The Rediff Special/ George Iype
What do you get when you mix doses of spiritualism, meditation, tourism and over 25 systems of modern and traditional medicines?
Spiritual and physical transcendence? Or a money-spinning tourist attraction?
Kerala, for one, hopes the latter will strongly supplement the former. After revitalising backwater tourism and making the state one of India's top travel destinations, God's Own Country is readying to offer its vistors a 'totally new experience.' It is in the process of setting up a Holistic Health Village.
The concept of spiritual tourism has resulted in a strange union -- that of the Marxists-led Left Democratic Front government with Kerala's renowned spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi. Together, they will float a limited company with an equity base of Rs 2.5 billion (Rs 250 crore) to set up the proposed HHV.
The government has already allocated 308 acres of land at Kinalur, in Kozhikode district, for the HHV. Originally, though, spiritual tourism was nowhere in the government's scheme of things. The industry-starved state badly needed an industrial park; the first one, it was decided, would be developed in north Kerala. Chief Minister E K Nayanar deputed Jiji Thomson, who was appointed managing director of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation last November, to develop one at Kinalur.
Mata Amritanandamayi with Thomson (right)
Soon after, the IAS officer set off to see the allocated acres. "I was wonderstruck by the land's marvellous and serene beauty. I felt it would be cruel to set up an industrial park by destroying the trees and the tranquility of the hillside expanse." Thomson delivered his judgement. "The site," he wrote to the government, "is ill-suited for an industrial park." For he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the 320 acres.
Thomson had, for years, been quietly nurturing the idea of a holistic village that would combine the best of medical and spiritual healing. "There is so much tension, depression and violence happening in our country and the world. Yet, we don't have a centre that will heal both physical and spiritual diseases under one roof. Kinalur's unspoiled and beautiful land is the best site for such a centre," Thomson told rediff.com.
But when he completed a project report on the setting up of the Village, Thomson realised no government department -- including the KSIDC -- could make it a success. "The government can only offer facilities. We do not have the technical expertise and manpower to run a world-class centre that will combine spirituality, medicare and tourism," he said.
So Thomson turned to Mata Amritanandamayi -- a spiritual leader for whom he had much respect. "I believe the Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt is best-suited to set up and run the Holistic Health Village. Amma (as she is known to millions of her ardent followers) has the necessary expertise and experience, since she is running several medical, social and spiritual centres across the country." Amma, when approached, was equally excited about the project.
Thomson deliberately avoided Christian and Hindu-run trusts. " I do not want to make it a religious centre," he explains. "Trusts run by Christian and Hindu religious leaders have very rigid parameters. Look at Mata Amritanandamayi. She is the epitome of all religions. You enter her room; there is the photograph of Jesus Christ and many Hindu gods. She is above all partisan religions. She believes in the philosophy of love. She will be the focal point of the Holistic Health Village."
In the past couple of months, Thomson met Amma three times, convincing her that only she could bring in the resources and international expertise to launch the HHV. Once she agreed, Thomson presented his project to the government. Work will soon begin in this sprawling area in Kinalur, which is surrounded by hillocks, rivers and trees. A massive on-site administration block, built for the industrial park, is being transformed into the HHV's office.
The state government has suggested Mata Amritanandamayi take 88 per cent equity in the soon-to-be-floated limited company. If she agrees, the remaining 12 per cent will remain with KSIDC. Thomson says leading banks and financial institutions, sensing the immense potential of the project, have already pledged loans worth millions of rupees.
But what will be on offer at the Holistic Health Village?
When completed, say KSIDC and Mata Amritanandamayi, the HHV will have various systems of medicines from different parts of the world, alternative therapies, lifestyle programmes and holistic techniques to improve spiritual and physical energy. According to Thomson, the HHV will promote at least 25 systems of medicines, including allopathy, ayurveda, Chinese medicines, homeopathy, juice therapy, nutritional therapy, accupuncture, naturopathy, faith healing, yoga, Unani, music therapy, Tibetan medicines, kinesiology, aromatherapy, colon and flower remedies, light therapy and iridology.
The promoters hope to attract international tourists with their vast array of spiritual and physical therapies. To this end, they are also including a helicopter service from Kozhikode airport to Kinalur, which lies some 100 kilometers north. HHV, with a projected revenue turnover of nearly Rs 1.7 billion (Rs 170 crore) per annum, hopes to break even by the fifth year.
How does Mata Amritanandamayi -- who spends most of her time transferring spiritual energy by hugging millions of devotees across the world -- feel about joining hands with the government for such a huge project? "Who said there cannot be cooperation between the government and a spiritual institution?" asks a spokesperson of the Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt at Amritapuri in Kerala's Kollam district.
Her associates say that Amma has taken up serveral social services projects to help the sick and poor; the proposed Holistic Health Village will be the biggest of them all. Currently an estimated 100,000 people are treated free each year at her 925-bed Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi. More than 15,000 children are educated at her schools. She has built houses for nearly 25,000 families, old women and widows across the country.
Now, Amma's compassion and love will help the government set a new trend of spiritual tourism in God's Own Country!
Design: Dominic Xavier
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