Articles on Ayurveda

1. Ayurvedic Diets for Wellness and Disease Intervention

  1. Kalyani Meduri, MD, MS1
  2. Gerard Mullin, MD, CNSP2

  1. 1the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa

  2. 2The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
  1. Kalyani Meduri, MD, MS, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, C34 GH, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242; e-mail:

A yurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, is a holistic system of medicine that originated in India several thousand years ago. The term Ayurveda combines the Sanskrit words ayur (“life”) and Veda (“knowledge” or “science”). Thus, Ayurveda means “the science of life.”

Ayurveda is based on the belief that everything in the universe is made up of 5 great elements or building blocks. These are earth, water, fire, air, and ether (space). Every human being is made up of these 5 great elements and the immaterial self. Ayurveda identifies 3 basic types of energy or doshas that are present in everyone: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Furthermore, Ayurveda suggests that the cause of disease is an underlying imbalance–either an excess or deficiency of Vata, Pitta, or Kapha.13 The attributes of the doshas and their specific combination within each individual help determine the individual’s physical and mental characteristics—the person’s constitution (Prakriti). Recent studies have demonstrated that classifications based on HLA gene polymorphisms in the human population can be correlated to the different Ayurvedic constitutions4 and that doshas can be statistically quantified.5 While Ayurveda has been practiced for thousands of years, supporting evidence in the form of clinical trials is lacking. This paper summarizes the 3 doshas and the proposed Ayurvedic dietary treatments to promote balance of the doshas.


Vata is composed of the 2 elements ether (space) and air. Vata is described as the subtle energy associated with movement and governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. The most revered Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, defines the characteristics of Vata dosha as dry, cool, light, rough, and agitated. Factors that can cause Vata dosha to increase in the physiology include a diet that contains too many dry or raw foods, overconsumption of ice-cold beverages, exposure to cold, dry winds, a variable daily routine, too much travel, and mental overexertion. Thus people with Vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin and neurological conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, memory problems, and insomnia. Vata is the predominant dosha of old age. Suggested management includes sugestion of foods that are liquid to balance dryness, foods that are smooth in texture to offset roughness, and foods that are warm or hot to balance the cool nature of Vata. The 3 Ayurvedic tastes that help balance Vata are sweet, sour, and salty. It is recommended to reduce intake of the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes.

Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for Vata Balance

Cooked grains of rice, wheat, and oats are heavy and are supposed to balance the light nature of Vata dosha. All sweet and well-ripened fruits like apricots, avocados, bananas, berries, cherries, coconut, grapefruit, and papaya and sour fruits like lemons, oranges, pineapple, peaches, and plums balance Vata dosha. Vegetables like asparagus, greens, carrots, peas, zucchini, squash, parsnips, and sweet potatoes when cooked with spices like dried ginger, basil, fennel, black pepper, basil, cilantro, thyme, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard, oregano, and fenugreek are proposed to enhance the Vata dosha. White meat, chicken, and fish should be baked or broiled. Maintaining regular routines and walking for 20 minutes 4 times a week help restore Vata dosha.


Principally made up of fire and water, Pitta expresses itself as the body’s metabolic system. Ayurvedic belief states that pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, and maintenance of homeostasis. At the cellular level, Pitta is responsible for oxidation, conjugation, reduction, phosphorylation, enzymes, and hormones. When someone is in balance, Pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. People with a predominantly Pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases, dyspepsia, peptic ulcer disease, diarrhea, skin rashes, and disorders of liver. The attributes of Pitta are hot, sharp, light, liquid, mobile, and oily. Although Pitta, like Vata, exists in every cell of the body, the major sites of Pitta are believed to be the stomach, duodenum, small intestine, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart, eyes, and skin. Pitta is predominant during teenage and adult life. The 3 Ayurvedic tastes that help balance Pitta are sweet, bitter, and astringent. It helps to avoid salty, pungent, and sour tastes for Pitta dosha.

Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for Pitta Balance

Heavy grains like rice, wheat, barley, and oats when cooked are thought to help counter the light nature of Pitta. Vegetables like asparagus, bitter greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, celery, and okra when cooked with spices like cumin, curcumin, cardamom, cilantro, fennel, small quantities of black pepper, Chinese cinnamon, mint, saffron, and dill are excellent Pitta dosha–enhancing foods. All cooked lentils, dairy, and nuts promote Pitta dosha. Skipping meals causes excess Pitta fire. Leisurely walks rather than excessive physical exercise counter the fiery Pitta. Water-based exercises help to balance Pitta.


The third dosha is Kapha, which is described in Ayurveda as moist, steady, cool, heavy, soft, and slimy materials. Made up of water and earth, Kapha is responsible for the normal body moisture, stability of the joints, firmness of the body, a proportionate bulk, weight, strength, endurance, and courage. Kapha is heavy, cool, wet, and stable. The major site of Kapha is the chest, and the other sites are throat, head, trachea, joints, stomach, lymph, fat tissue, nose, and tongue. Kapha dosha is also said to be predominant during childhood years. Kapha disorders are characterized primarily by phlegm. Kapha imbalances cause most respiratory disorders, colds, flu, asthma, bronchitis, swollen glands, and benign tumors. The heaviness of the earth element causes sluggishness, excess weight, diabetes, water retention, lethargy, and headaches.

Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for Kapha Balance

Lighter grains like barley, millets, rye, corn, and dry oats help balance Kapha dosha. The 3 Ayurvedic tastes that help balance Kapha are pungent, bitter, and astringent. It helps to avoid salty, sweet, and sour tastes. Pungent asparagus, peppers, onions, and garlic; bitter eggplant and spinach; cruciferous plants like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower; and raw fruits and vegetables are preferred. Most spices, especially ginger, are Kapha promoters. Red meat and seafood cause Kapha imbalance and should be avoided. Most diary products aggravate Kapha dosha. For people with Kapha tendency, dry cooking like baking, broiling, and grilling are preferable for over moist cooking such as steaming, boiling, or poaching to balance the watery nature of their constitution. Honey is the preferred sweetener over sugar. Regular physical activity, diet moderation, mental challenges, and emotional bonding help balance Kapha dosha.


According to Ayurveda, diseases are mainly caused by imbalance of the doshas. Knowledge of our constitution helps us to follow the right diet and lifestyle to restore and promote the harmony between the doshas in our body. Ayurveda practitioners beleive that knowledge of our constitution helps us follow the right diet and lifestyle to restore and promote the harmony between the doshas in our body and thus pave the way for healing.68

Article Notes

  • Financial disclosure: none declared.


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The branding of ayurveda as a market strategy for the health consumer has become an important factor in the creation of ‘New Age orientalist desire’. Using Vedic Village as a case, this paper shows how new age orientalism has been spread in modern India to middle class professionals, entrepreneurs and overseas health tourists. With this representation, ayurveda has become a wellness therapy instead of a means to restore health, and affluent people can now buy a package of ‘ayurvedic healthy life’ without changing their lifestyles. In addition to Euro–American health tourists, emerging middle class professionals and entrepreneurs in modern India have also become an integral part of the process of ‘new age orientalization’. This paper concludes that the commodified version of ayurveda, which has been developed in the West as part of ‘wellness and spa culture’, has become popular among the affluent middle class in India and abroad today, and through this the West has claimed and justifies authority over Eastern medicine.

KEYWORDS: new age; orientalism; ayurveda; wellness; sociology

Full Text:


Recognizing the need to cater to the physical and mental needs of the middle-class, large corporations have explored different services and products. Increasingly, the developments of services and products that focus on holistic lifestyle and holistic medicine have caught the imagination of big and small corporations–as well as that of the middle class, who become ready consumers. Aggressive marketing for ‘wellness and spa culture’ under the banner of ayurveda is an indicator of ‘new age desire’. The commodification of ayurveda started in India when the large ayurvedic drug manufacturers started to link commercially-prepared ayurveda to Indian civilization, and as a symbol of it, with a revivalist inspiration (Nichter, 1996, p. 292). Today, ayurveda has largely become a middle class urban phenomenon and has turned into fast moving consumer goods (Bode, 2008) that are offered as remedies for the urban middle class diseases of affluence, such as obesity, stress, impotence, etc., as well as to enhance body–beauty–health consciousness. Ayurvedic service providers broadcast advertisements over various media repeatedly and portray a new image of wellness and the healthy life their clients enjoy. They offer a broad spectrum of choice, and packages include physical exercise, tutorials about healthy life, yoga sessions, various ayurvedic oil and massage therapies, dietary regulations, etc. Such advertisements for spas and wellness centres ‘frequently portray images of slim, bronzed and fit people enjoying an active and outgoing social life’ (Laws, 1996, p. 202). Various advertisements for dietary routines and physical exercises proclaim how individuals can influence and control their physical and mental images (Laws, 1996). Many advertisements and web pages for such health tourist resorts use Western actors and actresses and show Westerners enjoying healthy lives, thanks to Indian medical systems. This paper examines the development of the notion of ayurvedic holistic lifestyle services and products in response to modern demands. A case study of the Vedic Village will enable us to understand how the indigenous ayurvedic health system has been commodified to cater to both local and global consumers.


This research is based on qualitative study. The objective is to explore the nature and trend of the commodification of ayurveda. Promoting ayurveda as a market strategy turns out to be a form of ‘New Age orientalism’, with ayurveda playing a part in new consumption behaviour. The rapid growth of ‘wellness and spa culture’ for rejuvenation is the key break here.

The field work was conducted in the Vedic Village, a recently-built ayurvedic tourist resort and spa which middle class and wealthy patients and clients visit. It has been developed by a private commercial enterprise based in Kolkata, the Sanjeevani Group. It is located in Rajarhat, a rural area approximately 40 minutes drive from Kolkata city centre and only 20 minutes drive (around 15 kilometres) from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. The major reason for choosing Kolkata is my language advantage. It is a city habited predominantly by the Bangla-speaking ethno-linguistic group to which I belong. The well-appointed villas and rooms present an environment of character and modern culture and cater to upper-middle-class lifestyle requirements. Currently, there are 40 well-equipped villas available for health tourists to stay in. However, the target is to build approximately 500 houses inside the village compound and sell them as vacation houses to outsiders of the upper middle classes who aspire to such a lifestyle. The cost range is approximately INR 3,000,000-4,000,000 (US$ 75,000-100,000), depending on interior decoration and facilities.


Many owners of these houses stay in the Village for a period of time each year; at other periods the Sanjeevani Group manages the villas and fills them with tourists. As in many resorts with privately-owned housing units, this system guarantees a source of income for the owner, depending on the occupancy rate. The total village complex occupies 120 acre of land and is surrounded by lakes and ponds.

During fieldwork, there were five professionally trained ayurvedic and alternative physicians working in the Vedic Village spa resort, including two ayurvedacharya with Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicineand Surgery (BAMS) degrees and three holistic doctors holding Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) degrees. One of the holistic doctors had professional training in Naturopathy, while the others had expertise in acupuncture in addition to their BHMS degrees. Apart from these trained physicians, there was a professionally trained Yoga master and dozens of ayurvedic therapists working in the Vedic Village wellness centre and health spa to provide Yoga session and ayurvedic massage therapy. The largest number of service providers were ayurvedic-trained therapists, who held diploma degrees in ayurvedic therapy–most of them were from Southern India, particularly Kerala state.

The Vedic Village today offers three types of alternative therapies: ayurvedic therapies, spa massages, and wellness therapeutics. All these include different massages of various duration and price. Many health tourists are attracted because of the therapeutic services that Vedic Village offers in a tranquil environment.

The fieldwork was completed in two phases, during August–September 2004 and July-September 2005. The major data collection techniques for primary data gathering employed in this research consisted of individual interviews with semi-structured questionnaire (2), and participant observation. Statistics from the Vedic Village client register book were also collected.

In my fieldwork I interviewed two ayurvedacharya (ayurvedic physician) and five ayurvedic-trained therapists. Ayurvedic-trained therapists were selected randomly. Three of them were male and two female. The same questionnaire was used to interview each therapist. Each interview took around 30 minutes. Two ayurvedic practitioners working in the Vedic Village are husband–wife and interviewed individually with the same questionnaire used for interviewing ayurvedic therapists. Interviews with ayurvedic practitioners took longer than therapists, approximately 45 minutes for each interview. All the interviews were recorded through voice recorder and prior verbal consent was taken before recording interviews. Apart from this a total of 15 clients at the Vedic Village were interviewed with a different set of questions. Eight of the clients were female and seven male. Clients were selected randomly. Each interview took approximately 30-40 minutes depending on the individual client. Two Indian clients had monthly incomes of INR 30,000; another four had incomes of INR 50,000; three more earned INR 100,000; and another, INR 20,000. Of overseas clients, two had monthly incomes of INR 45,000 (US$ 1000); one, INR 44,000 (US$ 965); one, INR 81,000 (US$ 1775); and one, INR 100,000. Two of the overseas clients had University-level educations, one had post-graduate education, and two were then post-graduate students. Among the Indians, seven had bachelor’s degrees, two had Master’s degrees, and one had higher secondary education. In the Indian context, such Indian clients are considered as belonging to the upper-middle class. Out of the five interviewed clients from abroad, two were from the USA, one from the UK, one from the United Arab Emirates, and one from Spain.


Ayurveda is the systematisation of the Vedic medical knowledge and healing practices that were present during the Vedic era. The word ayurveda consists of two Sanskrit terms: ‘veda’ means ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’, while ‘ayu’, means ‘life’ or ‘duration of life’. Ayurveda thus refers to the knowledge of life or the science of life. Ayurveda defines ayu, or life, as a combination and coordination of four parts: atta (the soul), mona (the mind), indrio (the senses) and sharer (the body) (Joshi, 1997). Each of these parts has a specific function in maintaining the balance of the body (Joshi, 1997, p. 15). Whenever there is a disconnection among these four elements an immediate physical, mental or spiritual imbalance arises.

The two most famous classical ayurvedic epics, the Caraka Samhita and the Susruta Samhita, were written in Sanskrit and are part of the Brahmanic tradition. According to ayurvedic thought, the human being is a creation of panchamabhuta (five cosmic elements: space, air, fire, water and earth) and atta (soul; Susruta, sutro sthnas, chapter 1, paragraph 18) (3). Another powerful conceptual tool in ayurveda is that of the three dosha (humours). The five elements of panchamabhuta have different impacts on dosha because of their changing natures according to time and season (Joshi, 1997, pp. 8-9). According to the Caraka Samhita, ‘all the physiological diseases are originated and caused by the alteration of bayu-pitto-koph (air, bile and phlegm) or the functional capacity of dosha’ (Caraka, sutro sthna, chapter 1). As a result, if the equilibrium of the dosha is maintained, disease cannot occur in the body. It is mentioned in the Susruta Samhita that ayurveda has two purposes: firstly, to cure patients; and secondly, to maintain the health of healthy persons. The text also recognizes that the body and the mind are the two complementary constituents of a living being and the sources of disease: some diseases emerge from the body, others from the mind, and a few are both from the body and mind (Susruta, sutro sthna, chapter 1, paragraph 20).


Edward Said argued that orientalism is a mirror for looking at the Orient and/or to enter ‘oriental society’ for Occidentals. Said perceived orientalism as an ideological category rather than a geographical one; for him, orientalism expresses a ‘mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles’ (Said, 1987, p. 2). Under the shadow of orientalism, the West not only dominated the Orient but also restructured and claimed authority over the Orient. The relationship between Occident and Orient is one of power domination and complex hegemony. (Said, 1987, pp. 2-3).

India was constructed by the orientalist ‘as the domain of spirituality’, although ‘inferior to the real sacrament, Christianity’ (Prashad, 2000, p. 42). It was also the favorite ‘Object of Western fantasy’ and of the ‘German Romantics’, who considered India to be an abode of Spirit (Lopez, 1998, p. 6). One of the popular manifestations of such European romance about India is the attempt to find the answer to occidentals’ own perceived lacks ‘through a process of projection’ (Lopez, 1998). However, the situation became reversed as European colonial interest accelerated, and ‘Indian colonial rule was justified by the argument that the British were an enlightened and rational race of rulers who had to lead and develop the Indian people, steeped as they were in ancient prejudices’ (Veer, 1998, p. 483).

The orientalist ‘play of opposites’, as noted by Lopez (1998), has been found throughout the history of Europe’s relation to India. This opposition, as concerns ayurveda, has shifted several times during the colonial and postcolonial eras. During the early phase of the East India Company regime, many company officials consulted ayurvedic practitioners, in addition to European doctors, who also served as consultants to members of the Indian elite (Jeffery, 1988, pp. 50-51). At the same time, the Court of Directors in London encouraged its employees to investigate the value of local Indian ayurvedic medicine and medical texts (Jeffery, 1988, p. 51). Later, colonial expansion and Western medical intervention during the nineteenth century did not simply determine the rise of allopathic medicine or an ideology of imperial control. Rather, they showed how each ‘played off the other within the unfolding of a particular historical process’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1992, p. 216). As it was uneconomical to import medical professionals trained in Western medicine from Europe to provide health care in India, the colonial administration founded the School of Native Doctors in Kolkata in 1822, where lectures were given on modern (allopathic) medical subjects side by side with ayurveda (Jaggi, 1979). This illustrates a sympathetic attitude and tolerance of the colonial administration to a synthesis of ayurveda and Western medicine in India.

This situation however, was reversed after the foundation of Calcutta Medical College in 1835, by which time colonial rule was already rooted strongly in Indian soil. This was a pioneer Western medical educational institution in India. Several other colleges and schools were opened for teaching Western allopathic medicine by the second half of the nineteenth century (Jaggi, 1979, p. 11). Thus, nineteenth century Western medical intervention and the colonizing project were inseparable in many senses, and the interrelation between them was dialectical. Although the imperial establishment and biomedical intervention did not engage in the same reciprocal relationship in some parts of the European colonial regime, there was a clear ‘elective affinity’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1992, p. 232). By the second half of the nineteenth century, however, ayurveda was clearly opposed by Western medical practice in India. The predominant Hindu community was depicted as superstitious and sometimes religiously extremist. As ayurveda was inseparable from the Hindu community in India it was thus stigmatised as a form of religious healing. Ayurvedic education was then shifted to Sanskrit colleges, and practitioners trained in ayurveda were not allowed to practice as registered medical practitioners.

Western medical intervention in India was a ‘colonizing process’ which ‘illustrate[d] the more general nature of colonial power and knowledge and [illuminated] its hegemonic as well as its coercive processes’ (Arnold, 1993, p. 8). Colonialism was not a one-way project in which colonizers imposed their mission upon colonized; nor was it a two-sided affair in which the colonized had some influences on the way the colonizers acted. Rather, it was a ‘complex business’, and the colonizing mission underwent a continuous reconstructing process, which Comaroff and Comaroff (1992, pp. 232–293) called ‘the colonization of consciousness and the consciousness of colonization’.

Such complex business of colonial hegemony or coercion contributed another phase of orientalist play about ayurveda: at the beginning of the twentieth century ayurvedic education was separated from the Sanskrit colleges and many independent new ayurvedic teaching institutions were established in various parts of British India by the emerging Indian nationalist elite. The British administration was tolerant of this, however, not because of its flexibility but because most of the newly-founded ayurvedic training institutions adopted integrated educational curricula, whereby some courses from the allopathic medical sciences were taught side by side with ayurvedic courses. The notions of integrating indigenous medical systems with mainstream bio-medicine especially in a medical pluralist society may also conceal various forms of ‘social inequality’ and ‘cultural divides’ (Broom, Doron, & Tovey, 2009, p. 698). There are ‘epistemological tensions between bio-medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)’ and the process of integration devalues indigenous medical knowledge because of the unequal ‘power relations’ (Hollenberg & Muzzin, 2010, pp. 35-37). The ‘paradigm appropriation and assimilation’ process under integrated medical practice which is dominated by the bio-medical practitioners disregards ‘CAM theoretical paradigms’, ‘devalues CAM knowledge’, and cannot ‘holistically understand CAM paradigms’ (Hollenberg & Muzzin, 2010, p. 52). In this sense medical integration is a new form of marginalization of indigenous or complementary or alternative medicine by biomedicine.

In India, the trend of integration could prolong the hegemonic presence of colonial medicine beside ayurveda; and in fact this eventually led to a gradual decline of ayurveda. By the end of the nineteenth century ayurvedic practitioners had already widely recognized that, in order to combat the increasingly widespread European medical intervention, it would be necessary to adopt ‘certain forms of European institutional practice’ (Langford, 2002, p. 7; Leslie, 1976). It was thus not uncommon to find Western medicine practiced by the ayurvedic graduates in the later period of colonial rule, as a result of their integrated education backgrounds and many modern ayurvedic graduates are able to practice medicine from an allopathic perspective and dispense allopathic drugs (Welch, 2008, p. 130).

The final phase of orientalist play has emerged during the post-colonial revival era, when India was presented in the context of a ‘generalized Orient’ but one in which the beautiful mystery of India has been used in a variety of ways in the US (Prashad, 2000, p. 21). The emerging rise and growth of ayurvedic ‘wellness and spa culture’ in the West (Euro-America), and also in the East (India), in recent decades is relevant to the analysis of ‘Orientalism’. This trend can be described as ‘New Age Orientalism’, under the influence of which the term ‘ayurveda’ has become a brand name in the West, where marketing strategy targets middle class Western health consumers (Selby, 2005). Vedic Village is a representative of such development–the objective is to recreate a simplicity of lifestyle under the ‘Vedic’ brand. To enable individuals to experience holistic living, the Vedic Village offer a comprehensive ayurvedic medication program under its wellness plan.


New age orientalism is a recent tendency in ‘American romanticism to idealize the East and to critique the West’ that has become a ‘source of new stereotypes of the East’ (Reddy, 2004, p. 217). Let me spell out the difference I find between orientalism and new age orientalism with reference to ayurveda. If orientalism is about ‘superiority’ (West/East or Occident/Orient), new age orientalism is about ‘authority’. Under nineteenth-century European orientalism, ayurveda was presented as an Eastern healing practice with an unscientific basis and practiced by apprentices called kabirajes. Such representation clearly illustrated the inferior position of ayurveda to that of Western allopathic medicine, which was claimed to have scientific grounding and validity. Particularly during the later colonial era, Western medicine claimed its superiority over Eastern medicine, and was introduced into India as a ‘colonizing process’ that eventually became a monopoly in the state health care service. The ‘play of opposites’ under orientalist discourse was thus ‘disputive’, and practitioners of ayurveda strongly opposed and tried to resist this monopolization of Western medicine by the state. However, ‘the West’, or the colonial administration, scarcely tried to gain authority over ayurvedic practices until the early twentieth century.

New age orientalism, in contrast, is about ‘authority’, where the ‘play of opposites’ is complementary rather than disputative. Ayurveda has been regarded as alternative medicine, holistic medicine, indigenous medicine, complementary medicine, etc., and dissimilar to Western medicine. All these idioms have ensured that the ‘authority’ of the Western medical system over the Eastern medical systems is in place but is not in dispute. However, both orientalism and new age orientalism symbolize the romanticizing of the East by the West.

There are various distinctive features of new age orientalism in reference to ayurveda. Firstly, new age orientalism emerged as part of the New Age Movement to cater the need of the urban middle class in the West, and has gradually shifted to the East and became popular among emerging middle class entrepreneurs–those having disposable income. Vedic Village is an example of this, as both affluent Indian entrepreneurs and overseas health tourists head there to find relaxation and rejuvenation and to revitalise body–mind–sprit. As one health worker commented,

   Two kinds of peoples generally visit Vedic
   Village health spa. A large group of peoples
   come for relaxation and rejuvenation. They
   are very much concerned about cost of therapy,
   duration of therapeutic session and satisfaction.
   This group of clients are particularly
   demanding about their satisfaction during we
   provide therapies. They also contributed a
   large share of our income. However, a minority
   group of clients also come for truly medical
   reason. They are reluctant about the cost
   of treatment or time but desperate to get a
   cure from ayurvedic or alternative treatment
   which they did not get from allopathic

Over the last few decades, the New Age Movement has emerged from a crisis of modernity, which has created a new desire for healthy life among some modern people who have come to perceive modernity as, indeed, in crisis. Such people are dissatisfied with modernity and have lost faith in the certainties of capitalism. The New Age Movement has offered an alternative way to look at life, particularly for middle- or upper-class people in capitalist society whose lives are not working well (Heelas, 1996, p. 138). Capitalism has significantly damaged the social concern of individuals for their fellows, and some have started to search for spiritual forces to rescue themselves from the ‘slough of despondence and sensuality in which civilization seems to be perishing’ (Prashad, 2000, p. 45). Spiritualism from the East has thus become an alternative and lucrative choice for this group of people to rescue themselves from alienation (Prashad, 2000, p. 45). In the health field, such people criticise the mainstream capitalist medical establishment, and especially allopathic dominance in health care. They are especially dissatisfied with the isolation of Western medical practice from the decision-making process, so that they attempt to dip into ‘spirituality’ in alternative healing (Heelas, 1996, p. 141). One foreign health tourist recalled her experience at Vedic Village. Marita, (4) from the USA, visited Vedic Village for her broken bone. She subscribed to an ayurvedic package treatment. Marita commented:

   In 2004, my foot was crushed, with a broken
   bone. During the treatment in the US,
   I was informed that the nerve of my leg was
   damaged. It is called complex regional pain
   syndrome. I took physical therapy for seven
   months but it did not really work well. Finally
   I switched to surgery. After the surgery my
   leg became very painful and turned a blue
   colour. I was fascinated about Asia and classical
   ancient cultures of Asia and medicines.
   There are many sensitivity centres or energy
   activity centres in NY called Shakra. Before I
   came here, I did research on the internet and
   knew about ayurveda. But lots of things here
   depend on faith, because I am delivering my
   body to the therapist. I know about the Vedic
   Village from my friend who suggested me to
   come here. Her health improved tremendously
   after the treatment she received here. I feel very
   good after taking this ayurvedic treatment. I
   improved so much. My digestion and walking
   also improved a lot. I have good times and bad
   times. I had headache, indigestion problems,
   but overall I feel better. I came in India for
   ayurvedic therapy only because I can't afford
   the ayurvedic therapy in New York. I can also
   get the relevant food related to my therapy
   which I can't get in NY.

Secondly, commodification and commercialization of the East for the Western consumer, and recently for the Eastern consumer, is a popular feature of new age orientalism. ‘Wellness and spa culture’, which is a relatively new phenomenon in modern Indian society, is a good example of how ‘Eastern remedies’ are commodified for consumers in India and overseas. This ‘culture’ involves the emergence of health tourist resorts, which provide alternative medical and health services, in India and elsewhere. For the months of January, April and July of 2005, 73% of the clients visited Vedic Village for ayurvedic therapy, 17% went for massages and relaxation services, and only 10% of the total number of clients consulted an ayurvedic physician (5). The primary aim in visiting the Vedic Village is for relaxation and stress reduction. The Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recognized the potential of ayurvedic tourism in the National Policy on Indian Systems of Medicine & Homoeopathy–2002, which stated that ‘facilities for panchakarma and yoga would be encouraged to be offered in hotels. Indian System of Medicine parks would be developed in collaboration with state tourism authorities’ (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 2002, article, 16.17). This growing interest in indigenous medicine has inspired Indian indigenous drug manufacturers, ‘who see in this a massive export potential’ (Banerjee, 2000). A massive growth of ayurvedic resorts, spas and vacation housing under private initiative is also a significant trend. Many resorts are located at beaches and carry out aggressive marketing campaigns to attract international health tourists. Most visitors coming for alternative healing take part in wellness and spa activities, favouring ayurveda for rejuvenation purposes. Most are Indians from the upper middle class, tourists from Western countries, or wealthy and affluent Indians living overseas. Many of the wellness packages are targeted at professional middle and upper class clients who have sufficient disposable income to engage in such consumption.

Statistics from the month of January, April and July 2005 show that about 90% of the total income of the Vedic Village wellness centre is generated from ayurvedic therapies, 6% of the income from massages, and only 4% of the income from doctor’s consultations (6). This is a clear indication that ayurveda is closely associated with ‘relaxation therapy’ and less with medical treatment options. Thus the response for wellness services has been overwhelming. There has been a consciousness in the number of people, both local and overseas visitors, visiting and using the various wellness facilities in the Vedic Village.

One local visitor described his experience in the Vedic Village thus:

   I don't have any idea about ayurvedic treatment.
   I joined the program for my weight
   loss after seeing the advertisement where they
   advocated that the therapy they are providing
   is ayurvedic. I have never experienced any
   ayurvedic treatment. I still don't know much
   about ayurveda and even I don't know anything
   outside my celluloid weight loss therapy.
   Before visiting Vedic Village, I took some
   Kerala massage to reduce pain. They told me to
   take some health package but I couldn't take it
   due to my business. So I only can give time for
   1 hour on Sunday and even sometimes I can't
   come on Sunday because of emergency. I saw
   the advertisements of the Vedic Village and its
   activities in newspapers and on television and
   finally decided to come here.

The third popular feature of new age orientalism is the increased feminization and naturalization of ayurveda. Classical ayurvedic texts mention ayurvedic treatments as contributing to the health of kings and court leaders, soldiers, and male members of upper castes (Dunn, 1976). The representation of ‘female’, as depicted in the ayurvedic discourse of the early medieval period, was a gendered one, and ‘women were marginalized, if not altogether excluded’ (Shah, 2006, p. 45). Women’s sexuality in the ayurvedic texts has been discussed in the context of the uterus and genital tract, as a healthy uterus was crucial for child-birth and the child’s inheritance was considered to come from the male line (Shah, 2006, p. 45). The man with many sons/children was complimented in the universe as a bearer of goodness, benevolence, success, and power, while no compliment was given to women for their child-rearing (Caraka, Chikitsha sthna, chapter 2, paragraph 3). Such depiction of the female body framed within ayurvedic male-dominated discourse presented women’s health concerns as secondary, only significant for satisfying men’s needs. The four goals of human life mentioned in the Caraka Samhita text, which provide a context for moral life–namely; dharma (ideals), artha (money or material accumulation), kam (pleasure, excitement, sex), and mokthi (liberation)–are solely men’s concern. Women are excluded from achieving such goals. Women’s duties, as described in the above texts, are mainly two–to give birth to a child for a man and to act as a sexual partner for man’s enjoyment. Medical treatment for a woman was meant to keep her fit to perform these two functions (Kelkar, 2009).

However, proponents of the Euro-American New Age have transformed early ayurvedic ideas about women’s health into an essential segment of the modern wellness industry, and medicine is transformed into wellness (Selby, 2005, p. 120). The beauty of women has become a prime consumer target for the recent development of wellness and spa culture, and middle class professionals are the clients buying alternative health service packages provided by the wellness centres. Beauty has become an exclusive ayurvedic commodity, particularly for middle class elite women, who spend a large amount of their incomes for body–beauty care–and in Vedic village, there were more female than male clients. From January, April and July 2005 statistics, it is shown that a total of 321 female clients visited Vedic village wellness center, while the number of male clients was 2487. Most of the female clients received therapy for back pain or weight loss, or got facial massages. Their main concern was to undergo ‘natural’ treatment with minimum side-effects. Many who visit the Vedic Village went as couples, but sometimes women visited on their own or with other women.

Today, a trend of wealthy women routinely visiting health tourist destinations and spas, and indulging in massages and natural herbal health services, is emerging in India. This increase in women’s visits has also affected the consumption of ayurvedic products and services for wellness and beauty purposes. Ayurveda was traditionally male dominated in terms of its mythological origin and historical development. Increasing female involvement reflects a growth of Ayurevedic products and services in recent years providing a clear indication of feminization bought about by corporations such as Vedic Village. As noted earlier the development of the ayurvedic wellness and spa industry in India promotes ayurvedic products and services as an integral part of the process of the new age orientalization where ayurveda has been presented as wellness therapy for rejuvenation or beauty instead of a complete way of life to restore health. Under this effort, the importance of women’s reproductive health discussed in classical ayurvedic texts has been replaced by the ‘beauty paradigm’, and natural beauty, which can be achieved through using ayurvedic products and services, has become an important part of Indian femininity.

Questioning enlightenment values of the West and celebrating the East are other popular characteristics of new age orientalism (Reddy, 2004). If the Enlightenment values of the West were promoted by the discourse of modernity, new age orientalist values are inspired by a post-modern discourse. Under these new values, the orientalist discourse of ayurveda has been ‘deconstructed’ and is no longer in dispute with conventional Western medicine.

The ‘Vedic’ daily routine promoted by the Vedic Village is an example of how the Vedic idea of dinacharya (daily regimen), which is prescribed in the ayurvedic text Ashtangahridaya, written by Maharshi Bagbhat, has been celebrated as the glory of Eastern ayurvedic medicine. The text prescribes various rules and regulations leading to a healthy life, on a daily basis. However, the dinacharya described in the text is far from the dinacharya promoted by the Vedic Village. For example, to obtain wellness of the body–mind–sprit, the ayurvedic routine in the Vedic Village includes the process of cleansing/purification, correction, dietary change, and behavioral motivation. In the text are regulations pertaining to physical motivation, purification and postures for sleeping and waking hours; and for personal hygiene, physical exercise, and dietary intake. However, it also prescribes acceptable behaviour and moral and social values that individuals should uphold (Ashtangahridaya, sutra sthna, chapter 2). Many of these values are closely related to the Hindu/Buddhist teachings of morality.

In the Vedic Village, the dinacharya regimen consists of several sessions, starting with the Brahma muhurta. A photo of the Hindu god hangs on the wall of a small therapeutic room in the Vedic Village, in front of which clients pray. After the prayer, vaktra shuddhi, or oral hygiene, begins–a neem twig is crushed at one end and used as a toothbrush, with herbal tooth powder, the entire process being called dantadhavana. Afterwards, clients take a sunrise walk and assemble at the Yoga Hall for a Yoga session. Although Yoga is a different medical practice having its own principles and philosophy, because of its recent popularity among the middle class, Yoga has been incorporated and promoted under the ayurvedic dinacharya program–although there is no mention of Yoga in the dinacharya (daily regimen) described in the Ashtangahridaya text. This is followed by abhyangam shirodhara, a traditional oil massage therapy from the Indian state of Kerala is given. It should be noted here that the ayurvedic text Ashtangahridaya suggests to massage oil on the body gently at least once a day, or every second day (Ashtangahridaya, sutra sthna, chapter 2, paragraph 8-9). However, the Vedic Village dinacharya program presents such practice as oil massages therapy in a manner that hinders an understanding of the true meaning of ayurvedic oil massage (8). The entire Dinacharya package offered by the Vedic Village symbolizes how ayurveda has been contaminated as a result of its new age orientalist celebration.

Last but not least, new age orientalism is rooted in the process of the presentation of ayurveda as holistic healing and consumption of spirituality. While European orientalism has presented the East as uncivilized, barbaric or savage, American orientalism perceived the East as a domain of spirituality (Reddy, 2004). Modern spiritualism, which originated in the eighteenth century in an orientalist-romanticist fashion, has become a ‘wellbeing’ culture today. In this new culture people consume spirituality as part of an extension of capitalism (Heelas, 2008). Ideologically the concept of wellness requires a lifestyle change, which combines physical activity with relaxation of the mind and intellectual stimulus–basically a kind of fitness of body, mind, and spirit (Schobersberger, Greie, & Humpeler, 2004, pp. 199-200). There are two major aspects of this concept of wellness, the physical aspect and the spiritual aspect. The physical aspect emphasizes exercise or fitness, dietary practice, and behavioural motivation–what is called ‘lifestyle change’, or rectification (shonsodhon) in ayurveda. The spiritual element of wellness consists of purification and revitalization of mind and soul.

The key Vedic Village practices in its wellness program are based on the Susruta Samhita chapters on ritucharya (seasonal practices). According to the text there are six seasons (ritu): winter, spring, summer, rainy, autumn and dewy. The six seasons each bring different natural and environmental conditions, which influence the functioning of the human body, mind and humor (bayu-pitto-koph–air, bile and phlegm; Susruta, sutro sthna, chapter 6). As a result, the human body experiences different conditions and develops various adaptive mechanisms to maintain its balance with the natural environment. Vedic Village provides lessons on ritucharya (seasonal practices) for their clients, which primarily demand a lifestyle change. For example, the text outlines that, during rainy, autumn and dewy seasons, the moon (which is considered a god) becomes stronger. During these seasons, salt, food, and honey are produced in abundance and all living species become stronger. On the other hand, during winter, spring and summer, the sun (also a god) becomes stronger, bitter humors in nature increase and all living species become weaker. Living species have to take necessary action in order to adapt to the different environmental conditions. However, out of 15 clients interviewed, 11 engaged in ayurvedic therapies for relaxation and rejuvenation, and were not aware of how seasonal practices affect their state of health. None of them were living permanently on the village campus which is full of duplex villas with all modern amenities to cater to the modern upper middle class lifestyle. Vedic texts have thus been romanticised, and particular concepts have been manipulated to cater to the needs of New Age health desire.

Another development is that ayurveda has been promoted as holistic healing and equated with many other massage therapies without any distinction. For example, the Sanjeeva Spa treatment, the Kerala Ayurvedic Therapy, the Onehour Wellness Therapy, and a one-day Sanjeeva healing package called the Sanjeeva Glow one-day package are all offered under ‘holistic healing’, and clients often misunderstand all these services as ayurvedic. Furthermore, three out of the five practitioners working at Vedic Village hold the title of ‘holistic doctor’, although they graduated in BHMS (Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery) and hold that degree.

With clever marketing in media, the Vedic Village has begun to gain a reputation both at home and overseas as a reputed ayurvedic wellness provider, which provides holistic therapeutic treatments in a safe natural environment. Such a reputation has led to a steady stream of foreign visitors to the Vedic Village for alternative treatments and lifestyle experiences. As the findings have shown, local visitors to the Vedic Village are mostly Indian middle class professionals or wealthy business persons who come for relaxation therapy. Their main objective is to rejuvenate themselves and/or to relieve stress. The majority of the Indian visitors do not consider Vedic Village as a place for ayurvedic medical treatment but one for massage therapy spa treatments for rejuvenation and removing stress.


This paper has shown that ‘ayurvedic wellness and spa culture’ has become popular in recent decades, for several reasons. Firstly, ‘ayurvedic wellness and spa culture’ has become popular in the West to cater to middle-class consumers in search of treatments for health rejuvenation and relaxation. As part of the New Age Movement in the West, a commodified version of ayurveda has been popularized as an alternative remedy to satisfy middle class health consumers. As a result of globalization, this has also attracted middle class professionals and entrepreneurs in India who do not consider ayurveda as their primary mode of treatment. For entrepreneurs, the ayurvedic health tourism and wellness industry is a way to make money. Likewise, for the Indian government, the creation of health and wellness tourism brings much-needed foreign currency into the Indian economy. Such a practice of commercialized ayurveda symbolizes the self-aggrandizement of the new age orientalist desire. Vedic Village, as representative of this development, makes use of two aspects of ayurveda: ‘ayurveda’ an alternative healing for rejuvenation, and as an attractive New Age health product.

Secondly, the ayurvedic texts Susruta Samhita and Ashtangahridaya contain chapters on dinacharya (daily regimen) and ritucharya (seasonal practices), etc., which Vedic Village is promoting problematically in their own commercialized versions. Although a large number of consumers today consume ayurveda as wellness therapy, rejuvenation therapy, health products and dietary supplements, quite a few of them look for ayurvedic treatment as their primary mode of healing (Banerjee, 2000). Thus the content of ayurveda has become a matter of consumer products. Consumerism is thus already rooted in the ‘ayurvedic wellness and spa culture’, and ayurveda takes the form of a commodity rather than as a means of restoring health. This commodified version of ayurveda that has, so far, been developed in the West under ‘wellness and spa culture’ has become popular among the affluent middle-class in India and abroad today, and through it the West continues to claim, and to justify, its authority over Eastern medicine. This is a process that has developed as much as the process of professionalization of ayurveda did at the beginning of the twentieth century, under colonial rule. The post-colonial state then restructured traditions instead of reviving traditional ayurvedic education, training and apprenticeship. At the dawn of the twenty-first Century, ayurvedic ‘wellness and spa culture’ has created a new identity for ayurveda, and ayurveda has been regarded as wellness therapy. Affluent Indians now begin to know of ayurveda not as their ancient medical system, but as relaxation and rejuvenation therapy. An Indian female visitor recalled her experience in the Vedic Village. Aporna Shen (9), a 36-year-old Indian attorney, visited Vedic Village for a facial massage. She went there with her police-officer husband, although her husband did not take any massage therapy. Aporna commented that:

   I don't know too much about the Vedic way of
   life or the way Vedic Village is functioning. Our
   new generation really does not know that much
   about this. I would consider the medication I
   am taking as a therapy. It is absolutely great for
   reducing stress. I am taking this therapy to relax
   myself. I am a lawyer and my job is full of tensions
   and meeting different deadlines. In addition,
   I have a two-year-old son who also keeps
   me busy. Vedic village is an ideal place for relaxation
   and to get away from city life. The Vedic
   village complex is absolutely beautiful. There
   are also spa treatments available in Kolkata but
   this is really exceptional.


I acknowledge my PhD supervisor Dr. K.E. Kuah-Pearce from the University of Hong Kong and C.M. Pradyumna from the Vedic Village, Kolkata for their intellectual help and generous support to conduct this study.

Received 07 February 2011

Accepted 15 December 2011


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United International College, Beijing Normal University–Hong Kong Baptist University, Zhuhai, Hong Kong SAR, PR China

(1) The idea of ‘new age orientalism’ is used by Vijoy Prashad and Donald S. Lopez.

(2) Verbal consent from the interviewee was taken before conducting and recording any interview in order to ensure standard ethical practice.

(3) The Susruta Samhita text is divided into several sections, such as sutro sthna, nidan sthna, etc.

(4) Original name has not been used.

(5) Client register notebook from the Vedic Village wellness centre in August 2005.

(6) Monthly statistical maintenance book from the Vedic Village for August 2005 (un published and maintained by the Director).

(7) These statistics were collected from the client register notebook at the Vedic Village wellness centre in August 2005.

(8) The author has personal experience of some parts of the dinacharya program. A detailed description of the dinacharya daily regime program is mentioned in the Vedic Village flyer.

(9) Original name has not been used.

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)

Islam, Nazrul. “New age orientalism: ayurvedic ‘wellness and spa culture’.” Health Sociology Review 21.2 (2012): 220+. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A298172571

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