Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bath Tales


Among the civilized nations of the world, it is only in India that ‘bathing’ [Snana in Sanskrit] has been given considerable importance and considered a routine activity which precedes all the other activities of the day. Particularly in the life of a Hindu, even though the activity just keeps the body and mind healthy and clean, bathing is considered a sacrament that elevates the bather spiritually. According to the Hindu scriptures, the bath should always be accompanied by the chanting of the Vedic Mantras.
Even though this practice is prevalent nowadays only in a few devout Brahmin families, recitation of the following shloka, remembering a few sacred rivers in India ,can still be observed while people take a dip in the holy rivers during festival time :.

‘Gange Cha Yamune Chaiva Godavari Saraswathi

Narmade Sindhu Kaveri Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru’

The purpose of this shloka is to invoke the river goddesses [All rivers are considered sacred and as representatives of the Divine in the Hindu scripture] and seek their blessings.

It is difficult to pinpoint as to when exactly bathing started in India as it has been an integral part of human activity ever since the dawn of civilization. Archaeological evidence reveals the existence of cities, which existed more than 5,000 years ago, which show the existence of earthen pipes which supplied water to the bathers to have their bath. This is clearly visible in the Indus Valley Civilization excavations. Even in later periods, Indian history records details of elaborate bathing arrangements made by several Kings in their States for the convenience of the Queens who found great enjoyment while bathing. In Hampi, capital of theVijayanagar Kingdom as also in Srirangapatnam in Karnataka, we can see several bathing structures which were used by Queens.. That bathing in sacred rivers is a religious and sacred ceremony from time immemorial can be witnessed even today when millions of people gather on the river banks, particularly on specified festival days like the Kumbha Mela.

Ancient Romans devised the most marvelous baths called as ‘Thermae’. These baths were enjoyed in elaborate bath rooms housed in massive buildings with apartments, maintained at different temperatures by burning coal or wood. Wealthy Romans bathed in these luxurious bath rooms. In fact, Shakespeare makes a reference to these luxurious baths by the Patricians in his Roman tragedy ‘The Coriolanus”. These bath rooms had libraries attached to them so that one could read and enjoy while bathing. The Romans had also built magnificent Turkish Baths on a grand scale and it is learnt that some of these bathing clubs could accommodate even 1500 bathers at a time. One Historian is of the opinion that some Romans spent more lavishly on their bathrooms when compared to what they spent on their living accommodation. The practice of taking a Roman bath was to massage the body with a cool refreshing ointment, massage the whole body for quite sometime and then bathe in water.

In England, bathing was little heard of till the middle ages. It was supposed to have been introduced by the King Eleanor of Castle.. Even as late as 18thCentury bathing was not only not neglected in England but contemptuously avoided. With a view to keep off the body odour, the upper classes, instead of bathing, used strong perfumes to keep off the bodily odour. It is only during the reign of Queen Victoria that bathing became an integral part of British life.

In Scandinavian countries bathing houses were impressive. They relaxed while bathing and even watched film shows and played chess while bathing.

It was in Russia that some of the most elaborate bathing rituals were developed. They would generally use soaps and rinse their heads. After a bath they used to throw some kind of seeds on the red hot stone as a result of which smoke would emanate. They used to spend some time in the smoke filled environment to dry up the body. Further it would destroy bad body odour and kill germs in the body. This was popular as ‘Smoke Bathing’. This is probably analogous to the system prevailing in India where ladies with long tresses of hair dry their hair after oil bath by exposing the tresses to the smoke from burning incense and Dhoopam.

The Japanese took advantage of the natural hot springs. In addition to cleansing the body, many of these hot springs had medicinal curing properties, particularly skin diseases. In this context, it would be of interest to hear about the true experience of an ordinary Japanese house wife in a remote village in Tokyo sometime in 1921. This is a moving and poignant real story where the lady travels a distance of nearly 700 kms in a cycle rickshaw drawn by herself, taking her leprosy- infected husband for a cure in a hot spring. A separate article covering this moving story will follow.

The Puritans in America considered bathing as injurious to health. In 1842 in the State of Massachusetts, anyone desirous of taking a bath was required to take a certificate from a doctor. The States of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia prescribed by law the number of that one could take. It is said that till 1840 American houses did not have bathrooms. The first bathtub was fixed and put to use in the White House in 1851.

In ancient times, the story goes, that Priests in Egypt used to take bath in the River Nile, not for health or hygiene but to wash off their sins.

History records some interesting cases of bath times. A few are enumerated below:

1. It is said that Isabella, Queen of Spain, bathed only twice in her life time—once at the time of her birth and second at the time of her marriage.
2. Louis X111 of France took a bath only once in his lifetime. This only bath adversely affected his nervous system and consequently he passed a law prohibiting bathing in France.
3. Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen, used to bathe in water mixed with raspberry and strawberry juice and olive oil.
4. After the bath she would massage herself with perfume and cream of milk as beauty aids.
5. Napoleon gave Josephine, whom he married, a bath tub as a weeding gift.
6. The following News item published by the Time Magazine, America, in its issue
Dated 14th January 1929 would of interest:

“Whenever a bath is taken by His Highness the Aga Khan, the bath water is carefully preserved, bottled and shipped to Mohammedan communities throughout the world. Thus the faithful are provided with a priceless boon, the Holy Water in which a descendant of Prophet Mohamed has bathed himself. No niggard, the Aga Khan charges for the nearly enormous quantity of water in which he bathes every year, only his weight in gold. The ceremony of weighing him takes place each twelvemonth at Aga Hall, Bombay”
[Time dated 14th Jan 1929]

The most expensive Bath: This news report is from The Sunday Times, London
published in the year 1982.
“Patrons of a hotel in Yogashima, Tokyo, are queuing up for the most expensive bath in their lives. Hideki Yokoi bought this hotel in 1970, complete with a 22 carat, 312 pound gold bath tub. He has been soaking up the fees ever since.
An average of 120 customers pay 19 dollars for a 5 minute dip and the value of the entire original investment has increased 15 fold to more than 7 million dollars, the owner claims. Five minutes is just long enough to get wet, feel suitably dissipated and have a souvenir colour photograph snapped at about 7 dollars a shot”
Sunday Times, London, 1982


ARTICLE NO.572---History of Bathing around the World
Created: Friday, June 4, 2010 8:36 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home