Every day some 300 trucks roll out of a 150-acre manufacturing complex on the outskirts of Haridwar, one of India’s holiest cities. The cartons of juices and herbal candy, toothpaste and soap, flour and spices, and a variety of herbal medicines to cure seemingly everything, including headaches, arthritis, asthma and high LDL cholesterol, are destined for sale in every corner of the country.

This plant, its biggest, supplies roughly 60% of the output of India’s fastest-growing consumer goods major, Patanjali

Ayurved. Its revenue grew nearly tenfold in the four years to the March 2016 fiscal year, to $758 million. The feverish growth has minted one of the country’s newest billionaires, Acharya Balkrishna, who owns 98.5% of the unlisted company, with an estimated wealth of $2.5 billion.

Balkrishna’s office is in a corridor of a sprawling 200-bed ayurved (traditional Indian medicine) hospital, a short drive from the factory. Across the street is a 10-acre nursery he oversees where nearly a thousand varieties of plants are grown and studied, with a new research lab meant to explore, among other things, the impact of certain herbs on animals.

“What you see today is not what it has always been,” says Balkrishna, 44. “Even in philosophy they say you shouldn’t trust everything you see. Either it will be less or more.”

Balkrishna certainly started out with a lot less. His parents are natives of Nepal, but his father was working as a guard at an ashram in Haridwar when Balkrishna was born, one of six brothers. They moved back to their village in Nepal soon after (and remain basic farmers, he says), but Balkrishna returned to India at age 12, attending various gurukuls (residential schools of the type that were the primary precolonial means of education in India). It was at one of those gurukuls in 1988 in Haryana that he met the person widely known today as yoga guru Baba Ramdev, with whom he built Patanjali.

The two hit it off and kept in touch via letters, reuniting at another school a year later. After their formal education ended, Balkrishna moved around India to study plants and their medicinal value, a key element of ayurveda.

In 1993 he and the slightly older Ramdev were living in the Himalayan caves of the Hindu pilgrim town of Gangotri, a popular haunt among holy men and ascetics near the source of India’s holiest river, the Ganges. In his telling, because of his knowledge of herbs Balkrishna would get frequent requests from visitors for medicines for common ailments. That planted the seed for what was originally a charitable supplier of ayurvedic medicines and treatment.

Recommended by Forbes