The Bhishma of Modern Times

Padmashri Awardee – P. R. Krishnakumarji

Krishnakumarji was always full of energy. He was a tall, handsome, and energetic gentleman. His name was synonymous with Ayurveda, Sanatana Dharma, and Nationalism. He was ever supportive of our culture and tradition. Several big shots were known to him, but he treated everyone alike. The facilities at the Dhanvantri Temple were made available free of cost for book launches, lectures, concerts and discussions which promoted our culture and tradition. His ever smiling face and approach would remind one of Bhishmacharya from the Mahabharata. Yes, our Krishnakumar Variarji was the Bhishma in our modern world. He had lived for the well being of our land and its people.

"I remember meeting him on numerous occasions. He would ask me to visit him regularly. I remember seeing him teaching students of Ayurveda. His poor health never deterred him. His energy levels were amazing. Krishnakumarji had a huge family of friends. Several celebrities would visit the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Coimbatore for treatment. He would request me to meet them and try to do something good. I met the great Ghatam exponent, Vikku Vinayakram; Madhu Kishwar (academic and conservative commentator), the co-founder of Manushi; Advocate Vaidyanathan who is well known for his work on freeing temples; Shantilal Somaiya, the energy behind K. J. Somaiya group of educational institutions; the vibrant Hindu, Maridas; and many others."

P. R. Krishnakumar Variarji (1951 - 2020) was born to Arya Vaidyan P. V. Rama Variar and Pankajam at Shoranur. He hailed from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners. His formal education in Ayurveda was at the Shoranur Ayurveda College (Palakkad District). Krishnakumarji joined the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy and was involved in the study of Ayurveda through his work at the foundation. He is credited with the conception and implementation of the 7 ½ years curriculum for Ayurvedic studies, first affiliated to the Madras University and then the Bharathiar University. The course introduced Ayurvedic studies along with components of spiritual practices, traditional marial arts, and was set in a Gurukula-based living arrangement. The curriculum came to be known in the academic circles as the ‘Coimbatore Experiment.’

Variarji was a visionary from his younger days. He spent every moment productively. The doyen of Ayurveda implemented projects for the Department of Science and Technology - Government of India, and Department of Ayurveda. These projects were linked to Ayurveda and traditional land use. It included the execution of the All India Coordinated Project on ethnobiology of Tribals in the Western Ghats between 1985 and 1988. He also founded the A. V. P. Research Foundation in 2003 in order to promote scientific research in Ayurveda. The foundation initiated several research programmes which included a study funded jointly with the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of California (Los Angeles, California) to ascertain the efficacy of Ayurvedic medicines in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was studied in collaboration with WHO (World Health Organisation) and ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research). In the same year, the foundation also launched a clinical documentation programme, called Rudra, to promote practice-based Ayurveda. 

Krishnakumarji was a patron of art too. He was keenly interested in mural art, which was native to Kerala. The seminal work, ‘Mural Mahabharatam’ a project by Prince Thonakkal fascinated him and he was keen to have the full collection in his campus. Variarji founded the Divyam Academy as a centre for holistic value based education for children. He was also known to have contributed in conceptualising and implementing the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines in tablet form. Several medical camps were conducted free of cost for the poor at the rural areas by his team. The Government of India honoured him with the civilian award, Padmashri in 2009. He was also Chairman of CARe (Confederation for Ayurvedic Renaissance, Kerala). The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi held a video conference with Krishnakumarji and discussed the prospects of Ayurveda in order to manage COVID-19. 

P. R. Krishnakumar Variar received the Dhanvantri Puraskar from the Government of India (2016) and was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Kuvempu University. Variarji had also served as the Chancellor of the Avinashilingam University. 

Krishnakumarji's ancestors were from Srikrishnapuram in Palakkad District. His grandfather, Kunghan Variar was a 'Kottara Vaidyan'. The Zamorin of Kozhikode was treated by him. “I remember Variarji telling me that his father learnt Ayurveda for 20 hours a day for several years.” Rama Variar had been an excellent host. His guests had included A. K. Gopalan, E. M. S. Nambodhiripad, Balasaheb Deoras (Chief of RSS) and many others. Rama Variarji had asked his son Krishnakumarji to learn the art of trouncing people who had harmed one in life with love. I learnt that more than 170 Mahatmas had visited the Variar residence. 

“Krishnakumarji would ask me to do something all the time. He used to talk to me over the phone and also write letters after reading my articles on local history in various publications. I am blessed to have known him. He had gifted me a number of books and I remember the fine book on the temples of Kerala. Ji was greatly interested in the restoration and revival of old temples. He was keen to see the Kumbabishekham of the Sri Durga Kavu in Ethanur in Kerala. My friend, Jaganathan has been contributing towards this temple on the prodding of Krishnakumarji. I had visited this temple recently and learnt that Krishnakumar Variarji had wanted the temple to have a fine arch at the entrance. The committed devotees are keen to see it happen sometime in the near future.”

“I remember so many going to him for his advice and blessings. They came back happily. It will require several volumes to document his interactions over the years. Now, I am particularly reminded of him attending the ‘Srimad Bhagavata Saptaham’ by Prema Pandurangji in Coimbatore. He had supported several lectures. The great Pravachanakarta, Velukkudi Krishnan Swamy had lectured in the Dhanvantri Temple premises and many more had done the same. The list is endless.”

Several good deeds were initiated by him over the years and they are going on. P. R. Krishnakumar Variarji was a great man and his committed family members, team of doctors, and everyone else connected with Arya Vaidya Pharmacy are sure to carry his tradition forward. Let us hope and try to follow his footsteps. 

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.


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