Preserving Preserving Visa Wedakam | Sunday Observer

Preserving Preserving Visa Wedakam

13 September, 2020

People co-habit with diverse other creatures in the world; the poisonous and the non- poisonous; the ferocious and the meek.

In current times of human arrogance reaching its peak in ruining the planet and modernity costing the forests its green garments, animals its freedom and man his breadth, we have eliminated from our collective consciousness the memory of life lived differently; when animals, including the poisonous were accepted by us as an integral weaving of the tapestry of life.

This acceptance is recognised in our Deshiya Chikitsa (Sinhala Wedakam/ Hela Wedakam) medicinal tradition that pre-dates Ayurveda, which has a branch of treatment known as Visa Wedakama which we have used for thousands of years to heal people bitten by poisonous creatures.

Yet we have to do much more as a nation to actively preserve, conserve and promote this kind of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) knowledge that secures the wellbeing of the people and the eco-system. Visa Wedakama while being a curative science (as in how the word science was interpreted by our ancestors), it is also a seamless interweaving of the human and universal mind integrated in a deep traditional philosophy that goes beyond the mere use of medicinal plants and herbs.

While we featured aspects of Visa Wedakama through the narration of a Kandy based practitioner a few months ago, we now portray another narrative of a Matale based 73-year-old veteran in the art of dealing with the world of snakes and other poisonous creatures, who had inherited this knowledge from his father who in turn had been bestowed with it from his father.

Upasaka Gedera U. G. Ariyadasa, a resident of Ariyapola, 23 kilometres from the Matale town, has practised his inherited skills of treating snake/insect bites.

He said that no one has died under his care, even those who have been bitten by venomous reptiles and other creatures and brought to him in critical condition.

“I learned this vocation from my father, Upasaka Gedera U. G. Kekira, who learned it from his father, Upasaka Gedera Boda. There are legends associated with them how they removed venom from the bodies of those who had been believed to be dead and even those about to be buried after being bitten by reptiles. You see me now as a gardener. A gentleman of the area has employed me for the past five years to care for his estate. This is how I ensure to get an income. However, there are many people who know me as a native physician specialising in treating snake bites. At times, vehicles are sent for me to go to those stung by bees, wasps and hornets. I am prastising this just as my father and grandparents did, although they had more facilities, including Beheth Oru (kind of medicinal boat like structures made out of Rukattana wood known to be a powerful antidote). This contraption is filled with herbs and the patient is immersed in it,” Ariyadasa said.

This treatment is done to remove venom from the body. First, we wash the spot of the sting well with soap and water and the snake treating stone (Nai Gal) is kept on it. Now I have only two of them. These are precious as those who make them with animal bone are rare now. We used to get it from the wandering communities of Rodi snake charmers who had the skills of making them,” he said.

“The stone falls off once the venom has been removed. We also administer the patient with herbs meant for different kinds of venom. For each kind of reptile/insect, there are different methods of treatment depending on the level of venom they release through the sting. Some of the core herbs, such as Murunga pothu (tree bark), Dehi pothu (lime tree bark), Amu kaha (Turmeric), are often used,but there are other varieties as well. The physician will decide what is to be administered on the spot of the sting and what herbs to be given as Kasaya (boiled herbs). The standard basic herbs we use as Kasaya are Karapincha leaves and Murunga tree bark which have to be boiled and drunk separately,” Ariyadasa said.

“We also recite mantras we have inherited from our ancestors who used them for the identification of the kind of venomous reptile which had stung the patient and other related details, such as the time of the sting.

Basically in the Nai Weda tradition, we consider the whole universe as an interconnected entity and the snake or insect which has bitten the patient as part of this inter-connectedness. There is a subtle communication with these creatures which is how the mantras work to cure the patients. We discourage people from killing the snake and bringing it to us with the patient as this would curtail the release of the poison from the body,” he said.

“These mantras are powerful. There is one practice where in the instance of a messenger coming to convey the news about the person who has been bitten by a snake, the physician, as an immediate measure of reducing the suffering of the victim,until he meets the victim,would utter a mantra seven times to the palm of his hand and hit the head or ear of the messenger,” he said. “We believe that the severity of the sting would depend on the day that it has occurred because the cosmic energy would differ accordingly. This is part of astrology and would influence the duration of the treatment.

For each day, there are kinds of reptiles designated as being prone to sting. The indigenous treatment system for snake bites and venom-removing, considers this as a core of its knowledge. For example, Sunday is considered a day for Geta Polanga to sting. We treat in the manner prescribed for the snake,” Ariyadasa said.

“Physicians treating snake bites are skilled in knowing how to identify which kind of reptile has bitten the patient by the body language, such as how the person would wring his hands or walk, and their eyesight getting dim or not.

The effect of the venom triggers these changes. A snake physician can identify the reptile/insect even by the manner a messenger who has come to communicate the snake bite walks and talks,” he said.

“My children did not study this Wedakama. The only person in my family,who developed an interest in it, is my daughter-in-law. The transference of this knowledge cannot just be given even if it is from one generation to another. The person should harness this skill and use it in accordance to cosmic principles,” he said.

“I have manuscripts and books that my grandfather used. Neither my grandfather nor my father nor I could be described as educated in a modern sense. However, we know we have done a service to our country in saving lives. We do not do this to earn money. We do this as a Karmic duty. I have never been bitten by a snake although I walk across regularly in thick forest. Snakes are creatures of the wild. It is their nature to sting. But most of the time they listen to what is told to them. When they are asked to leave they leave,” Ariyadasa said.