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KOCHI: “Let them take our pepper but they cannot steal our Njattuvela,” replied a magnanimous Zamorin (Samoothiri) when his subjects told the monarch that Portugese invaders had been stealing the natives’ pepper seedlings.

Much like Njattuvela– special occasions to do specific activities, in this case the planting of njaarus or saplings, which were determined according to the sun’s position in relation to the stars– one of the leit motifs that defined Kerala’s rich heritage, Ayurveda is unique to God’s Own Country.

Now, though, there has been a sea change, with the state encountering several challenges in its bid to retain its numero uno status in the field of Ayurveda.

A key factor, pointed out by the captains of industry is the emergence of new markets, including those in the neighbouring states.

“The biggest challenge faced by us is the availability of the genuine medicinal herbs. This is mainly due to the lack of resource persons, who can identify the herbs’ genuineness. Also, if you factor in the market value of the land, the cultivation of herbs may not be a profitable business. This will have an impact on the mass production of medicines and oils,” said Sajeev Kurup, organiser of the Kerala Aurvedic Promotion Society

Besides, the mushrooming of Ayurveda centres in other countries has already resulted in a fall in the number of clients during September-March season.

“A major chunk of our foreign clients is beginning to opt for Sri Lanka since the island nation’s weather is more or less identical to that of Kerala. As a result, we face the prospect of losing our clients to Colombo.  Another fact which contributes to the exodus is that majority of the female  clients, aged 40 plus, are from European countries. Since our female masseurs are dimunitive compared to the tall, strapping Western women, male masseurs have to attend to them.

“Though we dont allow cross-gender massage (massaging a member of the opposite sex) it is perfectly legal in Sri Lanka,” said an industry insider.

According to Ravi Sankar, an industry veteran, we are now cashing in on the wellness factor of the system. “We are yet to focus on the curative aspect of the same which will open a sea of opportunity to us. Along with this, the manufacturing segment should be tapped into as the majority of Ayurvedic medicines currently available in Kerala are sourced from North India,” he said.

We may not be an eternal optimist like the legendary ruler as the seasons have gone for a toss. But the state will hold centre stage as long as the rain gods shower their blessings in the month of Karkkidakam. It is only by cornering a better part of the market share that Kerala can hope to remain in the driver’s seat in Ayurveda.