality with Ayurvedic treatments. Built on a sprawling hillock, nine km away from the famous Kovalam beach in Thiruvananthapuram, Somatheeram gives off the vibe of a modern hermitage. The sea-facing resort, lush with medicinal plants and trees, rejuvenates the mind and body by just being there. The property set a benchmark for others to follow. The group’s other resorts are also set in idyllic locations and maintain the same standards.

“The core principle of Ayurveda is to connect humans to nature, and that’s how complete healing happens. That was our guiding vision behind building an Ayurvedic research centre in a resort ambiance. The natural surroundings plus top-of-the-class hygienic facilities attract foreigners as well as discerning Indian patrons to stay here for 14 or 21 days, the ideal duration for Ayurvedic treatments.”

Setting standards

Earlier, people reused oils plus towels and other clothing. There was also no standardisation of medicines and oils. Somatheeram set new standards for Ayurvedic practices. They started training doctors and therapists with best practices, stopped reusing oils and clothing used for treatments. The company also has a medicine factory with Good manufacturing practice (GMP) certification in Balaramapuram. Somatheeram was also the first Ayurvedic hospital to start patient documentation like in modern medicine.

Somatheeram group was the first to launch an interactive CD about Ayurveda, 25 years back, at a time when there were no magazines or websites about it. According to Baby, they were also the first to create a website about Ayurveda. But he is particularly proud about the Ayurvedic menu created by six of their doctors after three years of research.

Somatheeram group is among the few Ayurvedic hospitals in the country to have secured NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare) accreditation. Somatheeram Ayurvedic Village and Soma Manaltheeram have secured this certification.

The group has ambitious plans for the future, which include establishing an Ayurvedic medical college, opening more specialised hospitals in Kerala as well as manufacturing export-quality medicines, cosmetics and food supplements.

Future perfect

Having pioneered the revival of Ayurveda, Baby is happy with the progress that the sector has made in the past 2-3 decades. The profession has become respectable, and the demand for Ayurvedic treatments plus allied businesses like medicines, cosmetics and food supplements has risen exponentially. But growth also brings its set of challenges and Baby is not oblivious to it.

He says, “Dilution in quality is a major concern today. Ayurvedic treatments, medicines, cosmetics and food supplements are the four arms of this sector. Multi-nationals have entered the market and mass production of Ayurvedic products comes with its share of issues. Since raw materials are not industrially produced, there is a scarcity and we are not sure if current products are using genuine ingredients.” Hospitals without doctors and trained staff is another cause of worry, but the Kerala government’s accreditation system of Green Leaf and Olive Leaf has kept those elements in check. He also appreciated the central government’s focus to promote alternative medicines and in creating a ministry called AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yunani, Siddha and Homeopathy) for this purpose.

Though Ayurveda has a lot of popularity abroad, may countries do not allow its practice. Europe, except Switzerland, the UK, the US, Canada, Australia etc only allow massage therapies. There are also severe restrictions on the import of medicines in these countries. “This happened because the West has not fully accepted the fact that Ayurveda is a science, despite the fact that it is a 5,000-year-old scientific tradition with dedicated text books written by wise sages like Charaka, Sushrutha et al. We are working together with both central and state governments to get these restrictions removed.” Looking forward, Baby is confident that Ayurveda will earn its rightful position across the globe. “The world has a better understanding and respect towards Ayurveda, and in many ways, Somatheeram will continue to work for the progress of our proud tradition.”

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