We discussed Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Swadeshi yesterday on the Krya facebook page. We also discussed how this concept of Swadeshi is present in Ayurvedic texts where the acharyas tell us to use native herbs and grains both for eating and for cleansing and caring for skin and hair.
The Acharyas tell us that this practice is better for us, and native and indigenous herbs suit our body’s requirements much better.
Yet, if you take a quick poll of our neighbourhood, very few of us actually use a herb and grain based ubtan to cleanse skin or hair. Most of us instead use a cake of synthetic soap. In this post, we look at why it would be much better for us to choose a Swadeshi ubtan instead of this cake of soap.
Ancient bathing rituals:
Throughout history, ancient societies created elaborate rituals around the act of bathing . The plumbing lines in ancient cities were well thought through to ensure water was brought to where people lived.
The Vedic texts, the “Grihya Sutras” contain information about Vedic domestic rites and rituals meant for householders like conception, birth, initiation (upanayanam), marriage, death, etc. These texts carry more than 79 references to bathing ritual and stipulate a schedule of 3 baths a day, along with ritualized washing.
Ancient Greece reveled in bathing, both in private and in fresh water and seas. Not to know how to read or swim, in ancient Greece, were the marks of an Ignoramus. Athens had a swimming bath at the time or Plato. Warm springs were referred to by Poets as ideal for bathing. An artificial warm bath was taken in a specially constructed wooden or marble vessel and the ancient Greece had foot baths, urns and specially constructed wash basins besides bath tubs.
Greek mythology said that natural springs and certain pools were blessed by the gods and contained healing water. So healing bathing facilities were often established around these healing waters.
After bathing, especially in warm water, both sexes anointed themselves with oil, so that the skin was not left rough and harsh.
The Romans took the idea of bathing and cleansing rituals to the next level. A bather in a Roman bath induced progressive sweating by going to a progressively hotter room. The final “hot room”, called the caldarium, was heated by a brazier underneath a hollow room. The bather would then go to the cooler “tepidarium” for an oil massage, and scrape out dirt and dead cells with a blunt metal implement
Where’s the soap? And why is no one bathing with it?
Did you notice the importance plaid in ancient cultures to massaging skin with oil, inducing sweating and elaborately cleaning out dead cells and toxins form the body? Please note that at the time of even the Ancient Grecian Bathing Ritual, the idea of a soap was well known.
Soap production is atleast 5000 years old. Babylonians are said the have mastered the art of soap making , and archeological evidence dates Babylonian soap making to atleast 2800 BC. The Babylonian soap was made from rendered animal fat boiled with alkaline ashes. This soap was used to clean wool and cotton fabric.
The Ebers papyrus, dated to 1500 BS in the egyptoan civilization talks about ancient Egyptian soap – made with animal, vegetable oils and alkaline substances like natron to produce a gooey soap.
The Celts called their soap “saipo” and made it from rendered animal fat and plant ashes.
The Ancient world used Soap exclusively to clean textiles and render it fit for dyeing. Soap was never used for personal cleansing as it was considered both harsh and ineffective in removing dirt and dead cells.
Ayurvedic method of cleansing skin – Mala removal
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 thoroughly clean.
To thoroughly scrub skin clean and remove Mala from deep within, the texts advice the twin Abhyanga- Snana method – a through oil massage followed by a deep cleansing Snana using an ubtan – herb, grain and lentil based cleanser.
The Abhyanga reduces aches and pains and helps balance all 3 doshas. It also stimulates circulation, increases warmth and acts as a conduit to move toxins to the surface of the skin.
The Snana then follows , with the herbs and lentils scrubbing and opening the minor pores of the skin, and “vacuuming” out the toxins and Malas which have been released through the Abhyanga.
How a soap cleans skin:
Synthetic products have a strong artificial fragrance that lull you into feeling that you are much more cleaner than you actually are. A soap dissolves oil present on the skin. Its lyophilic end surrounds the oil molecule and moves it away from skin as you pour water on it. This is an excellent property if you are cleaning an inanimate object like your car, but not if you are cleaning living tissue like your skin.
If you use a soap on your skin, it will dissolve the sebum layer which is required to keep your skin moisturized and keep your barrier layer strong. This cleansing method is also quite superficial. A soap works on the outer layer of skin and dissolve oil and remove surface level sweat and dirt using a typical detergent action. But the sweat that emanates from the body in a few hours time continues to smell stale and unclean.
How an Ayurvedic bodywash powder / ubtan cleans skin
A well researched and well made Ayurvedic bodywash / ubtan is on the other hand, a real deep cleanser and a treat for skin. It is very subtle in its action – it combines exfoliant, temperature altering, scrubbing, micro polishing and surfactant benefits all into one.
This is in direct contrast to a synthetic soap – the Ayurvedic bodywash / ubtan works by actually opening up and removing mala from the minutest of pores in your skin – so the instant difference after a bath is a feeling of lightness and refreshment. If you smell yourself a few hours later, your skin will not stink, even if you have been sweating profusely.
What we put into the Krya herb based bodywashes and ubtans for skin
We have researched, designed and formulated Krya’s range of ayurvedic bodywashes and ubtans based on the Classical Indian Medicine texts and have used specific herbs and grains for different kinds of skin.
The grains and lentils and herbs Krya uses are mildly acidic. They work by a process of adsorption and by forming a homogenous mixture with the excess oil, dead cells and dirt on your skin. The grains and lentils also contain small amounts of oil and other nutrients which coat your skin as you rub the mixture.
Because the Krya bodywashes and ubtans are mildly acidic, aromatic and contain properties that keep down the growth of invasive fungi and bacteria, your skin is left intact after washing. As your skin’s acid mantle is left intact and its pH level is not altered, your skin is able to defend better against invasive micro organisms.
Ayurvedic cleansing for Sharad Rtu (Autumn season)
At Krya, our formulations change as per the season to suit skin through the year. Ayurveda defines 6 seasons and accurately predicts the effect of climate and atmospheric changes on skin and the body.
The season we are currently experiencing is called the Sharad Rtu (autumn season) which extends upto mid November. The Ashtanga Hridyam describes this season as being very high in Pitta which accumulates in the previous season of Varsha Ritu (rainy season). In practice, this period is often described as the Little Summer in India as we face hot and humid conditions which are similar to but milder than peak Summer.
Similar precautions must be taken as we do in summer. Foods must be chosen to be slightly bitter and astringent to cope with heat. The foods must be light and easily digestible. Exposure to strong sunlight, eating excessive amounts of curd, etc which are Summer season precautions must be taken.
In this season, the Krya Bodywashes and Ubtans are formulated with bitter and pitta balancing to help reduce agni buildup., help remove excessive oiliness and toxins from skin, and also cool and soothe skin leaving it feeling pleasant and deodorised.
Specifically due to the addition of natural deodorizing herbs and cleansing herbs like Nutgrass, Shikakai, Katsura and Cassia auriculata, the Krya bodywashes and ubtans help remove sweat and odour much more efficiently and you will not feel as malodorous / sweaty as you would after using a soap .
So in this Season, do try a proper, swadeshi bath with a Krya ubtan / bodywash.
Krya’s post Abhyanga Ubtans for a thorough Snana can be explored here.
According to Ayurveda, greeshma rtu is a two month season of peak summer. It lasts from mid-May to mid-July. Greeshma rtu is