When Vijaylakshmi and Sreelata, two educated women in their mid-forties, land at Bangalore airport from Hyderabad, they seem no different from other visitors to the city. But they give a somewhat unusual destination to the cab driver: Karekal village near Nelamangala. They have come here to visit native healer Shivanna, popularly known as Coin Cut Shivanna, who practises at Ashakirana Ayurvedic Hospital.
The hospital is actually a small house by the highway with a hall, two bedrooms and a kitchen. Twenty chairs are placed in the hall for patients to wait. Separate rooms are used to examine men and women. Shivanna has just one assistant, Narayanappa. When it was their turn, Sreelata enters the examination room. She tells Shivanna that she has chronic back pain. Shivanna does not ask anything further, nor looks at the medical reports she is carrying. He simply applies a specially prepared herbal oil on her back, touches the spot with his forehead and meditates for a few moments.
He then lifts both her legs and sets them on the ground again. He applies plaster of Paris on the spot. He then places four coins in four corners around it, and applies four to five layers of plaster of Paris. “Now tell me where it was paining, for how many days. Do you still feel the pain?” he asks. Sreelata, who is now standing, says that she feels better now. She recollects her extreme back pain, which made it impossible for her to stand in the kitchen even for 20 minutes. “By the time I could fry two chapattis, the pain would be unbearable. If I stood a little more, I felt I was going to collapse,” she said. Sreelata had undergone treatment at several modern hospitals, but had found no relief.
When she heard of Shivanna, she decided to come to Bangalore along with her friend Vijayalakshmi who had the same problem. Thanking Shivanna, she asks when she should come next. “Come again only if you have pain. There is no need to come otherwise,” is his reply. The knowledge of coin healing has been in Shivanna’s family for generations. As a child, he watched his grandmother Hanumakka prepare the medicinal oil. He accompanied her to the forests, helping her collect herbs, and learning how to make the oil. “It is the same oil that I make and use on my patients to this day,” he says. He later learnt under his uncle Muniyappa and father Gangayya. “It is a divine gift to our family.
I am of the sixth generation practicing this technique,” he says. A simple man, Shivanna betrays no signs of pride, arrogance or greed. He charges just Rs 100 per consultation. His father Battarahalli Gangayya is a famous native healer who practices in his 150-bed hospital nearby. Shivanna worked with his father for 20 years from 1982 to 2002. He then started his own hospital at about one km from his father’s hospital in Karekal village by the Bangalore- Mangalore National highway. He treats 50 to 150 patients every day. The rush is so much that Shivanna doesn’t find time to even eat his meals. He hasn’t taken a day off for the past 30 years. “People come from as far as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh trusting me.
How can I let them down? So I try to be available to my patients every day,” he says. His family has been complaining that he doesn’t spare time for them. “When I see patients who had come moaning in pain go smiling, I feel happy. People’s love and trust is more important to me,” he says. A majority of his patients are women. Shivanna blames it on the modern tiles on the floors of houses and toilets. “They slip and fall in their own houses and have to undergo surgery,” he says.
People come to him with fractured limbs, spinal cord problems, weakness, rheumatic pains, dislocated joints, sprains, cervical spondylitis and slip discs. “I have handled critical cases too. In certain cases, doctors from hi-tech hospitals had conducted two-three surgeries and had given up. But I have treated them and they started walking again,” he claims. Shivanna’s fame has spread so wide that his clientele included Kannada film idols Rajkumar, Ambarish and Vishnuvardhan. Former Lokayuktas, Justices Sudheendra Rao and Santosh Hegde are also regulars at his clinic. Rao calls on him at least once a month, and has helped organise camps in his home town Bangarupete, where Shivanna treated hundreds of people.
From 1982 to 2002, Shivanna would attend to patients out of town every Friday. He has conducted camps in Mysore, Hyderabad, Guntur, Vishakapattana, Bangarupete and Shimoga. In October 1985, Shivanna participated in the Open Challenge held in USA, where orthopaedic doctors from all over the world participated. Shivanna and his father Gangayya treated 10 patients without even seeing the X-ray. The father-son duo was awarded the Best Doctor title.
His father Gangayya is 95 now and is unable to attend to patients. His assistants run the hospital in Yantaganahalli. “Many are claiming they are Gangayya’s sons are treating patients. People have to be careful,” he says. “It is fine if they are able to really treat patients.” Shivanna has three daughters and one son. He also does some farming in his five acre land, where he grows bananas, tomatoes and beans. He is unhappy that people are leaving agriculture and migrating to cities. “People are lazy. They sell their land for a pittance and spend the money on liquor. Instead of farming, they go to cities and clean toilets. The same people who would feed others, beg for food in cities,” he says. Perhaps Shivanna’s art draws on acupressure, but he only understands it his way: what he has inherited came from his loving grandmother.