Sanjivani is the stuff of myth: an herb that glows in the dark and has the power to revive the dying, wrenching them back from the fog of unconsciousness. In the Ramayana, a sacred Hindu epic, the herb is used to resuscitate both the god-hero Rama and his younger brother Lakshmana.
Could it really exist? A government minister in the Indian state of Uttarakhand wants to mount an expedition to find out.
Surendra Singh Negi is the state’s minister for alternative medicine, and he says he is worried that continued forest fires in the Himalayas may be wiping out rare and valuable plant life. You can tell that the hills of Uttarakhand are abundant in medicinal plants, he says, from the fragrant smoke that the fires give off.
Medicinal herbs are central to the traditional practice of ayurvedic medicine in India. But little has been done to scientifically study and preserve the medicinal herbs of the Himalayas, Mr. Negi says. So he has proposed spending 250 million rupees ($3.75 million) of tax money to send a team of ayurvedic practitioners into the mountains.
Mayaram Uniyal, the state’s ayurvedic adviser, says an herb that could be the real-life version of the legendary sanjivani has been seen growing on the slopes of Dunagiri, a mountain in northern Uttarakhand.
“It has a special fragrant smell, with unmatched sheen, and lights up in the night,” Mr. Uniyal said. “Both its flowers and milk are yellow. The herb is used extensively by the local shepherds when someone is unconscious, in pain or even under stress.”
“We need to study its active ingredients with clinical trials, to come to know what exactly is in it that resuscitates an unconscious man,” Mr. Uniyal said. He added that while hopes for the plant are high, no one expects it to have one ability that the Ramayana ascribes to sanjivani: resurrecting the dead.
“These are imaginative stories, as you might say,” said Robert P. Goldman, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley, and the principal translator of a critical edition of the Ramayana. “It’s interesting how these things can come into modernity as traditions that people follow.”
A similar search for sanjivani was proposed in Uttarakhand in 2009, but it did not receive financing. This time around, “it should happen,” Mr. Negi said.
“When you decide something,” he said, “the road comes to greet you and you achieve your goals.”
Source: The New York Times