In a dim-lit room, heavy with the smell of herbs and oil, a man was chanting ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Maha Sudarshan Vasudevaya Dhanvantaraye’ — a prayer for lord Dhanvantary, the God of Ayurveda. The preparations for a ‘panchakarma’ and ‘shirodhara’ that he had elaborately made already, was part of a traditional Ayurvedic treatment. For next one hour his hand movements were a meticulously synchronized effort to relax and refresh body. ‘Abhyangam’- the therapeutic massage that he performed, keeping strokes and pressure according to a patient’s body condition, was not only aimed at relieving joints and muscles off stiffness. But he kept on stimulating blood circulation, removing metabolic wastes and balancing ‘doshas’ through the rhythmic and vigorous movements.
Over past few years Kolkata has started waking up to words like Abhyangam and Patra Pinda Swedana—a traditional Ayurvedic therapy practiced at select wellness centres. “It took time to make people aware about the wellness through alternative methods like Ayurveda. But now it has been accepted not only as a mode of treatment, but a part of regular wellness,” said Suparna Sarkar, general manager of Vedic Village Spa Resort-eastern India’s first NABH accreditated medical spa. The secret of Abhyangam and Shirodhara lies in identifying therapeutically active oils and herbs, which is absorbed fast by the body and get directly into the blood stream. Unlike the Thai or Ballinese massage, Abhyangam, performed on Droni (a wooden table), is aimed at detoxifying the body and mind.
The increasing interest in naturopathy has prompted nodal industry associations like the Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry to prepare a report on Wellness Tourism in the state. “Kolkata as well as Bengal has a huge potential in terms of Wellness tourism. There is a need of structural planning to develop integrated wellness centers,” said Ambarish Dasgupta president of BCCI. Wellness tourism in India, pegged at around $ 4.7 billion industry, is poised to grow at the highest rate in the world in next few years. Kolkata, which so far contributes to a very small portion of the industry, is also picking up fast.
A sizeable section of the population, which earlier flew to Bally or Kerala for an authentic treatment and detoxification sessions, has now taken recourse to places in and around Kolkata. “The young generation of the city has understood that they need to take a pause in their hectic schedules. So they are looking for a combination of therapy and holiday,” said Simon D’Rozario director of Raichak on Ganges. “It is not always a therapeutic session that they are looking for. Wellness now means relaxation and a good amount of pampering for them,” he said.
Anaya Spa, part of the Raichak on Ganges started in 2002, but took time to take off. Initially it was run by the Maldives based chain Serena Spa but last year it tied up with L’Occitane. The French spa chain is known for exotic ingredients like Immortelle (an everlasting flower) from Corsica in Italy, Lavender from Provence in France and Dhea butter from Burkina Faso. “Professionals in Kolkata as well as rest of Bengal are now ready for such exotic treatments. We have around 6,000 people on an average taking a plunge into the wellness of light aromatic oils,” said Rozario. “It not only helps them in relieving off stress, but comes with an exquisite sense of holidaying, he felt.