One of the most important ways of taking care of your body is to have a good bath. There is no doubt that a good bath cleans and refreshes your body but it can be relaxing for the mind as well. It is important to have a bath everyday in order to maintain good hygiene as well. A bath in the evening or night removes all the dust, grime and sweat that you have gathered throughout day. A bath early in the morning refreshes you and makes you ready for the whole day. Bathing can be made a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Bathing is known as “Snanam” (in Sanskrit language).
In the Hindu Religion, taking “bath” is considered as the most important daily ritual. “Bathing” is defined in almost all Vedas, Upanishads, Suthras, etc. in many ways. The early morning 4 O’ clock is considered as the most auspicious time in the Hindu Religion. It is known as “Pratha Kala” or “Brahma Muhoortham” or the most auspicious time. Most of the “Rishis” (Saints) in Olden days used to take bath in this hour and attained the sainthood. “Parasara Smirithi” explains this very well as “rusheenaam rusheetha nityam prathas snanath na sam sayaha” i.e Saints always take bath well before early morning and start their daily rituals.
At night the nine holes of the body become filled with waste products, which are continuously produced as we sleep. The early morning bath most effectively removes all of this dirt so that the body can begin its daily activities in a fresh state. In this way the early morning bath has positive physical, mental and spiritual effects, and is therefore highly glorified in the scriptures.
The Garuda Purana extols the virtues of snanam in the following manner,Water nourishes and sustains the spirit as well as the body. Water is high among the elements, as it purifies and uplifts the individual from the mundane to the transcendental. Mountain water, spring water, and rainwater collected are highly beneficial and considered noble by the wise.
Taking a bath in spring water, rainwater or river water can bring benefits to both body and mind. These benefits can be further multiplied if you were to chant a Sanskrit mantra called the snaman mantra before taking a bath. Since the snanam mantra has to do with water, if you were to take some water in your right palm and recite the following verse your mind could be lifted from the mundane into the sublime:
Meaning: Whether a person is pure (pavitra) or impure (apvitra) that is, a person might be in any situation or condition, he can still realize his goal. Gatopiva means any kind of person. Vadi pundareekaaksha means the lotus-eyed Vishnu (pundareek plus aksh= kamal plus nayan which means Lord Vishnu). If one recites the name of the lotus-eyed Vishnu then he will from both inside and outside (baahya plus aabhyantar) become pavitra or pure (shuchi). Panditji or the Hindu priest places Ganga jal or Ganga water on the palm of a person’s hand and asks him to drink it and then recite the snanam mantra. In this manner (iti), on one’s own accord (aatmaanum), one could purify oneself, or wipe oneself or purify oneself (prokshya) while taking the name of Shree Vishnu.
In the Hindu tradition there are two kinds of bathing— the bathing of the body and the bathing of the mind. The first begins with “Om apo-hish-ta may-o-bhuva” and ends with “Om-apo-jana-yatha cha-na.” This is then followed by sprinkling water on the head, chest and feet. The notions of pollution and purification are quite important in daily life, social gatherings and festivals.
Purifying life through snanam is not just for divine beings. Ordinary beings too can clean themselves with a bath. During the Kumbh mela at Prayag Raj (Allahabad) millions of Hindus from all parts of India take a dip in the Ganga River believing that this act will bring them untold merit. Some say that on festival days the water of the Ganga River transforms itself into nectar and anyone who bathes in it will erase all his sins. Recently biologists are talking about the contamination of river water from industrial effluents and the unhygienic condition of such waters, but this has not undermined the belief of people in the magical properties of Ganga water.
Most physical exercises in India require a bath before their commencement. Yoga recommends that before doing the Hatha Yoga2, or Pranayam3 it is important to take a bath. A ritual cleansing begins with washing the head and then moving down to the feet. Through snanam we not only control the body but also purify the mind. Water functions both as a physical phenomenon and a symbol.
The corporeal body is mostly composed of water. When we practice the yogic matsyasana (fish posture) and meditate with the intention of becoming one with water we can control the water in our body. The Tantric tradition associates water with the sense of taste. It believes that washing our bodies can sharpen our chemoreception. Tantra teaches us that a bath before sex can enhance pleasure. At times, taking a bath can also be associated with the joy of freedom, privacy and understanding the passage of time. A cold bath releases negative ions, refreshes the body and strengthens psychic forces. Once it was customary for Indians to wash their hands and feet before entering their homes, but modernization has made such rituals rather difficult to sustain.
In the Hindu tradition water stands for rejuvenation, prosperity and the male-female principle. Lord Vishnu is the lord of the water and his consort Lakshmi the mistress of prosperity. Therefore bathing in a river can activate the forces of Vishnu and Lakshmi in our life. When we recite the mantra ‘Eh-vang’ we exhort the water of the river to carry our spirit to Vishnu, the source of rejuvenation. Eh-vang also stands for the male and female principles and the fusion of fire and water. The Lakshmi Tantra has the following advice for bathers,
One should bathe the body with running water; then apply perfumes and ointments. This type of bathing should be combined with breath control. The effect is to destroy both inner and outer dirt and make a person fit for spirituality.The efficacious power of bathing cannot be overstated.
A story in the Hindu scriptures highlights the illusory character of water—the Maya that encompasses life and death. Narada Muni once asked Lord Vishnu to explain the meaning of Maya or the illusive creative power of the gods. Vishnu said that it cannot be explained but only experienced.
Narada Muni argued with Lord Vishnu that “If you cannot explain the power you use to create then I will not believe in you.”
Vishnu realized that if humans like Narad did not believe in the concept of Maya that gods employed, then the fate of the gods will become uncertain. So Lord Vishnu left his serpent conch and took Narad Muni for a walk. When they entered a desert Vishnu felt thirsty and sat under a tree. He asked Narad Muni to take a pitcher and get some water from an oasis and when he will return Vishnu will explain the mystery of Maya to him.
Narad found a well beside a hut. He knocked at the door and a beautiful girl opened the door. She looked at him and then disappeared inside. Her eyes reminded him of the compelling eyes of Vishnu. The girl’s parents requested Narad Muni to eat and rest for a while before he took the pitcher of water back. Narad agreed, thinking about the beautiful girl. Night fell and her parents again urged him to stay on and leave in the morning. When Narad awoke in the morning he saw the girl bathing by the well. Looking at her he forgot the pitcher of water he had promised for Lord Vishnu. When the girl’s parents offered her hand in marriage Narad Muni readily accepted. Nearly twelve years went by.
During this time the couple had children, Narad Muni’s parents-in-laws died and he inherited property. Then floods came in the desert washing away his house. He waded through the water with his children on his shoulders and his wife by his side. He tried to grab hold of his wife who was getting swept away by the current when he lost hold of his children. He and his entire family disappeared in the flash flood.
Narad lost consciousness and awakened in the lap of Vishnu sitting under a tree. Narad Muni noticed that Vishnu’s eyes reminded him of his wife.
“Narad, where is the pitcher of water you were supposed to bring for me?” inquired Lord Vishnu.
“You mean everything that happened to me did not happen?” inquired Narad Muni aghast.
Lord Vishnu only smiled enigmatically. Probably Lord Vishnu was teaching Narad Muni the illusory character of life and death knit together by the central symbol of water.
Most parts of India are hot and dusty. Bathing becomes an important activity to remove the grime and dirt from the body. Therefore many ancient Indian texts often highlight the therapeutic and symbolic significance of snanam. Over the centuries the notion of snanam has entered daily life, social gatherings and festivals of most Indian communities. Some people prepare themselves for twelve years to go to Allahabad to have a bath in the Ganga River called kamya snanam, while others are satisfied with an ordinary bath or nitya snanam. There are yet others who have a bath in rain when the sun is shining; this is called the dhivya snanam. There are so many different kinds of snanam each bringing its own benefits.
- 1. Vaaruna Snanam: Taking bath in normal way in the luke warm or hot water.
- 2. Aagneya Snanam: After normal bath, praise the Name of Lord Shiva as “Om Namashivaya Namaha” continuously and apply Viboothi (Holy Ash offered in Shivete Temples) all over the body.
- 3. Vaaya Veeya Snanam: For specific purpose, feel the wind when the Cow’s tail is swinging. This acts as remedy for certain bad Oman.
- 4. Prokshana Snanam: While doing Nitya Karma viz. Sandya Vandhanam (Praising the Sun God and Goddess Gayathiri), and other Homams (hawan), dip Holy grass (known as Dharpas) and
- recite mantras viz. “Aabohishta mahabuvaha, etc.” and sprinkle the water on head.
- 5. Mantra Snanam: On certain auspicious occasion such as Birth day etc. keep water in certain specified vessel and continuously praise the Name (Japa) of God (known as Ishta Devatha) and offer Pujas (special prayer), etc. and take bath on this water. On such occasions, the bathing is carried out by experts in the field of Vedas known as (Sastrigal).
- 6. Dhivya Snanam: This is a very rare way of bathing and mostly done by Saints. When there is a good rain along with sunshine, Saints take bath in the rainwater.
- 7. Gowna Snanam: When someone is not well or having fever, etc. but has to take bath as per the customs, he is allowed to take bath wetting his body expect head. This way he may get relief from cold, etc but at the same time fulfilled his religious duty.
- 8. Kaapila Snanam: When someone is not well or having high fever and he/she is not able to take bath as narrated above, he is allowed to take a sponge or towel bath. This way he can continue his religious duties without any hindrances.
- 9. Nitya Snanam: Normal way of bathing while at home on daily basis.
- 10. Naimithiga Snanam: Hindus should take bath during and after Solar/Lunar Eclipse. Further, they should take bath if they are part of any untoward incidence and such bathing is done after offering certain prayer.
- 11. Kaamya Snanam: For certain obligation and special purpose prayer, when someone takes bath at rivers Ganges, Sea or Mahamaham or any other festival places, is known as Kaamya Snanam.
- 12. Kriyaanga Snanam: This is done before carrying out ceremonies for Pithrus (ancestors) or special Pujas, etc.
- 13. Malaharsha Snanam: Oil or herbal bath
- 14. Kriya Snanam: Taking bath at auspicious rivers, ponds, etc.
- 15. Shethra Ganga Snanam: Taking bath at ponds or lakes at important shrines, temples. Etc.