Stories of traditional medicine from a toy maker

In the middle of his narration, he asked us “Do you know this American O-Bamma?” When we just dumbly stared back, he said “He is pretty famous…….The toy I made was gifted to him. It is kept in his house.”

We met Mr. Kenchaiah in his modest house in Ramanagar district of Karnataka. We went looking for Vaidyas or Traditional Medicine Practitioners, and someone told us that Mr. Kenchaiah is a person we must meet. What we saw when we stepped inside his house completely took us by surprise.

Sitting on a bench was a man aged 76, wearing a vest and shorts, holding a paint brush and putting finishing touches to a beautifully crafted white wooden Nandi. The table in front of him had at least 50 such Nandis and other exquisitely crafted wooden toys. Confused and wondering if we came to the wrong house, we asked him if he was a Nati Vaidya; he said he has healed people but it is not his primary work. Before we could ask anything else, he took us to his world of toy-making.

To give you an idea of this man’s contribution to the art of lacquer ware – he has travelled to over five countries with his wood-crafting machine, participated and won in various national and international competitions, and when the government asked him what he wants, he said that he needed funds to help fellow artisans. Through his persuasion, NABARD released Rs.50,000 each to 400 plus artisans. He himself has trained over 350 artisans and helped them purchase machines to keep this craft alive. In the middle of his narration, he asked us “Do you know this American O-Bamma?” When we just dumbly stared back, he said “He is pretty famous…….The toy I made was gifted to him. It is kept in his house.”

Kenchaiah with his machine
Kenchaiah with his machine

Real stories of treating people through traditional medicine

It was a while before he started narrating to us incidents of people being treated through traditional medicine. These stories are more than just incidents of sick people getting better. It is about the indigenous science that exists, of which India had so much knowledge, and sadly, is dying a slow death.

Kenchaiah’s inspiration to learn the science of traditional medicine

The young Kenchaiah was fond of and played all types of sports. Once, while playing football, he hit the goal and in the process, had a pinched nerve on his big toe. Unable to bear the pain, he turned to his Guru for help. Within few minutes, his Guru fixed his problem with some massages and oil application. Kenchaiah was so surprised that he asked his Guru to teach him this vidya (science). Being the curious sort, Kenchaiah went to Victoria Hospital and asked his friend, a doctor there, to show him a human skeleton. Kenchaiah was so taken with it, that he studied the skeletal structure and connected his Gurus teachings with what he learnt. That was the beginning of him becoming a bone-setter and a Vaidya who fixed pinched/compressed nerves.

Kenchaiah told us stories of how he once fixed a woman’s dislocated shoulder due to an accident, and how he treated his son’s boss from Bangalore who was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck.

But Kenchaiah does not take risks. Although he can diagnose a bone dislocation better than any x-ray machine, he doesn’t attend to cases where the injury took place 3-4 days ago. He says once swelling sets in and blood clot happens, I tell them to go to a surgeon. I only take up cases where the patient was brought to me immediately after the injury.

We asked him why he doesn’t actively practice as a Vaidya. He laughed and said “Look at me. Look at how I dress. Who would want to come to me? Don’t you know how “doctors” should look… I look anything like it?”………and he laughed at himself.

When he refused to amputate his hand and instead cured himself

When Kenchaiah was a young man of about 26 years, he badly injured his right hand while chopping a tree. It was so bad that all that was left of his hand was a bit of the palm and a few veins that were now exposed. His friends rushed him to Victoria Hospital in Bangalore. The attending surgeon told him that there was no option but to amputate his hand. Kenchaiah refused. He told the surgeon “I am only 26 years old now and cannot lose my hand at this early age. If this is the best you can do, then I’ll try something myself”.  The surgeon must have thought that this guy has lost his mind along with his hand.

Back in the village, with the help of a friend, Kenchaiah visited a Vaidya and applied some plant remedies on his hand, tied it up and allowed the wound to heal. He says that often he got impatient wondering that even if the wound healed, would he ever regain movement of his fingers. Afterall, it was his right hand. Once his wound healed, his hand, as expected was stiff. So he began applying certain oils and massaging his fingers. It took a long time, but movement returned.

Kenchaiah says that he went back to Victoria Hospital to meet the same surgeon and placed his right hand on the surgeon’s table. The surgeon apparently folded his hands and accepted  the fact that Kenchaiah knew better.

Kenchaiah’s courage to refuse a surgeon’s opinion and instead cure himself made it possible for him to become an artisan of a very special craft, for which he is recognized as a champion today. His exquisite work is available on sale in Cauvery Emporium, Bangalore.

Kenchaiah deftly crafts a toy with his now cured right hand
Kenchaiah deftly crafts a toy with his now cured right hand

Kenchaiah’s grandfather, the Healer

Kenchaiah said that the reason he did not pursue his skills of traditional healing were because he was more fond of his work as a toy-maker. But we sensed that part of his hesitation was because he felt that his grandfather’s shoes were too large to fill. Who was his grandfather?

Kenchaiah learnt his toy-making skills from his grandfather, and some knowledge of traditional healing as well. His grandfather was a well-known healer of his time. Hundreds of people would queue up outside his house every day to get cured by him. Describing his grandfather’s powers, Kenchaiah said “My grandfather used to meditate only on a tiger skin and it wasn’t uncommon to see him levitate when he meditated. Mostly, the medicine he gave out was Theertha (blessed/holy water) which people took with faith and got better.” According to Kenchaiah, his grandfather lived for 135 years!

It is very likely that India had a number of healers such as Kenchaiah’s grandfather who were hardly known outside their villages, and used their abilities to cure people.

Kenchaiah’s life and stories are full of courage, passion and generosity. With the kind of attention his work received, he could have easily chosen to go commercial, live in the city and think for no one but himself. Instead, he chose at every point, to help others and to lead a simple and honest life. When we asked him if he exports his toys, he laughed and said “Why does a man like me need all that? I am happy with what I have.”


Featured Pictures are Courtesy of D’Source –

Pictures taken are from this link



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