Dr Sumit Kesarkar - an Ayurvedic doctor and Yogi with a camera and a journey to the centre of his soul
by Sandra Radja
I know when I travel, sitting on a train going from A to B, I sometimes just want to stop in the middle, in a remote village, and fall into some strange other existence, encountering a wise mystic and medicine man that will teach you the ways of the world. The idea is it should be hard to get to, this special place, and when you turn to leave it, it disappears - not unlike Narnia. It should be about the warrior spirit in you, fighting dragons (internal wars of karma) and saving captured princesses (inner beauty). It should be transformative rather than the tourist achievement of Lonely Planet guides. For anyone of us on this magical mystery tour, we long to reach that star studded, golden hued based frequency where it suddenly makes sense; we can take the lessons learned and realise that it's for humanity as a whole. That we are part of everything and become caretakers instead of just takers.
Back in the day, travellers on spice routes and land claiming routes brought stories with them about the wonders beyond; about different cultures and foods. We have always been excited about the way others do things. These days we have social media and photography. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a photo can hold the weight of words when taken by a soul that brings their experience and passion to the situation. It certainly takes a sensitive soul to immerse themselves in a culture foreign to them; to be humbled enough to be completely open to the ways of others and to learn without criticism and then take those messages, decode the essence and teach others in different environments.
Meet Dr Sumit Kesarkar. His stories will inspire a travellers curiosity in you. He created his own fairytale journey with an initial desire to help his father's state of health and then others at large. Ayurveda or Yoga or any spiritual study seems bland without the heart and soul behind it. This kind of passion cannot be taught; it's a journey that needs to be chosen by your Self. And his passion for delivering the message via photography helps us to see what he can see. I'm grateful for the brave souls out there, such as Dr Kesarkar, showing us that a dharmic impulse, if created for the good of all, will be sustainable and take care of you, whilst you take care of others.
1. Dr Sumit, you appear to have quite an adventurous spirit, traveling to the source of information to sense for yourself where herbs or stories originate. Where does the impulse come from?
It's a long story but to be precise , it starts from my fathers illness when I was studying Ayurveda in college. My father is a medical doctor of modern medicine and was suffering from a peculiar disorder where he used to pass around 10-20 kidney stones per day and no one was able to diagnose or provide relief from any branches of medicine, including Ayurveda. Around that time I met a sadhu by accident (holy man) who just by looking at me gave me some roots and informed its use for my father. I was hesitant at first but after many months of his suffering I decided to give it a go and told my father that I had got it from a good Ayurvedic doctor. He was happy that I was showing some interest in medicine, took it with a prescribed diet and in 6 days he was cured.
That intrigued me to know more about this traditional system of diagnosis, which was not very apparent in the colleges we studied where the emphasis was more on modern way of diagnostics. I was lucky to find some old handwritten books during this time whose language I learnt myself (ancient Modi script). I decoded the plants, methods, alchemical data, Yogic data and decided to seek the information by traveling. I started my journey from the Sahyadri hills in Western India learning, documenting and implementing these practices in my clinic which eventually led me to the Himalayas. My travels outside India to places like Iceland were also a part of studying various people and their life in accordance to yogic philosophy of sun and moon.
2. I enjoy story telling and liken photo journalism as a way to allow the observer to sit with the story and imagine themselves transported to the scene.What does photography mean for you? Why do you do it? How important do you feel personal expression is in being healthy?
For me its a moment which gets transformed to memory. Visiting nearly inaccessible places and interacting with Yogis who actually display their prowess in trying conditions, taking good pictures was never an issue as one just needs to click. For me, initially, they were just documents of my travel. However when people started reacting to the photos and understanding the stories behind it, photography opened up different dimensions for me. As one reads and understands spirituality more, especially the upanishads ( yogic traditions) as I was exposed to in my travels, one understand these moments better and co-relates them to the cosmos and existence. This helps one to understand nature and its play of light and shadows, the cold, the heat and yourself in various ways. These are moments I try to capture in my pictures, which keep myself grounded and help me to understand my insignificance in front of nature.
To answer your second question, I quote a beautiful verse from Charak which is the genesis of health. Charak says that “if you are unhappy you are diseased”. The entire meaning of life is to be “happy” and move on with whatever life throws at you. I feel if one can just “let go” and move on to higher planes in this decaying body he/ she will always express health and it will rub onto others around them.
3. Who is the most inspiring teacher you've come across in your travels?
It has been 13 years so it will be difficult to name. I have learnt from Aghori’s in crematoriums to Hath Yogis in the highlands, the poison doctors and traditional healers of Sahyadri’s to the siddhars (alchemists) of southern India . There have been some brilliant minds and not only from the Ayurveda or Yoga field but I have seen a variety of interpretations of the Vedic scriptures, all from their own personal experience. Then there are also my friends, in whose daily problems I have learnt the application of Upanishads and also a few of my students who have taught me some great lessons.
I remember a very old Hath Yogi in Kedar valley of himalayas, whom I used to call Bade Babaji as he was old yet looked very young due to his yogic prowess with complete control on breath and heart. He taught me about the secret science of Marma and its application in Hatha Yog. While departing he said that “the greatest teacher is time and one must always keep observing and reflecting on the knowledge gained, since in various corners of life it appeals to us in different ways and discloses things that never were apparent before”.
I respect whatever teachings I have been lucky enough to be imparted during my travels through India and abroad.
4. Not only for myself, but for many others I know, I find it difficult to keep to my daily practise when I'm moving around. How do you keep to your daily practise? What can't you do without?
I try and implement my teachings in my life. Each person becomes engaged in their own lives of family, money, material gains and their own existence. Each one of us wants that extra bit and we do not let go. We compromise on our dreams. I was a computer programmer before I entered medicine at a young age and had seen the delusion of such a competitive life. When I took up clinical practice, I started respecting my dreams in life. I understood that we all come with some karma in the form of desires and if one is lucky to be in a situation to explore them, to have a healthy body and an ability to choose, then one must make that choice.
I had this innate desire to learn and explore the dimensions of this amazing science. It was difficult as the work I do, so few people do in India so I had to create my own path and for that I had to believe that if i am talented and knowledgeable, I will never be out of work or money. I just need to let go of all insecurities. Hence I created strict rules to check if i can follow my beliefs. I work only 2 hours a day seeing limited people who mostly have challenging disorders. The rest of my time goes in preparing medicines , documenting and decoding information and experimenting with practices of Yoga and meditation. I make it a point to travel anywhere and, if needed, at the cost of my practice because for me the experience of travel imparts a lot of joy. I do my clinical practice without any insecurities of failure and believe that if I am meant to be successful I will or else something else maybe planned for me.
One needs to be bold to let go and only then the world will open up. We all have our share of misery but its the attitude that matters. To answer your other question there are many things I cannot do without but I make it a point to always test myself out of my comfort zone from where the actual teachings come. I cannot be comfortable being stuck in a mental block for too long and I'm always striving to ensure I'm moving forward.
5. Meeting so many different cultures and observing how they adapt to the environment, it's no wonder Ayurveda is gaining popularity on treating the individual, not the disease. But at a collective level, what's your opinion on who we are as a human race?
I had made this video on Prakriti for my online course at NLAM. Through it I had explained how different manifestations stem from the same source. We just feel different due to our own levels of material existence and the consciousness that builds around it. For example, a person like myself from a less developed country like India in terms of infrastructure and services, when I visit a developed country in Europe it's a tendency to ponder as to how life would be so great there; how people would be happy. They have nothing to complain about as their basic needs are taken care of. However this notion is false as even in that country people are unhappy about things which may not even be in contemplation for me. So as humans we all share the same states of happiness and unhappiness in terms of emotions, disease and opinion but it reflects in different ways.
Where we differ from other manifestations like animals is our ability to understand these states of misery and move on a path where they may not exist. If happiness was the key to liberation than all animals would have achieved it , but as the Vedas say, it's only through human birth one gets this realization of the state of liberation. So to summarize, I feel the human race is the evolved form of all manifestations through which the cycle of birth and death can be vanquished. We all have started somewhere and are progressing in this innate cycle of birth sustenance and destruction which goes on without a break at each level of existence around us.
6. What do you feel is the purpose of your Dharma?
My only aim is to pass on this knowledge to the future generation. This knowledge is lost through the political and geographical scenarios India had faced. The knowledge which is passed through traditions is only accessible to the few who have made no effort to document or preserve it. Through NLAM I have tried to create a platform where this knowledge base can be made accessible. I teach MarmaYoga an amalgamation of all my knowledge of Ayurveda, Hatha Yoga and Tantra in a form which will help healers of Yoga and Ayurveda to implement this teaching in their practice and be successful. I have also started few projects with students in Europe to document continental plants and understand them from Ayurveda principles so they may get necessary resources to start their practice and not be reliant on the declining population of herbs in India. I hope with time I can create good teachers training in the form of one-on-one like “guru shishya parampara” who can take ahead all this knowledge and implement it in their own field of expertise.
I am an Ayurvedic doctor [BAMS} and have done my Ph.D in medicinal plants. I have travelled extensively through India to document traditional practises of Ayurveda, Alchemy and Yoga.
Through NLAM I have been offering free Ayurveda education. The Basic Ayurveda course is free. It opens every 3 months. The next course will open in July and you can resister anytime . I send an application form once the new enrollment starts.
And currently through Marmayog I aim to bring forth all my teachings as a basis to educate others.
Dr Sumit can also be reached at www.drsumit.in.