All of us want good health, free from infections, illnesses and ailments until our peaceful death as this daily prayer aptly put it. An individual’s need for food and water, was, is and will always be the priority requirement, although without doubt personal hygiene is a close second. Personal hygiene includes brushing our teeth, eating wholesome food, excreting digested food, cleaning our body and bathing. Bathing or washing our body is one important means to maintain a disease free good health, by removing dirt, grime, sweat, sebaceous glands secretions, body odors, etc., boosting one’s self-confidence, even though physical and emotional well-being could depend on the person’s cultural upbringing also influencing its frequency and regularity. Hygiene has an important role in healthy living! According to WHO (World Health Organization) unfortunately only 39% of the world’s population enjoys hygienic sanitation services to keep themselves neat and clean having some access to water, soaps and shampoos.
THE HISTORY OF BATHING
The world’s foremost civilization, namely, the Vedic Indian civilization gives ample importance to regular early morning bathing by proposing many procedures and protocols one needs to routinely follow to maintain personal hygiene, avoid diseases and improve spiritual health. Ancient Greeks recognizing the benefits of regular bathing made use of public baths in ancient towns, by building bathtubs, handwash basins and foot bowls. The Romans who believed that cleanliness is a crucial aspect for health and fitness went a step ahead than Greeks by building “Thermae” (i.e., elaborate public bathhouses) in towns and cities declaring public bathing as a leisure activity to relax, recover, socialize and do business. Ancient Chinese mixed herbal drugs, flowers or herbs for therapeutic treatment into hot bath water to restore exhausted levels of Yin, (i.e., cool, watery calming energy) in Chinese medicine. Other traditional bathing rituals include the Turkish Hamam, Japanese Onsens, Russian Banyas, etc.
During the Ottoman rule, every town in Turkey had at least one Hamam to offer the luxury experience to people, to relax in a steam room first followed by body massage, brushing and bathing in cold water. The Russian Banyas also give emphasis on steam exfoliation followed by a dip in a cold-water pool to improve blood circulation, increase the immune system thereby relieving tension and exhaustion. Japanese Onsons were traditional outdoor public baths using natural hot water having high mineral content from geothermically heated springs having powers to heal aches, pains, skin ailments and diabetes. In England during, Victorian times, medical practitioners advised patients to take cold water baths as a painkiller, for treating insomnia and improving poor health. Charles Darwin claims total cure from vomiting and general sickness on using the Malvern Water Cure, which involves daily scrubbing and soaking the body in the cleanest local spring water. Lady Cleopatra, bathed in asses’ milk, for skin-softening.
Incidentally, today some athletes advocate ice-cold water baths, to recover and repair body cells and drain lactic acid built up that happens during intense exercise. Bathing, thus has a detailed apply fragrances and ointments that will making a person suitable for spirituality by destroying both inner and outer dirt. The following Hindu Puranic tale highlights the illusory character of water or the “Maya” that encompasses human life and death.
Narada the celestial bard once asked Lord Vishnu to explain the illusive creative power or the meaning of “Maya” of the gods. Vishnu said, that he cannot explain it and Narada must experience it to understand. “I cannot believe in Maya, if you cannot explain the power you use to create it”, argued Narada.
Vishnu realized that if ignorant human beings like Narada did not believe in Maya that gods employed, then their fate will become uncertain. So, Lord Vishnu left his abode taking Narada for a walk through a desert. Vishnu feigning thirsty sat under a tree and asked Narada to get some water in a pitcher from an oasis, telling that he will clarify the mystery of Maya on his return with the water.
Narada approached the oasis and finding a well beside a house, knocked at the door. An attractive girl opened the door and smilingly called for her parents, who then requested Narada to have some food and take rest for a while before taking the pitcher of well-water back. Narada agreed, even though the beautiful girl’s eyes did remind him of his promise to Lord Vishnu. As night fell soon, the girl’s parents counselled him to stay and spend the night. Narada awoke, in the morning and saw the beautiful girl bathing by the well; when her parents presented her hand in marriage to him. Narada very excited readily agreed forgetting all about the pitcher of water he had promised to bring for Lord Vishnu.
Nearly fourteen years passed by and during this period the couple had a boy and a girl. Narada’s parent-in-laws died and he inherited all their property. After some more years, came heavy rains with floods washing away his house. Narada waded through the floodwaters by placing his children on his shoulders and holding his wife by hand. He tried hard to grab hold of his wife, pulled away by the strong water currents and in the process lost hold of his two children. Soon, his entire family vanished in the gushing flood waters with Narada losing his consciousness. When he awoke, he was in Lord Vishnu lap under a tree. Vishnu’s eyes reminded him of his beloved wife.
“Narada, where is the water you promised to bring to quench my thirst?” inquired Lord Vishnu. Horror-struck Narada blurted out, “Do you mean to say that everything I experienced did not occur?” Lord Vishnu only smiled enigmatically. Probably, Lord Vishnu was teaching Narada “Maya”, the illusory character of life and death on earth, symbolically interwoven by water the story’s central lifeline.