The problem of avoidable blindness rapidly escalating remained a major cause of concern in the Indian healthcare scenario. In a developing country the government alone cannot meet the health needs of all owing to a number of challenges like growing population, inadequate infrastructure, low per capita income, aging population, diseases in epidemic proportions and illiteracy.
Realizing this, Dr. Venkataswamy wished to establish an alternate health care model that could supplement the efforts of the government and also be self supporting. Following his retirement at age 58 in 1976, he established the GOVEL Trust under
which Aravind Eye Hospitals were founded.
The hospitals were named after Sr Aurobindo, one of the 20th century's most revered spiritual leaders. In essence, Sri Aurobindo's teachings insist on transcendence into a heightened state of consciousness and becoming better instruments for the divine force to work through.
Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must also be the joy of doing something beautiful. Being of service to God and humanity means going well beyond the sophistication of the best technology, to the humble demonstration of courtesy and compassion to each patient.
FOUNDER CHAIRMAN Dr. G. Venkataswamy or 'Dr. V' as he is affectionately called is the founder chairman of Aravind Eye Hospital. He was born on October 1, 1918 in Vadamalapuram, a village eighty kilometers from Madurai. He began his university education in the American college, Madurai from which he graduated with a B.A. in chemistry. He received his medical degree from Stanley Medical College at Chennai in 1944.
Thereafter, he joined the Indian Army Medical Corps but had to retire in 1948 after developing rheumatoid arthritis. At one point, the arthritis became so severe that he was bedridden for over a year. For a time, he struggled just to walk and could not hold a pen in his badly crippled fingers.
Despite his condition, he returned to medical school and earned his diploma and masters degree in Ophthalmology. Through his hard work and determination, Dr. V learned how to hold a scalpel and perform cataract surgery. Eventually, he was able to perform more than one hundred surgeries a day.
Dr. V joined the faculty at Madurai Medical College, a government school , where he was appointed head of the Department of Ophthalmology and later served as Vice- Dean of the college. During his period of government service, Dr. V introduced a number of innovative programmes to deal with the problem of blindness in India. He developed the outreach eye camp programmes in 1960, a rehabilitation centre for the blind in 1966, and the creation of an ophthalmic Assistants Training programme in 1973. In his clinical work, Dr. V personally performed over one hundred thousand successful eye surgeries.
In recognition of his work in the fight against blindness, Dr, V received the Padmashree award in 1973 by the Government of India. This award is given to citizens, who have rendered outstanding service to their nation. In 1976, after mandatory retirement from government service at age of 58, Dr. V resolved to continue his work in eye care delivery. With support from his family, he founded Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai , a non profit institution dedicated to providing high quality eye care to all patients who come to its door.
Dr. V blends his spiritual life to his daily work remarkably well. As a young man, he became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher and saint who lived in service to God and man. Aravind was founded on this principle of service and continues to be guided by it.
In 1991, as part of its Wit lectures series, Dr. V was invited to deliver an address at the Harvard Divinity School on the theme of living a spiritual life in the contemporary age. The address entitled 'Illuminated Spirit', has been published and read by many people.
Dr. V begins and ends every day at the hospital with a visit to the meditation room for "a silent talk with God". In discussing his work as a spiritual practice, Dr. V has said, "When I go to meditation room at the hospital every morning, I ask God that I be a better tool, a receptacle for the divine force. We can all serve humanity in our normal professional lives by being more generous and less selfish in what we do. You don't have to be a 'religious' person to serve God. You serve God by serving humanity."
The results of putting his philosophy into action is evident in the remarkable career of Dr. V and the growth of Aravind Eye Hospital into an internationally renowned institution since inception in 1976.
Aravind Eye Care System will remember the year 2006 as the year it lost its founder
, the legendary Padmashree Dr. G. Venkataswamy on July 7. Dr V's life was a long dedication to serving the Divine through work in the field of eye care. His tireless vision, inspiring leadership as well as his selflessness and humility shaped Aravind into all that it is today.