When Aryan Narayana Mooss was all of sixteen, his father, the great Ayurvedic physician deemed that he had learnt enough and could be trusted to treat patients on his own. So the younger Mooss took over from his father the tasks of examining the patients, prescribing medicines, gathering herbs and plants that had medicinal value and supervising the preparations of special medicines using these. When it was needed, he visited the patients in their homes too.
But the father did maintain a close watch over his son who was also his disciple. Often at the end of the day, father and son would discuss the various cases of the day, the elderly man reclining on the easy chair, his feet up on the extended armrests, his son seated on the half wall of the veranda, the night around them alive with the chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs. During these private discussions, the father would sometimes disagree with the course of treatment that the son had prescribed. But that happened very rarely.
On the whole the father was happy that he had been able to teach his son all that he knew, and that the son had the wisdom to use his knowledge with care. Many attribute the extraordinary skills of Aryan Narayana Mooss to this continued training that he received under his father who was also his revered guru. The Moosses never charged their patients, accepting neither fee nor gift. It was a tradition with them. They believed that if they broke with it they would lose the benign grace of Lord Dhanwantari, the god of all medicines.
There are many tales that tell us about the extraordinary abilities of this great man. Some people who came across this great curer of maladies, went so far as to say that he was not a mere human but was an avatar of Lord Dhanvantari. Others looked upon him as an extraordinary man of science – someone who used his knowledge with precision and had the grace to admit that sometimes, the simplest of maladies could defeat the greatest of doctors.
Here are a few tales about this great man of medicine. They not only show us his great skills, his kindness and generosity, but they also show us that he knew his limitations and did not interfere when there was no need to.
A Cure for the King
Once, Mooss received an urgent message from his elder step brother, Sankunni Mooss, a physician at the court of the king of Kozhikode – the Samoothiri. The elder Mooss was sick and wanted his younger brother to attend on the king who was unwell. The palace had sent a sedan chair along with one of the Samoothiri’s personal staff with the message – the king was ailing and needed urgent attention.
Our Mooss got into the sedan chair and the porters flew over the fields and forests. Finally, they set him down inside the palace grounds in front of the king’s private chambers. Mooss went in and found the Samoothiri lying on his stomach in the centre of a shadowy hall surrounded by all the palace physicians who were discussing something in low tones. A small boil had developed on the king’s back but within four days it had swelled to the size of a coconut. The king could not bear the pain. He had stopped eating and drinking and was in a very weak state. As soon as he saw Mooss, his eyes begged for help, for he could not speak. ‘I must get his strength up before beginning any treatment,’ thought Mooss and turned towards the attendant. Before Mooss could open his mouth one of the physicians spoke.
“All the texts forbid milk. If the patient is given milk at this stage, it could prove dangerous.”
Mooss did not miss the menace and the mockery in the voice but he held his peace. ‘In these parts, they know nothing of my father or me,’ he thought.
“Is this boy going to treat the king?” Another voice asked and there was some suppressed laughter. The king groaned.
‘True,’ thought Mooss a little ruefully, ‘I don’t even have a moustache.’
Then he turned to the king’s personal attendant and said in even tones, “Warm up a glass of milk and bring it in immediately.”
The attendant hurried to the kitchens. Meanwhile, Mooss went to the palace grounds, plucked some herbs and crushed and kneaded them in his palm. Then he came in and ordered a servant to mix the herbs with water and grind into a gooey paste. The servant went away to do as told.
The kitchens sent a glass of warm, sweetened milk. Mooss fashioned a spoon out of a jackfruit leaf and himself fed the king the warm milk little by little. Since his throat was parched and body weak, the king took a long time to drink half a glass of milk. He felt a little better. Just then, the servant brought in the gooey herb paste. Mooss directed him to apply it on the boil at a certain place. Within minutes, the boil burst and the attendants squeezed out the pus and blood. Now Mooss applied another herb to it.
“Mooss!” said the king. “You have performed a miracle. The pain is gone. I feel a lot better. But I feel exhausted,” said the king.
“Please have some rice gruel. Your highness will feel stronger,” said Mooss.
The kitchen attendants brought in warm rice gruel in a broad, shallow bronze vessel. The king drank some of it slowly, cupping the vessel in his palms. He felt sleepy.
“Please lie on your left side and go to sleep,” said Mooss.
He then ordered the others, including the open mouthed physicians, out of the chamber and told the attendants to keep watch silently so that the king’s sleep was not disturbed, and call him when he awoke. He then went to another part of the palace where he was served lunch. He then took a quick nap.
The king slept for four hours and when he awoke the attendants called Mooss.
“I’m hungry,” said the king with a smile. “I haven’t eaten anything or slept well for days. Mooss, you are Lord Dhanwantari himself. You have cured me. Please stay till the wound heals.”
Mooss thought of the countless people who were dependent on him back home. But he stayed for a couple of days, teaching the attendants which herbs to pluck and make into a paste, and how to apply it to the wound. When he was sure the king was well on the road to recovery, he asked permission to leave.
The king ordered a money bag and an elephant to be given to Mooss, but he declined.
“Your highness must not be displeased with me. It is a tradition with us, father and son, not to accept any money or gifts for our services,” said Mooss humbly. “We believe that if we do so we will lose the grace of Lord Dhanvantari, without which our ministrations would be entirely worthless.”
The king smiled and gave him permission to leave.
One day, Mooss was sitting on an armchair on the veranda of the southern wing of his house. A poor mappilla labourer came in through the gatehouse and approached Mooss. But when he reached the middle of the courtyard, he sat down and couldn’t move.
What did the poor labourer suffer from? Read the second part of the story here.
Sign up to receive Pen Page, my email newsletter directly into your inbox. It usually has a folk tale, a note from me, blog excerpts and my take on what I’ve been reading. You may unsubscribe any time.