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God's own `chukkuvellam'

`Chukkuvellam,' the boiled, medicated drinking water has become a trademark of Kerala. Tourists have been fascinated by this herbal concoction, often making this a habit. SUDHA NAMBUDIRI writes on the goodness, carminative and digestive properties of this Ayurvedic drink.


HAVING BEEN brought up by traditionally vegetarian and strictly teetotaller parents in Tamil Nadu, Mr. Shanmugham was shocked to see the yellow-coloured drink kept on every table during his lunch at a popular vegetarian restaurant in Kochi. This was his first ever visit to Kerala. Soon, the waiter placed a glass of same drink on his table also. It took some time for the waiter to convince his customer that the drink is not alcohol, but only boiled water, medicated by herbs, to which most Keralites are habituated. Five years hence, Mr. Shanmugham also regularly takes the boiled and medicated water, the well-known `chukkuvellam.'

Often rousing the curiosity of tourists, `chukkuvellam' has come to stay as a trademark of God's Own Country, for the last several years, much the same way as the green tea of the Japanese.

The concept of `chukkuvellam' finds its origins in Ayurveda. "There is a saying in Kerala, `Chukkillatha kashayamilla' (there is no concotion without `chukku' or dry ginger). In almost all Ayurveda medicines, `chukku' is a common ingredient because of its carminative and digestive properties. According to Ayurveda, indigestion in all levels of metabolism is the root cause of all diseases. So a daily intake of such an ingredient is good enough to keep sickness away," says Dr. E. T. Neelakandhan Mooss of Vaidyaratnam Oushadashala, Thaikkattussery.

Dr. K. Sreedharan Nair, retired Professor, Shoranur Ayurvedic College and visiting physician, Keraleeya Ayurveda Samajam, explains, "The `chukku' has catalytic properties and hence it boosts the medicinal value of other ingredients. After a sumptuous meal, you find people serve `chukkuvellam,' which helps digestion. In Ayurveda, we often concentrate first on the stomach to see if the ailment has anything to do with improper digestion. If we suspect so, we advice the patient to starve for a couple of days and drink only medicated water so as to cleanse the stomach off its undigested food."

Unlike common belief, `chukkuvellam' does find its mention in the Ayurveda texts. Explains Mooss, "In Rithucharya chapter of Ashtangahridaya, while describing Vasantharithucharya, Sringiverambu is advised for drinking. Sringiveram means ginger. Vasantham (Spring) is the season of vitiation of `kapha dosha.' Hence, food and drinks, which alleviate `kapha' are mentioned here," elaborates Mr. Mooss.

It is mentioned as `Anupanam' or to be taken along with any Ayurvedic medicine in the various texts, says Dr. M. Sunil Kumar, Physician, Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, Kochi. "For example, milk, `jeera' (cumin) or `malli' (coriander) water are often prescribed as such. `Karingali' (a herb) is good for diabetics and `malli' mashed and put in boiled water overnight is good for morning sickness and nausea in pregnant women," he explains.


`Chukkuvellam' is a colloquial name associated with medicated drinking water. Prepared from a range of herbal constituents, it comes in different colours, some of them being very attractive. The original `chukkuvellam,' which is made by boiling water with `chukku' has a turbid appearance and is slightly hot (chilli hot). Most other types of `chukkuvellams' are clear water, with characteristic mild flavours. `Jeera' gives a golden yellow colour, the herb `pathimukham' gives an attractive pink colour, and `karingali' gives a brownish colour.

For more than a decade or so, the hotel industry in the State has been serving boiled water always, more so during the rainy season to prevent water-borne diseases. Accordingly, hotels first serve boiled water flavoured with some kind of `chukkuvellam' powder available in the market. Hotel Dwaraka, for example, has been serving `chukkuvellam' for the last decade or so. "Earlier, we used to serve water boiled with coriander seeds. In the rainy season, most people prefer medicated or boiled water. We don't serve plain boiled water as most people may not like its taste," says Jayaprakash, manager of the hotel. However, non-Keralites, especially the North Indians prefer cold water and ask for it. While, foreign tourists prefer mineral water and mostly demand certified brands. "Since they are travelling they don't like to change their drinking water as this could upset their throat," Mr. Jayaprakash adds. Manmadhan, manager of the Indian Coffee House, subscribes to this view: "When people ask for cold water or mineral water, we first explain to them that this is boiled and medicated water and it is being served under government instructions. But we have to serve what the customer asks. Most North Indians prefer cold, mineral or plain water. But the first thing on the table is medicated water only. For the last eight years we have been serving water boiled with `pathimukham'."

However, not all types of medicated water suit everybody. It depends on the body constitution, seasonal variations and place of residence. Explaining in detail, Mr. Mooss says that generally the purpose of `chukkuvellam' type of processed water is to increase appetite, digest foods, clear abdominal discomforts etc. Hence herbs with opposite qualities should not be consumed. For example, in vitiation of `kapha' and `vatha' diseases, `chukku' is good. `Jeeraka' alleviates kapha and `vatha doshas,' but vitiates `pitha dosha.' `Pathimukham' alleviates `kapha and pitha doshas.'" If one is selecting drinking water on the basis of Ayurvedic science, a lot of things have to be taken into consideration, he adds. Every Vaidyan's advice is that medicated water should be taken fresh, not more than a day old. Dr. Sreedharan Nair emphasises this should not even be stored overnight. Agrees Dr. Sunil Kumar, "The very meaning of medicated water is that it has to be boiled for at least five minutes, which most people seem to ignore. `Tulasi' or pepper water is good for cold and throat infections. `Panakam' water has ingredients like `ramachcham,' `iriveli' and sandalwood, which give a cooling effect to the body in summer."

All that is available in the market as `chukkuvellam' powder may not be good or made according to the instructions given in the Ayurvedic texts, as far as the combinations of the ingredients are concerned. It is said that some even add artificial colour. There seem to have been instances of hospitals being unable to take X-ray pictures because of the coating of these colours inside the body in some patients.

`Chukku' magic

DR. NEELAKANDHAN MOOSS of Vaidyratnam Oushadashala, Thaikkattussery, explains some of the characteristics of `chukku' (dried ginger), which is used in almost all medicinal preparations especially in decoctions. In Ayurveda, fresh ginger is known as `ardraka' and dried ginger is known as `suntee.' In a lot of contexts we can see `chukku' as one of the ingredients along with other ingredients. Some examples are :

a) Decoction of `mahabala' root and `chukku' checks malarial fever with rigor and burning sensation in two or three days (Ref: Bhavaprakasam)

b) Decoction of `chukku,' added with honey, alleviates loss of appetite, dyspepsia and cough (Ref: Bhavaprakasam)

c) One should take water processed with `vacha,' `athivisha,' `mustha,' `parpata,' `hribera' and `chukku' for improving appetite and digestion (Ref: Charakam)

d) In case of toxicity, indigestion, piles and constipation one should use regularly `chukku,' `pippali,' `harithaki' or `dadima' (Ref: Vrinda Madhavam).

e) Decoction of `chukku' stimulates digestive fire quickly and there is no need of other drugs for this purpose (Ref: Vrinda Madhavam).

f) Water processed with `kantakari,' `chukku' or `dhanyaka' should be given as post meal drink. It acts as carminative and laxative (Ref: Charakam).

g) Taking a decoction of `chukku' and `eranda' root added with `hingu' and `souvarchala' gives relief from pain instantaneously.

h) Hot decoction of `chukku' promotes digestion, alleviates cough, asthma, colic and heart diseases.

i) Boiled and cooled water processed with `bala' or `prisniparni' or `kautakari' combined with `chukku' should be drunk in all cases of alcoholism (Ref: Charakam).

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