Narendra Modi and his new Minister for all things natural: 7 things you should know

Indian Cabinet Minister Shripad Yesso Naik takes an oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on May 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indian Cabinet Minister Shripad Yesso Naik takes an oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on May 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed a minister for natural treatments such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy - in short, AYUSH. Mr Shripad Yesso Naik was sworn in as a minister of state with independent charge for AYUSH on Sunday.

Newly appointed Indian Yoga Minister Shripad Yesso Naik poses at his residence in New Delhi on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

Mr Modi, who does yoga and breathing exercises every morning, is a strong proponent of such natural remedies, even advocating ayurveda at the sixth World Ayurveda Congress and Arogya Expo held in New Delhi recently. Mr Modi also called for an international yoga day at the United Nations in September 2014. Here are seven things to know about AYUSH and the traditional practices it stands for.

1) AYUSH will look after research and development, monitor quality control and standardise the manufacturing of medicinal products of ayurveda and other traditional Indian treatment systems. The Indian government has allocated Rs$5,000 crore(slightly more than S$1 million) to promote AYUSH, according to recently replaced Union health and family welfare minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. He said during the inauguration of the Arogya Expo that the government is keen to partner with states in creating state-of-the-art research and development facilities, drug testing laboratories and herbal gardens that will help meet growing industry and market demand for quality raw material and products. AYUSH was previously under the health department.

2) Ayurveda relies exclusively on medicinal plants and herbs, and purified minerals.

A display of herbs on a stand at the sixth World Ayurveda Congress and Arogya Expo in New Delhi on Nov 6, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

It has its own system of diagnosis and treatment which can supplement Western medical treatment or even work in synergy. The system has two branches: preventive medicine and curative medicine.Its principles are laid down in Sanskrit classics dating back more than 2,000 years.

3) There are specialised degrees for people who study Ayurveda in India. Typically, at the end of five and a half years studying the Ayurvedic treatment, the Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery is awarded. Graduates can be recognised as doctors.

4) A digital database called the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library was established in 2001 to prevent individuals or corporations from patenting traditional knowledge. The database holds 250,000 traditional formulations from various medicine systems. including the Ayurvedic system of medicine. About 200 researchers took eight years to create the database, after combing through Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and Urdu texts on Ayurveda, yoga and other less-known health systems such as Unani and Siddha.

5) The aim of Siddha medicine, an alternate medicine system that is not popularly known, is to make the body perfect, imperishable and to promote longevity. According to a fact sheet from the Government of Kerala website, following the Siddha system which dictates daily and seasonal regimens that include dietary restrictions. Another lesser-known system, Unani, dates back 5,000 years to Greece and strives to find the best possible ways by which a person can lead a healthy life.

6) Naturopathy is an umbrella term for many natural therapies, which include herbal medicine, massage, nutrition, while homeopathy, according to WebMD, is a medical philosophy based on the idea that "like cures like". That is, if a substance causes a symptom in a healthy person, giving the person a very small amount of the same substance may cure the illness.

Indian students of Delhi Public School perform yoga in Hyderabad on Oct 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

7) Yoga as people know today is a version that has evolved for at least 5,000 years. The first physical evidence of yoga was from archaeological findings in ancient India. The findings included a portrait of a human being or god meditating in what looks like a yoga posture or yoga poses.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg

Sources: Kerala Government Website, The Straits Times, MedIndia, WebMD