Nomads but Vaids: the wandering Ayurvedic Doctors of India

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 A few meters from Doon University (which is also my residence at present), a tent was pitched with a very familiar banner “Ayurvedic Khandani Dawakhana” claiming to diagnose any disease which our bodies may be carrying just by reading our pulses and heal them permanently with the blessings of Ayurveda. The tent looked dark, mysterious and also a little bit scary. The roadisde Khandani Dawakhana (Family clinic) is one of the most common sights in various cities of India. I have always wondered how the medicines kept inside these little tents work. What kinds of patients do they receive and how do they manage their business… This time I got a chance to have a closer look at these nomads and learn more about the challenging life they live.



Pretending to be a prospective customer, I went to talk to the guy sitting inside the tent. I got my pulse taken and tongue examined. I started looking around while he gathered the ingredients for the medicine he said I need for getting rid of Anemia. I noticed that they lived a typical nomadic life where the most important struggle was for water, food, shelter and livelihood. There was a van parked carefully nearby giving nice shelter to three smaller tents in which I could see some women in traditional gharga-choli cooking food on the earthen stove and children playing. The peculiar style of living which they were practicing infused more curiosity in me and I started questioning him a little bit about his experiences and their life style. He was hesitant to answer and asked me what use was all the questioning? I told him that I am looking for a more reliable treatment and so my questions are nothing but out of curiosity which is of no harm to him in any way


.Khandani Dawakhana 1



 “Generations of my family have been into this business”, said Rajpal, the junior Vaid (doctor). “My father and forefathers have travelled almost every part of India serving the people and now my elder brother and I along with five cousins are carrying the tradition ahead”, he continued.  On asking if they have received any formal education in Ayurveda or medicine, he said, “We grew watching our elders preparing the medicines, testing the formulas, gathering the herbs and have learnt the art of traditional healing from our elders. Our children will do the same”. He told me that he was still under the training period and has never gone to any actual school. I asked him about the various herbs kept inside numerous jars lined up on the wooden racks inside the tents but he was reluctant to tell the details. He mentioned to me very proudly that they had prescription for every disease and are specialized in healing digestive and sex related disorders.


Khandani Dawakhana2



I looked through some of the recipe books kept inside the tent. All of them contained complex formulae for various medicines and also had detailed description of how the human body works. He told me about the Panchamahabuthas (Five elements of life such as earth, air, fire, water and space) and said that for living a healthy life it is important to maintain a proper balance of these panchamahabuthas as the human body is made of these five elements of nature. I also tried to gain some knowledge about the Naadi (pulse) and got to know that there are 72,000 naadis (subtle channels) which determine various actions taking place inside our body. He also told me about the energy centers of our body called as Kudalini Shakti and the seven main Chakras.  He was very proud and happy to tell me that his great grandfather, Shri Hari Prasad who lived for 128 years was an ardent follower of Ayurveda and Yoga and spent his whole life serving the humanity with the gift of knowledge he possessed along with the gift of medicinal plants and herbs our mother nature has given to us.


Khandani Dawakhana3



Khandani Dawakhana4




Khandani Dawakhana5


Although they charged very low for diagnosing, I never saw any customer visiting the dawakhana and so I can assume that the business was not running properly. He told me that the clinics rarely remain at one pace for more than six months. The duration of their stay depends on the amount of earnings and the number of customers visiting per day. One fine day when I came out of my University campus I saw the familiar tents were not there anymore. The traditional wandering doctors were gone…by the time you read this, they must have built a new habitat in some different part of India. Looking for a new habitat after every few months, travelling around the country in van and following the age-old tradition of selling Ayurvedic medicines to earn a living is surely a challenge which they have accepted and would like to pass on to the generations to come. I read somewhere, “What never changes is the change itself” and the way they have accepted 'change' in their lives I can very strongly say that theirs’ is the life which has made this statement true!




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  • Thanks for your comment Atul. Sadly, they are not forced to do this. The people I talked to chose it as their profession with proud. The grandfather of the man had a masters degree in ayurveda but his father and him were not much into going to school even though his brother finished his graduation from a college in Haridwar. He told me that he do not receive much patients during the summers but during certain times of the year like monsoon and winters they get more people seeking their medical advice. Above all,they were not poor...they had cell phones, good food to eat, expensive herbs (which they also might have got from their native place in the himalyas), they even possessed a mini bus. Even their banner and the tent were of quite good quality. What I believe is that because they travel (in order to keep their family tradition alive), they don't go to a regular school but they prove to be very helpful to the low income sections of the society as they are the one who face a major challenge as far as medical aid is concerned. The treatment in private hospitals is just not affordable for them and the government hospitals have a big problem of red tapism. Hence, they prefer to see a baba or a yogi or the vaids who are ealsily approachable and affordable.
    One of the major problem with their set up as I observe is their ultra superstitious attitude.

  • Thanks for expressing your experience in an interesting way. Though they are vaids (ayurvedic doctors) but they have to fight for their livelihood daily. I think they are forced to do such job. The lack of education and ignorance towards potential of eduction is forcing element to remain in same job which is continuously stepping ahead in new generations. They regularly migrate from one place to another which depicts that they don't send their children to schools. This also indicates that they don't have the documents and papers to use other social security facilities provided by governments which pushes them in a vicious circle of nomads and a life full of insecurities.

    Comment last edited on about 2 years ago by Atul Singh

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