Since time immemorial bathing has occupied an important place in the life of man. Whether it is in the village pond or in the luxurious bathroom of a five star hotel, taking a bath is a refreshing experience. Needless to say many people believe a bath cleanses the body as well as the soul.
In the annals of history people of different countries have attached varying importance to the rituals of bathing. The therapeutic usage of water in baths was understood as far back as in the ancient civilisations of Egypt and India. Archaeologists have found the remains of baths in Greece and Babylon as well.
There is evidence of public baths in the ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa believed to be 4500 years old. Historical evidence clearly shows that the people of the Indus valley civilisation believed in the importance of bathing and the public baths had a specific drainage system as well.
It is believed that the early Greeks took daily baths to refresh themselves and to increase their vigour. The Romans also took great interest in bathing and there are evidences of huge “community bathing centres” among the ruins of Roman civilisation.
In ancient Rome only the wealthy could afford private bathrooms. But the Romans built public baths in nearly every city of their empire. The bath houses had facilities for warm and cold baths, steam baths and massages. By the 20’s BC they had become places of social gathering with marble floors and columns, painted ceilings and statues. The public baths also included gardens, gymnasiums, libraries, meeting halls and theatres. The baths of Caracella in Rome built in the early AD 200’s could hold 1600 bathers at a time.
Indians are perhaps the only people who have made the daily bath a part of the religious ritual. Most Indians prefer to have a bath early in the morning soon after clearing heir bowels. A bath always precedes the daily Puja. In some Hindu families the women must get up early in the morning have a bath, change their clothes and then only enter the kitchen.
The Sikhs also attach a lot of importance to the bath (ishnaan) which is at par with prayer (naam) and charity (daan). Sikh rituals prescribe a bath in the ‘sarovar’ (sacred tank) alongside a Gurudwara as a spiritual cleanser. The most important sarovar is the one in the middle of which stands the “Harminder Sahib”, the Golden Temple. The tank was dug by the fourth Sikh Guru, Ramdas.
The Hindus believe that bathing in the sacred Ganges River cleanses out all their sins. The auspicious moments of the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad and other holy places draw lakhs of devotees from India and abroad to take a holy dip in the Ganges.
In the west, bathing in running water is not very common. People prefer to have a bath in a bathtub. Daily bathing is not a must in many countries and till recently most homes in some countries didn’t have a proper bathroom. A quick shower is what they resort to. A proper body wash is often a week-end, rather than a daily, ritual.
Europeans have an interesting history of bathing. Long before they embraced Christianity, Scandinavians and Germans bathed naked in lakes and rivers during summer, and in heated public baths in winter. With the advent of Christianity nakedness came to be associated with vulgarity and was considered sinful.
There are four main types of bathing:
- bathing for cleanliness
- Medical bathing
- Bathing for relaxation or pleasure and
- religious bathing.
While bathing for cleanliness is common enough, medical baths may relax muscles, enlarge blood vessels, improve circulation or treat arthritis, polio, rheumatism and bone and muscle injury. For hundreds of years people have visited health resorts called spas for medical baths. The famous Taptapani (Hot Springs) in Orissa draw lakhs of people every year. Bathing for relaxation and pleasure involve cleansing of the body as well as the soul. Christians celebrate a person’s entrance into the Christian faith with a ceremony called Baptism in which a person is dipped in water or sprinkled with water to wash away his sins.
A bath has been an indispensable part of a woman’s beauty regimen. The legendary beauty Cleopatra is believed to have bathed 60 times a day in ass’ milk, which is thought to be the secret of her velvety skin. Another beauty Nell Gwyu, mistress of Charles II, had rain water collected for her bath, while precious herbs were brought from distant lands for the bath recipes of Catherine the Great. The Mughal Empresses of India are said to have enjoyed luxurious baths attended upon by a retinue of servants to pamper them.
The traditional oil bath of South India is a beauty treatment in itself. The practice of having a good oil massage from head to toe, prior to the bath, goes back to ancient times. The oil bath has many uses – it guards the body against the ravaging effects of detergents, chemicals, dyes from clothing, smoke, gasoline fumes and sprays, as well as harsh winds, effects of the sun and exposure.
In today’s fast paced world when everyone has a very tight schedule. A lazy, languorous and luxurious bath may not be possible every day. However our daily bath can easily be turned into a brief beauty treatment for each one of us.
The first thing to keep in mind is the cleanliness of the bathroom. Each family member should clean the bathroom by turns. Cleaning agents should be kept handy. Separate towels should be used by each family member. The hand towel on the rack near the basin should be changed frequently. Soap, shampoo, pumice stone, loofah, body/face wash, gel etc should all be kept in the bathroom cabinet.
Do try to relax when you are having a bath - don’t rush through it as if it is a chore. Do not carry your stress and tension inside the bathroom. Turn on some music, hum your favourite tune or turn to pleasant thoughts while you are bathing. Tell others not to disturb you. Use a loofah to rub your back, a pumice stone on your heels and a soap/shampoo which suits your skin type. Pay special attention to your knees, heels, elbows, armpits, back of the neck, between the toes etc. Do not bathe in either very hot or very cold water. Dry yourself thoroughly and dust talcum powder on your body. Wear fresh clothes and come out feeling on top of the world.
Though a number of soaps, body scrubs, gels, bath oils etc are available in the market, they all contain artificial ingredients which may be harmful for your skin. Try using natural things instead. A good substitute for soap is besan (gram flour). Spread a paste of besan and flour all over your body, allow to dry and then scrub – this removes all the ingrained dirt and grime. If you do not have time for an oil massage before your bath, you can put a few drops of oil in your bath water – it keeps your skins young and supple.
When you are tired a salt bath works wonders and helps to relax tired muscles. Add a handful of salt to a bucketful of tepid water and use it for a bath. Then use cold water to which some lime juice has been added – this gives a tingling freshness.
For a fragrant bath you can add petals of fresh flowers (rose, jasmine or champak) to the bath water. You can also throw in a few crushed lemon leaves into your bath water. A spoonful of honey added to your bath water every day leaves your skins soft and glowing. To relieve dry skin add a cup of milk to your bath water. If your limbs are aching add a tablespoon of powdered mustard seeds into a hot bucketful of water. Mix well, add cold water, and use it to bathe.
The sauna bath was first introduced in Scandinavian countries and is now becoming increasingly popular all over the world. It cleans the pores, stimulates the skin and invigorates the body and is a very rewarding and rejuvenating experience. Mud baths, sulphur baths and mineral baths are also beneficial.
You can choose the time of your daily bath as per your personal schedule. Though an early morning bath is the best way to start the day, many people prefer to have a bath in the evenings to wipe out the fatigue and tension of the whole day. Still others prefer to have a bath at night just before retiring as it helps to have a good night’s sleep.