Today is the 8th day of Chaitra Navratri and it is dedicated to Goddess Maha Gauri (Gauri means white). Goddess Maha Gauri is depicted as beautiful with a shining, white-gold complexion. She is dressed in white and holds a lotus, a trident and a small drum in three hands while the fourth hand blesses her devotees. She rides a white bull and is dressed completely in white.
In mythology, Goddess Maha Gauri is said to relieve all the sufferings of her devotees and fulfil all their deepest desires.
How Goddess Maha Gauri came to be:
Goddess Parvati is also referred to as “Aparna” or the Lady of the terrible penance in Hindu mythology. The story goes that she tried to attract God Shiva’s attention through her beauty and service to him. She was assisted by Lord Kamadeva and his wife Rati in the endeavour. When Lord Shiva felt his concentration waning and found that he was not paying attention to his penance and was instead disturbed by thoughts of the Goddess Parvati, he understood that Kamadeva was at play.
So Lord Shiva opened his third eye and incinerated Lord Kamadeva for distracting him from his penance.
Now Goddess Parvati decided to throw all her faith behind intense penance and focus. She did tapas for thousands of mortal years standing neck deep in cold water, standing inside a fire and did her penance through storms, hail, floods, droughts and intense heat. She was so lost in her penance that years went by and anthills and forests grew around her. She was so devoted to her penance that she was referred to as “Aparna”, the Lady of the terrible penance.
Finally, moved by her severe penance, Lord Shiva appeared to Goddess Parvati and promised to marry her.
The Divine Abhyanga and Bath of Goddess Parvati
After the Goddess’ long and terrible penance where she had braved the elements, her entire body was covered with dust, soil, earth and leaves of the trees and mud from the anthills that surrounded her. Her body was covered in a thick, dark, muddy layer.
It was said that Lord Shiva himself requested Ganga sitting on his head to appear and wash away the dirt, soil and mud from the Goddess’ body. It was said that this divine, purifying bath transformed “Aparna” to “Maha Gauri”.
Snana (Daily Morning Bath) is a Nithyakarma:
Our cultural myths, allegories and stories and rituals help us go deeper and deeper into the significance of the things we do for ourselves and for our families. Ayurveda prescribes several “Nithyakarmas”. These are spiritual and sacred acts that are to be done “Nithya” or everyday by us for health, well being and prosperity.
Living a life of temperance and good conduct is a Nithyakarma, as is the act of bathing every single day within the first few hours of sunrise.
The morning bath is specific to India and tropical counties and forms a part of our prescribed Nithyakarma. This bath is considered a sacred and inviolable start to the day and is considered both spiritually and physically purifying and cleansing to the body. The daily Snana is such an essential Nithyakarma that we are traditionally not supposed to eat or drink anything, cook, offer prayers , do yoga, or start our office work before completing the Snana.
The benefits of the Daily morning bath:
“Bathing is purifying, life promoting, a destroyer of fatigue, physically removes sweat and dirt, is resuscitative and a promoter of ojas or divine energy” : Charaka Samhita – Sutrasthana shloka on Dinacharya
The Ayurvedic texts recommend eating with the sun. So generally the last meal of the day is best had as close to sunset as possible – in practice we recommend eating before 8:30 pm. A gap of 2 hours is advised post eating to allow the body to complete digestion. So if we go to sleep by 10:30 after completing our last meal by 8 pm, our body would have completed digestion before we sleep.
As we sleep, our body goes into a process of repair and renewal. Every organ system has a specific time when it is renewed. This time is fixed and is not changed. The most important thing to understand here is the digestion takes precedence over repair and renewal. So if you eat late, you are taking away an organ system’s chance to repair and renew itself.
Waste / Mala is the by product of all digestion, repair and regeneration in the body. Every single organ system sheds excess, and removes Mala from the body. Every single day cells die and are born in the body. A part of Mala is also the debris of these dead cells which must all be transported out of the body for good health.
Health issues and dis-ease when Mala is not periodically removed from the body:
Ayurveda traces the genesis of most diseases to the accumulation of Mala in the body. Mala can accumulate as a by product of eating, because of poor sleep and because of poor habits.
When we eat food that is not suitable to our prakriti, or we eat too late, or we eat in quantities that are not suitable to us, we dampen the Agni in our body. As a result, our body is not able to digest our food, and extract nutrients from it and remove Mala. So we are left feeling weak, we lose or gain weight, our appearance is poor, and our skin accumulates impurities which take the form of acne, pimples, or other skin issues.
When we sleep at improper times, or we sleep too late, or at the wrong time or for too long, we impair the process of repair, regeneration and renewal in our body. So the organ systems in our body are carrying excess toxins, debris or dead cells. They may be long due for a “tune up” and have not been given the opportunity to do so because we have not slept. As a result, our body functions poorly at a sub optimal level.
Snana – the Ayurvedic tool to remove Mala from Skin
We have spoken about the difference between an Ayurvedic Snana and a synthetic soap bath before.
The Ayurvedic texts list out the large and small orifices in the body in great detail and also enumerate the mala (impurities) that accumulate as a part of normal wear and tear from the dhatus in these orifices. Moisture of the tongue, eyes, mouth, excretions of the eyes, ears tongue, teeth, axilla, genitals, pimples, greasiness of facial skin, sweda (sweat) , sebum secretions of kesha (hair) are all mala from the dhatus (tissues).
If this mala is not removed periodically, especially in seasons where the mala can increase, the body loses its health and appearance of well being. It is only by thorough cleaning these minute pores, and removing debris and dead cells that could clog these channels, can the body be truly clean.
The Mala or toxins from many organ systems find their way to our Skin. From the skin, they are released outside through the outpouring of Sweda or sweat. Sweda contains Mala from the body in the form of oil, debris, dead cells, vapour or gases and debris of micro flora or the small organisms that live on us.
This is generated everyday as we sleep through the normal process of cell and organ system repair and regeneration.
To cleanse this Mala from the Skin, the Ayurvedic texts recommend using a specific combination of lentils, grains and specific herbs that suit each kind of prakriti. The action of this cleansing product is extremely subtle – unlike a synthetic soap, the Ayurvedic Snana product opens up the pores of the skin, encouraging the removal of Mala through the srotas of the skin. The most minute pores of the skin are gently encouraged to open up and this opening action helps suck out Mala which adheres to the Ayurvedic ubtan as it cleanses the skin. Finally when the skin is rinsed with water, the entire body is left feeling refreshed, lighter, deep cleansed and ready for the new day.
This sounds great – what is wrong with having an evening Snana? Can I not get this cleansing then?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an additional evening Snana. In fact the Vedic texts, the “Grihya Sutras” carry more than 79 references to bathing ritual and stipulate a schedule of 3 baths a day, along with ritualized washing.
However, the morning Snana is a sacred Nithyakarma. It performs the extremely important task of cleansing the body of the Malas that are accumulated during sleeping. This Mala load is high on the body during periods of stress, high mental and physical activity, and during times of challenges and growth. If you have eaten on time and slept on time and have enjoyed a good quality of sleep, then your body would have aggressively used your sleep time to repair itself. So when you wake up in the body, all the debris from this cleansing will be present on your skin.
So by removing this Mala in the morning, you are setting yourself up for a good day ahead. In contrast, if this Mala is not removed, it will mean that your body will have to carry this load much longer impacting your whole day.
OK this is fine during the week. But I wake up at noon during weekends after staying up late at night. Can I have my bath just before lunch on weekends alone?
Your body does not recognise the difference between weekdays and weekends. Repair, and renewal and all the rules of health apply on Sundays and Mondays. If you want health, then you need to stick to the same schedule no matter the day of the week or whether you are on holiday.
I live abroad. Here people prefer to have a bath at night before sleeping and not in the morning. What should I do?
Acharya Vagbhatta says that no matter where you live, the herbs of your native place and the practices of your native place work best for you. So, doing your Nithyakarma no matter where you live, makes sense.
Besides, what we have said about Mala removal and cleansing the body is the same whether you live in Chennai or in California. The body clock is the same and the time for renewal and repair is the same.
A bath signals a beginning of a particular phase in the day and not the end. So it makes sense to bathe at the beginning of the day or the beginning of the evening, not at the end. Plus as per Ayurveda a bath is energizing and refreshing and not soothing and sleep inducing, so if you want to sleep well, you should have eaten well, at the right time and gone to sleep at the right time.
I live abroad. The local midwife and Doctor advised that I have a bath after lunch and that I give my infant a bath after lunch just before his nap. Is this okay?
In 2 words: ABSOLUTELY NOT. The shock of water on the body after eating , quells and dampens Agni , completely destroying it. Without Agni to digest the food, the food sits and ferments in your / baby’s gut and becomes poisonous and toxic. The food stays longer in the body, is not assimilated and generates a lot of Mala.
If this practice becomes a habit, the body will become weak, bloated, and listless and fall prey to disease.
On the other hand, bathing as per your Nithyakarma in the morning, promotes appetite and enhances digestive fire. Remember there should be a gap of atleast 30 – 45 minutes between a bath and eating and bathing should be done BEFORE eating.
Should I bathe as soon as I get up in the morning?
As the Snana physically wakes up the body, the Ayurvedic texts advise that you give the body atleast 30 – 45 minutes post waking up to have a bath. The texts advice sitting in quiet contemplation in the first 30 – 45 minutes of the day and this time is suggested to be spent in isolation and in reflection. This slowly wakes up the body and prepares it for a day of activity. A bath before this, is said to send the body into a state of shock.
Ideally we should be waking up at dawn or just before dawn, and this time is considered extremely spiritually charged.
So once we have visited the restroom after waking up, and sat in quiet contemplation, our body is now ready for the Snana and to proceed to the next phase of the day.
To sum up:
A synthetic soap only cleanses superficially and uses strong artificial fragrance that lull you into feeling that you are much cleaner than you actually are. The Ayurvedic Snana, on the other hand, is an excellent daily rejuvenative, detoxifying and cleansing and purificatory ritual that is best done in the morning at a quiet time. When done with the right Ayurvedic lentils, grains and herbs, it thoroughly cleanses and purifies the entire body without stripping the skin of its essential oils.
Here are your Snana options from Krya:
Bodywashes for adults: meant to replace soap; can be used even if you have not oiled your skin
Bodywash for Babies and Children:
Ubtans: Meant post abhyanga after body has been massaged well with oil