Dravya is a Kosha in Digital Form, Modernizing Access to Ayurveda

There are millions of apps out there in the virtual world which help you with recipes, fitness, diets, even promise results for health issue, age related problems, dietary restrictions and food allergies. It has been pointed out, however, that most of them have been developed without a medical team.

Riafy helped develop Fitberry, one such app before it began its journey with Ayurveda. A chance introduction led to them partnering with Dr Nimin Sreedhar, an Ayurveda doctor and Managing Director of Elavaidya Knowledge Services Private Limited. John Mathew, Co-founder and CEO of Riafy says "Dravya is the most advanced technological work on Ayurveda in existence. Once completed, it’ll support 4.6 quattuorsexagintillion data extraction routes. P.S. there are 195 zeroes in a quattuorsexagintillion!"

Dravya is a huge collection of data on ingredients and products of Ayurveda. Dravya has amazing search capabilities and it is quite easy to use. Dravya is designed keeping the serious Ayurveda community in mind. It is optimized for quick and convenient use. Access tons of authentic and referenced information on herbs, animal products, metals, minerals, gemstones and formulations. Dravya can be used as a quick reference tool with detailed information on identification, properties and uses of ingredients and products. No more wasting precious study time or work hours collecting basic info for your learning, practice or research in Ayurveda. Dravya will be a trusted companion in your journey to become more efficient and effective with Ayurvedic medicine and Ayurvedic upchar.

It is humanly impossible to memorize and recollect thousands of ingredients and products mentioned in all of classical Ayurveda books. Keeping track of the products in the market is also a daunting task. Most of the current sources of this information are difficult to access, unreliable or confusing. This is where Dravya comes in handy. Dravya is like an ever-growing reference book focusing on dravyaguna, rasashastra and bhaishajya kalpana. Dravya bypasses all the hassles of having to carry bulky books or having to go through all the pages to find that tiny but important piece of data.

Dravya has listed ingredient names in more than 20 Indian and International languages. The content is presented in minimum words and in simple English with exact Sanskrit or technical terms given along with the translation. For Ayurvedic diet planners, Dravya has also included the nutritive values and food incompatibilities (viruddha).

Dravya has ‘multi-search’, a unique feature that enables you to type in multiple related keywords and get filtered results. For example, with multi-search, you can look up an herb belonging to daśamūla, with sweet taste, cooling potency and pitta reducing capacity which may be given for bladder pain and burning sensation. Or you can search for a proprietary product which is in powder form, used for diabetes, made by a specific manufacturer. Try typing in conditions like fever, cough, vomiting and you will get a list of only those ingredients and products that are indicated for all these conditions together.

In this interview with CSP, Dr Nimin Sreedhar talks about supercharging Ayurveda through Dravya. It can be downloaded at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ayurveda.dravyaapp

How important is it to modernize Ayurveda's offerings in terms of access and information?

The requirement to modernize is relatively very new to Ayurveda. The literary sources of Ayurveda hint that until quite recently, perhaps till the 16th century, Ayurveda was not only contributing to global healthcare, but it was also imbibing information on ingredients and practices around the world. There were regular additions to the drug repositories and treatment methodologies for new diseases were postulated and documented as and when they were observed. During those times, Ayurveda remained modern. From what I understand, when modern medicine was mainstreamed in India, all the existing health systems including Ayurveda got compartmentalized. There rose an invisible barrier to assimilate new knowledge into Ayurveda. As our intellectual command of Ayurveda gradually declined, our diligence to contribute, update or even challenge the core literature of Ayurveda diminished. We would not dare tinkering with things we do not know much about, right? This, I feel, is the main reason why Ayurveda is presented as 'Ancient', even by professionals of this field. Therefore, the very acceptance of the fact that this timeless science has to be modernized itself is a step in the right direction.

Now, the answer to ‘how to modernize Ayurveda’ is in the second part of this question itself. By enhancing ‘Access’. Access is key. Knowing something as an individual serves that individual or their small circle of impact only. But for that knowledge to be truly benefiting humanity at large, it has to transcend the barriers of geography and culture. What better way of doing it other than using the internet and other modern day digital technologies?

Long story short, it is of utmost importance to modernize the access to Ayurveda information. The first measure that has to be taken on that line should be to create a standardized, validated, modular and scalable database platform for the entire existing information of Ayurveda so that we are confident to look at the humongous knowledge pool of Ayurveda without getting intimidated by it.

What inspired you to create Dravya? How much work did it involve in terms of years and manpower?

‘Dravya’ is the collective name for all the tools of a vaidya. It includes anything and everything that is made of the pañcabhūtās. Herbs, metals, minerals, animal products, gemstones and all the formulations made from these ingredients..they are all dravyas for a vaidya- as the Ayurveda Physician is called. The current curriculum of a standard course in India will surely make you a good Ayurveda doctor. But it would take eons further to become a vaidya, simply because there are hundreds and thousands of dravyas out there.

The ‘Dravya App’ is my humble effort to help a student or practitioner of Ayurveda to become a vaidya sooner. In a way this is a very personal pilgrimage as well. During my BAMS days, I was awe-struck in the beginning of the course but soon, I, like many others, got terrorized by the huge amount of data I had to cruch in such a short span of time. Eventually, a student doing this course will manage to graduate but they would only have a very limited number of info on herbs and formulations memorized or practically applied. A vast number of miraculous herbs would go unapplied. Many wonderful formulations would go unnoticed. All this is having a huge toll in the quality and efficacy of Ayurveda practice all together. For Ayurveda to revive its full potential, the vaidyas must have a commanding grasp of the tools they need to use.

Additionally, many vaidyas are interested in making some of their own medicines but procuring the most authentic ingredients is often a laborious task. A stark contrast to this scenario is small and medium cultivators across India who get interested in growing medicinal plants but fail to meet a sustainable market for their produce on time.

Summing all of the above thoughts up, I felt that a common platform that would give out reliable information as well as double up as a metamarket for ingredients and products of Ayurveda would be ideal. I did a thorough search but couldn’t find a platform good enough on this line. That is when this idea dawned upon me..”Hey! Why don’t I try and make one?!” Soon that thought grew within me and was moving enough that I quit my job and clinical practice to dedicate all of my time, effort and money into building the Dravya App.

Creating the Dravya App presented a lot more challenges than I anticipated. I had the core data that I was compiling since my second year of college but weeding it off the inaccuracies and standardizing it was the most tedious of tasks. I had to create a blueprint and algorithm for the search mechanism which is state-of-the-art for the Dravya App since there was simply no similar template that I could find. Adding it all up, the data compilation work is ongoing for around 14 years, the standardisation task required around 4 Ayurveda graduates and the software part is handled by a team of 6 developers. The first Dravya app prototype was launched in 2016 and the existing Android app was released 2 years back. Currently we have developed a powerful backend interface that would enable more experts to contribute to the core database without any risk of error or overlap. An iOS app is also in the assembly lane.

Video of Dravya: https://youtu.be/46Pt0x_qzqI

How many sources did you refer to?

I began with a popular malayalam compilation of formulation called Sahasrayogam. But soon I realized that the platform needed a stronger foundation of ingredient data. So I decided to go with the classics like Caraka Saṃhitā, Suśruta Saṃhitā and Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayaṃ. We are also compiling ingredient information from major Nighaṇṭus or Herb dictionaries of lore.

Who was your tech partner and how much information does the app hold?

Different modules of the Dravya app needed different kinds of skill set. So we ended up partnering with several developers ranging from freelance developers, to startups and established firms. We are in a process of amalgamating these scattered resources to a centralized technical provision which is easier to manage.

I have often encountered this question on who is your developer. From my experience, it is not about an individual developer or software company but how well you are able to convey what exactly you had envisioned and what amount of resources you can utilize to materialize this vision, that the output is dependent on. Also, it would be ideal to get somewhat literate on your exact technical requirements and be able to monitor if the implementations are also at par with your expectations.

For the second part of the question, we currently have around 3000 ingredients and products readied for the Dravya platform.

What inspires you to go beyond practicing Ayurveda to disseminating information?

Practicing Ayurveda is where my heart is. In a way, I am making this tool for myself so that I can try and bypass the decades my seniors and gurus had spent for basic data compilation. I believe that if we have powerful tools like Dravya, more skilled vaidyas can focus better on clinical practice and become stalwarts of Ayurveda.

I used to rummage through textbooks and ask all sorts of questions to my colleagues and teachers on ‘where is the reference of this formulation’, ‘what can we give for this condition’ or ‘what is the scientific name of this ingredient’...etc..spending hours or sometimes even days for an answer. Most often even if I get one, I am not satisfied. I knew that this was a widespread problem in Ayurveda practice. I realized that a database like Dravya would sometimes even save years in fetching data and it may turbocharge the pace at which Ayurveda is progressing now. This realization is my fuel.

What interest has the app inspired among non-Indians

We have not started active promotions of the app yet. However, currently we have over 26,500 users in India. Other countries showing good install rates are: Brazil, United States, UAE, Nepal, UK and France, in descending order.

The content of the app and its usability is designed in such a way that it can be used by those who are not adept in Ayurveda as well. People who are not experts in Sanskrit find the near-accurate translations of technical terms in the Dravya App very convenient. Moreover, the chances of losing out an info for the want of the exact keyword or spelling is minimal in the Dravya app. In a nutshell, not having to worry about what keyword to type is one of the USPs of the Dravya App which makes it a reliable app for non-Indians too.

As a faculty to various Ayurveda schools in the US, Europe, South America and Japan, I have seen many patrons and students use Dravya to know what a herb is called in their regional language. They would look up Ayurveda properties of items available in their place or check the ingredients of Ayurveda medicines they are taking. I get a lot of requests to incorporate a digital shop in the Dravya platform so that people around the globe can have secure access to Ayurveda products as well.

In your work with foreigners what approach do they follow in documentation and research of Ayurveda?

I have observed that most of the foreign students are very keen and methodical in their study of Ayurveda and the questions they raise often make me think deeper. They simply do not go easy on themselves or take Ayurveda for granted because they are very committed to the study. Admittedly, many foreign students would have used their life savings or quit their jobs or usual life to come to India and learn this great healing science that is Ayurveda. So they make sure that they are adequately documenting what they observe. The use of digital tools and apps for this purpose is much higher among foreign students.

The inquisitiveness of many foreign students towards research is also high. Many learning Ayurveda would already be accomplished research scholars who are here as part of their project. On the flipside, I am observing a growing international community who is considering Ayurveda beyond the existing modern research methodologies. Some of these international scholars have even teamed up with experts in India to try and establish a research philosophy native to Ayurveda.

What was your training in Ayurveda like? Does it need any tweaking to meet contemporary demands?

Coming from a family of allopaths and having been readying myself for MBBS, there was a lot of unlearning required to enter the world of Ayurveda. I wished I had gotten into learning Ayurveda earlier. I was extremely fortunate to have schooled under doyens like Prof. C.R. Agnives who has taught me the systematic approach to learn Ayurveda. Under Prof. Agnives, there was an excellent faculty at Nangelil Ayurveda Medical College, Kerala- my Alma Mater. Good teachers go a long way in kindling, sustaining and enriching a flame of acumen in Ayurveda within us. But there is only so much they can do. Learning is a journey you make alone.

It is not Ayurveda that needs tweaking to meet contemporary demands, it is the contemporary outlook that needs an overhaul. Rather than accidental choices, we need more people pursuing Ayurveda for the want of it. I feel that something like the Gurukula system of teaching Ayurveda implemented by the erstwhile AVP Ayurveda College- Coimbatore, under the patronage of Padmashri Krishnakumarji is the answer.

How could a combination of Ayurveda and Allopathy help to fight today's health crises.

Everyone deserves the best solution for their health. And, the best solution should take everything into account. It should be long standing, minimally invasive, without other complications, cost efficient, least damaging to our environment and so on. Most often, the best solution is even subjective. At times I feel that asking which health system is the best to manage a disease is like asking ‘when there is a fire, should I pour water from a cylindrical vessel or a cubical vessel’. The vessel is not the prime concern. No health system is perfect and complete. No system can replace another. In technology, competition is giving way to collaboration. This should happen in the healthcare sector too. As the ultimate goal of all healthcare systems are the same, I do not see why different systems cannot be combined and thereby iron out the wrinkles in each system.

I back the notion that the health of a person is the prime responsibility of that person. Ayurveda is an ideal system to empower individuals to manage personal health. Ayurveda can be the first line management option to metabolic diseases. It has always excelled in handling musculo-sceletal and neurological disorders. There are several areas in rehabilitation, palliative and geriatric care where Ayurveda and Allopathy can work hand-in-hand. Allopathy has a very strong forte in several areas too. I guess, there are no two opinions when emergency medicine and surgery are being considered. End of the day, we are not going to find a clear demarcation on which system should be put to use in which area. It all boils down to a council of open-minded and non-prejudiced experts monitoring each case individually. During my career in Kerala Ayurveda Limited, I had witnessed such a panel in action and have seen the ‘miracles’ when both streams work in tandem.

It will take a much bigger army of brave men from all systems of healthcare to execute this on a national level. Even more important is a visionary administration that has what it takes to orchestrate such a huge task. The right time for this combined effort is today, now and at this very moment.