Kalupada, the small village on the northern fringe Chilka Lake in Odisha is a special place that draws people in multitudes every day. Just 60 kms from the State capital Bhubaneswar, it is well connected by road and rail, in fact the railways has a compulsory halt for most of the passenger trains at this small wayside station. So what’s so special about this place?
Kalupada is a village that has a small community of traditional bone setters. The entire main street of the small place is lined with clinics, X-Ray and Medicine shops, small eating places and tea shops. Around two dozen families practice the ancient form of setting right fractures, broken bones, and other orthopaedic diseases since the last two centuries. The indigenous form of treatment is popularly known as the Kalupada Seka Chikitsa, which uses herbs and fomentation to treat bone fractures. The secrets of the trade have been passed on from one generation to the next, and not revealed to outsiders.
Legend goes that the treatment was accidentally discovered by the forefather of the present clan years ago. The legend goes that while hunting in the nearby forests, he found an herb that had good healing property. He tried the paste of the herb on a rabbit with broken bones, it miracously recovered within days. Convinced that the leaves had some medicinal properties, he made a paste and applied it on the broken limbs of chicken, calves and sheep. In the initial days, the treatment was only for the domestic animals; later he tried it on humans and got miraculous results. The founder followed the ancient Ayruvedic text of Susruta Samhita, and incorporated his methods.
Today, the Kalupada bone setters are the last hope of persons with multiple fractures who have been suggested amputation by the allopathic doctors. They come to the ashrams in the village and get the traditional treatment. Short bamboo sticks, cloth bandages and the blackherbal concoction massages are the tools of the trade that are used to treat the fractures and broken bones. The bone setters look down on the modern day methods of orthopaedic surgeons which entail operations where steel rods and bolts are used. Their method is fully non-invasive. During the World War II, the services of the Kalupada bone setters were even used by the British army.
The bone setters are known to cure the fractures and dislocations of almost any part of the body including thespine, skull, patella, ribs, clavicle and nose. They also treat lower lumbar pain, pain in the joints, arthritis, neck and shoulder pain, sciatica, muscle spasm, tennis elbow and frozen shoulder.
The treatment usually starts after a diagnosis by the chief of the family. The healers can assess and locate the extent of the fracture and broken bone by gently touching the area of the injury. The treatment starts after the tactile prognosis; the patient is instructed to pray to the almighty for a successful healing. The bone setters are a deeply religious lot, and hold a firm belief that the collective prayers of the healers and sufferers are vital for a complete recovery. Once they are sure about the diagnosis, they dip a piece of gauge into the paste of the medicinal herb and tie it around the area of dislocation or fracture. To immobilize the area of injury, they tie up short pieces of bamboo sticks with a bandage.
Unlike the prevalent practice where the dislocated bones are forced into the right place, the healers do it by gently patting the affected parts. The herbal poultice is spread on a bandage which is then wrapped on the broken limb. The application of herbal paste acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and reduces the pain and swelling. They take only 5 to 10 minutes for completion of all fracture and dislocation cases, compound fractures are more time taking. For arm fractures, a sling around the neck is fixed and the patient sent home with instruction to apply the medicinal oil on the bandage for the next 15 days, after which the bandage is removed and a second bandage put on. The patient himself can remove the second bandage after a month. Nowadays, the healers also give the patients oral analgesics and calcium supplements. Most of the bone setters also have X-Ray units, which they use to cross check their diagnosis and healing. The process of the entire regeneration of the bone can depend on the angle of dislocation or the fracture, but it usually lasts from a week to a month.
For other bone ailments, a unique heat treatment is used. The affected area is massaged with castor oil and a thick oil-soaked cloth is wrapped around, followed by covering it with herbal solution. Then iron rods are heated on charcoal and these are gently rolled over the oiled-clothes. The treatment lasts for 20-25 minutes. The hot fomentation not only helps in healthier bones, it can cure problems like Spondylitis as well. While the cost of a multiple fracture treatment can be as high as Rs 5000, the bone ailments are usually cured within three sittings costing Rs 500.
Most of the bone setters have rooms which they let out to patients who come from afar. Some of the patients stay in the village for the entire length of their treatment. They have the option to cook their own food, or but it from the nearby bazar. Kabiraj Aruna Das of the Hrushikesh Bone Fracture Clinic has nearly 100 rooms which he lets out to the patients at just Rs 50 per day. He and his baby faced son manage their place on a 24 X 7 basis. He showed me an in house patient who had multiple fractures from an accident where his arm had got pulled in a stone crusher. The patient was on his way to a complete cure, the doctors at the government hospital had suggested amputation.
Kabiraj Akhil Patra of the Maa Ugratara Fracture Clinic told me that even allopathic doctors come to the place for treatment. He has his small clinic near the railway station, with a prominent sign board written in English, Hindi, Odia and Telegu.
All the bone steers rued that the herbs and leaves required for the treatment were getting scarce. Some of them have planted the medicinal plants in their fields, but they agreed that the cultivated ones are not as effective as the ones that grow in the forests. One of the herbs used for making thepaste is Kasamarda (Latin: Cassia accidentalis), was found growing in abundance. However, the specialty does not lie with the herbs, but with the skill in manipulating the bones and setting the alignment in the right order. Each of the bone setters has his own process of making the herbal solution, and keeps it a secret, only to be passed on to the next generation. The herbs meant for the treatment are collected from the nearby jungles by trusted men.
Even though the Kalupada practitioners are not recognised by the medical fraternity, they claim a nearly 100% recovery in most of the cases. For many researchers who attempted to study the treatment, this alternative technique was nothing short of a miracle. The therapy combines the benefits of heat and herbal medicines, as prescribed in the ancient texts. These selfless healers deserve applause for keeping this ancient form of treatment intact and not succumbing to greedand exploiting their skills for commercial benefits. Many of the assistants who worked in these clinics have spread all over Odisha and opened up their own units, even though most of them do not know the secret methods of the cures.