Ayurveda healing method finds footing in Malaysia

The steamer that was brought in from India.
PHOTO: Ayurveda healing method finds footing in Malaysia

Ayurveda, One of the world's oldest holistic healthcare systems, has been around for more than 5,000 years.

According to history, although many Indians in the continent use some form of Ayurvedic therapy, the tradition was left on the wayside for a few centuries due to natural calamities and the invasion of foreign cultures into India.

But a handful of traditional doctors continued to apply some of the practices and slowly, grew the field.

What started as an oral tradition has now evolved into a billion-dollar industry worldwide.

Among the pioneering groups promoting Ayurvedic treatment centres, hospital and resorts, both in India and overseas, is the Kairali Ayurvedic Group.

With more than eight decades of experience in the traditional science, the group opened its first flagship outlet in Malaysia, Kairali Herbals (M) Sdn Bhd, in 2011.

Wholly owned by Gouden Riche International, publishers of Cine Fashion and Indian Wedding magazines, the Malaysian outlet is run by three siblings - R. Sivakumar, R. Selvie and R. Selvanthran.

The journey into the alternative healing business started when Selvie suffered a knee problem that progressively worsened.

She decided to head to one of the Kairali centres in India to try Ayurvedic treatment for her knee.

"I could feel a difference after two weeks of Ayurvedic treatments. Later, my brothers flew down and tried different rejuvenating therapies. They found it beneficial, too," said Selvie.

Once home, she adhered to the recommended diet and lifestyle and after a few months, her knee was feeling better. That was when the trio decided to open a Kairali branch here.

Months of negotiations later, Kairali's owners agreed with the strict condition that the standards must be on par with their outlets in India. The outlet is registered with the Malaysian Association of Traditional Indian Medicine (Peptim), the local authority approving Ayurvedic physicians and centres.

"Yes, it is a business but we aim to offer services at a reasonable cost with good quality products. Since we already had experience handling different businesses, we were not worried about making a profit.

"Our only concern was that there were no Ayurvedic doctors here so we had to source them from India.

"It was tough in the early stages. It took us one year to get the workers and set up the centre," Sivakumar said.

Initially, they rented a spacious bungalow to house the outlet but after months of waiting for permits to be approved by local authorities, they had to give it up. The loss amounted to RM100,000.

It was also a long, tedious process to register the herbal medicines.

"When all these challenges were thrown our way, I was wondering if we were doing the right thing.

"After all, we were new to the field of traditional medicine. There were many times I wanted to give up but I am glad we persevered.

"Perhaps in a way, it was a blessing that we secured the current location because parking is easy, it is quiet and there is no heavy traffic, which was our main concern," he said.

Everything in the flagship outlet was imported from India - the droni beds and the steamers were specially flown in.

Sivakumar explained, "We don't have the expertise to blend the herbs here and it's cheaper to bring it in from India. When we run out, we can get the orders in a day."

With four therapists and a doctor, the shoplot outlet in Petaling Jaya is small but it has been attracting a steady stream of patients, all through word of mouth.

The initial investment was RM350,000 and in three months, they broke even. Now, the monthly expenses amount to RM30,000, with the bulk of it going towards purchasing the oils.

"There are more than 100 types of oils and we have to buy it according to the conditions being treated. These are expensive. For example, somebody who is diabetic requires a different oil from someone who has spondylosis," Sivakumar explained.

The place exudes warmth and tranquillity. For critical patients, there is a therapy room on the ground floor. Otherwise, the floors are segregated by gender, with male therapists for male clients and female therapists for female clients.

Selvie said, "It has been an interesting journey. We practise what we preach. The treatment can be catered to all age groups. For some patients who cannot afford the fee, we do it for free. It is our way of giving back to society.

"The Kairali founders drop by occasionally and thus far, they are happy with us. Now, we are looking for a bigger premises where we can have in-patients, yoga classes and offer a total package. But we are taking it one step at a time."

Selvakumar chipped in, "We want to make it a broad spectrum business. We also want to educate the public on what Ayurveda can do. The benefits with topical medication alone is remarkable, even if you don't take any herbs internally."

Besides their other businesses, which include the Chennai Kitchen restaurant, the siblings share a passion for holistic treatment.

Do they fight?

"We argue over business matters but as a family, we are extremely close-knit," said Selvie.

"You could say Selvanthran is the mover and shaker - he seals all the deals while Sivakumar takes care of the operations. I am the balancing factor," she added.

With everything running smoothly, the siblings want to expand the outlet to Penang and Johor Baru within the next two years.