Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why oil bath?

A custom in this land of ours which is mostly forgotten

is about the rules of taking oil bath!

Known as 'yeNNai shasthram',
this stipulates the days and thithis for taking oil bath.
The days differ for men and women
and there is a sloka for each gender to be recited,
invoking the blessings of some great souls of yore,
while applying oil on the head.

For men (seven names), it is:-

Ashwthamo Balir Vyaso Hanumanshcha VibhishaNah,
Krupah Parashuramashcha,Saptaite Chiranjivinaah.

For women (five names), it is :-

Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tatha
Panchakanyaah smarennityam mahaapataka naashanam.

Let us look into the rationale of this shasthram and the slokas.

The rationale for oil bath:-

Usually thaila snanam (oil bath) is supposed to make one tired.
There are days prescribed in astrological texts for taking thaila snanam,
so that the person will not become weak or tired after the snanam.

First of all why should one get tired after oil bath?
It is said as per Ayur veda that the vital energy in body such as
vatha, kapah etc must be balanced for good health.
Ayur veda treats a person on the assumption
of disturbance to any one of the 5 vital elements in the body
and making correctives to them.
It is said when one takes oil bath, the balance of these is upset in
the body. One can feel it also.
Usually after an oil bath,
one will feel sleepy.

Sleepiness is associated with planet Saturn in astrology. The day of Saturn is a day to take rest. It is ideal to have weekly holiday on Saturday and not on Sun day. (Sun day will make one fully vigorous and active like the Sun. The days were named only on the basis of the attributes of the planets that influence the day by rising as the first hora at sunrise)

Taking oil bath on Saturday best suits the nature of the day influenced so, by Saturn.

As per astrology, chathurthasi is ideal for oil bath.
In a week Saturday is ideal for oil bath for men and Friday for women.
It is also said oil bath in the afternoon of Fri day is good.
One commonality in all these is that Saturn,
the ayush kaarakan is ruling Chathurthasi (rikhtha thithi) and saturday.
Friday is ruled by Indra which also benefits one with chiranjeevithwam.

So the days chosen for oil bath are those ruled by planets that give
long life, to offset the supposed fall in the balance of vital
energies of the body.

(Note:- If the oil bath is taken along with other other ingredients such
as vaasanaadhi dravyams, mustard oil etc, no dosham of or
specification of day or thithi is required as per texts. This includes
taking bath of heated oil. This makes us infer that there is no
restriction for shampoo snanam!)

The slokas

For men:-

Ashwthamo Balir Vyaso Hanumanshcha VibhishaNah,
Krupah Parashuramashcha,Saptaite Chiranjivinaah.

The invocation for men includes 7 men who are all supposed to be chiranjeevis.
Perhaps the purpose is to of seek the blessings of
Ashwathama, Bali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibheeshana, Krupa and Parashurama
so that one lives a long life.

Ashwatthama is said to live for ever.
Bali who is supposed to become the Indra of the next Manvanthra, is
said to live even now in Patala.
Vyasa is always there at every point of time.
Hanuman will continue to be in this world as long as Rama nama is recited.
Vibheeshana is also said to be blessed with chiranjeevithwam.
As per Ithihasa, Krupacharya and Parashurama also are chiranjeevis.

Perhaps by invoking their names, one is blessed to live long.
Perhaps this invoking is done while taking oil bath as oil bath
disturbs the vital energies of life.

For women:-

Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tatha
Panchakanyaah smarennityam mahaapataka naashanam.

The women mentioned here are Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari,
called as Pancha kanyas (!) are supposed to destroy sins.

This sloka which is in vogue presently is however flawed.

By any stretch of logic, Sita can not be included in the company of the other 4.
That can be understood if we patiently go through
all the articles on pancha kanyas found in the following links.

It is inferred that some discrepancy has crept in course of time,
thinking that, by leaving Sita in this comity, we will be undermining

Infact it is not so.
Sita is the only person different from the other 4,
rather the other 5 that includes Kunti.

Sita was the only one of the 5, who had not lived with another man,
though the other 4 were to be with other men (by circumstances).
And Sita, though circumstances compelled her,
didn't succumb to the advances by another man.

The pancha kanyas are about women,
who, by forces that were in their and not in their control rose up to retain their dignity
and wield their power as women.
A glorification of them means remembering
their wisdom and valour at peculiar times of distress and compulsion,
that removes papa.

That is, one gets inspired to conduct oneself in the most
appropriate way within the conditions imposed by circumstances,
which will be dharma (that which is to be done) in that given circumstance
so that the person does not invite papa and instead gets rid of papa.

Why Sita can not be included with others?

Sita stood for pati vratha dharma, and

demonstrated what a saha dharma chaarini must do in the face of trials
and turbulences faced by the husband.
She even dictated what was good for her husband -
anxious to make Hanuman impress upon Rama
that it would be in the fitness of things for Rama to come over to Lanka
take on the abductor -
in the course of which she was ready to endure
the confinement for some more time -
though within a time limit which was also set by her.

Right from the time of leaving for vana vasa,
it was she who was calling the shots.
One can find her power of influence in making Rama take her
to the forest because that was dharma for her husband,
in the episodes of chase after mareecha
and lakshmana being sent to the aid of rama,

in agni pareeksha and
in the uttara khanda during reunuion.

Particularly in agni pareeksha, there arose a situation similar to
what happened to the pancha kanyas.
She was told to live with any one she wanted.
Similar situation arose for the pancha kanyas
though under
different circumstances.

Sita did not give in and instead thrust on
others her decision and that was to enter agni.
The power of woman in another dimension was revealed in agni pareeksha
when she subverted the mood and had her way.

The purpose was to demonstrate pati vratha dharma
and saha dharma chaariNam,
whereby she showed to what extent
a woman can go to uphold the honour of her husband.

Thus Sita is one who doesn't fit in the category of the pancha kanyas.
The sloka that includes her name must be revisited and and understood
as a product of abberations with passage of time. It is imperative to
make appropriate corrections, for lest we will be transferring to
future something which can not be substantiated.

The original sloka must be as follows:-

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha
panchakanya svaranityam mahapataka nashaka.


Tips from sages on oil bath:-

Bharadvaja says :- Oil bath should be taken on the tithi and the days
prescribed. Then it gives strength and health. Children, the sick
people, and elders should take oil-bath and regular bath in warm
water, at a convenient time. They are exempted from the rules.

Deepavali Bath

In the dark fortnight of Ashwina month, on the fourteenth day, early
in the morning, oil should be applied on the body and bath taken in
warm water. This is Deepavali bath.

When ashwaja krishna chadurthasi [Narakachaturthi day] falls on a
Sunday when the star Swathi is ruling, scented oilbath should be taken
early in the morning by those who wish for prosperity. Take bath in
warm water. On Deepvali day, Lakshmi lives in oil and
Ganga lives
in warm water. This bath removes bad luck. After the bath, wear new
dress and jewels.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog site. Oil bath details brings back childhood memories when our mothers gave us oil baths. Nostalgic memories.

Anonymous said...

The following changes have been suggested by you:

original revised
Kanyaah kanya
smaren svara
mahaa maha
naashanam nashaka

Any amendments needed?

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

The revised sloka has Kunti in the place of Sita. Others are spelling mistakes:-)

I stand by Pradeep Bhattacharya's version which is

"Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha
panchakanya svaranityam mahapataka nashaka."

He says 'Svaranithyam' not 'smaren nithyam'.

Thank you for pointing out the mistakes. It is for this reason I want you to be a regular visitor to my blog and read (critically) all my posts:-)

shanks said...

"Ahalya Draupadi Tara Tara Mandodari tatha
panchakanya svaranityam mahapataka nashaka."

Is what I used to hear my mother recite when she used give oil bath to my sister, way back in 70's. I don't remember but she used to say that both Tara's are different.
Wonderful post

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

Thanks for the info.
There are no 2 Tara-s as far as I know. If you come to know who the other Tara is, please write to me.

Ram said...


Re: Why oil bath? The 2 Taras could be:

1. Wife of Vali
2. Wife of Bruhaspathi who (by choice or circumstances) yielded to Chandra, Bruhaspathi's student (chronicled in the poem: Tarashashankam by Kalidas or some other Sanskrit poet).


Anonymous said...

Mam, In the group of Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari, Draupathi, Sita and Kunti; Sita is a odd woman out. I agree, but what about Mandodari..She didn't live with any other man except Ravan..Tara with Sugriva, Ahalya with Indra, Draupathi with Pandavas and Kunti quite dissimiliar but she propitiated Sun God to give birth to Karna without any male union. Even the other Tara, Brahaspathi's consort eloped with Moon and was cursed by Lord Siva. Muthuswamy Dikshithar's Krithi "Brahaspathe Tarapathe" is coming to my mind.

Can you please tell about Mandodari here..Thanks

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

I will revisit the topic of Pancha kanya after some time because over time I have developed a different perspective of what kanya means. Those who can read Tamil may read my article in Tamizhan Diravidanaa series in this link which gives some info on Kanya or Kumari.

Kanya, Go, Ashwa were treated as sacred by Vedic people. All the sacred rivers were regarded as kanyas. A verse in Mahabharatha (3-305) explains why a virgin is called as kanya. "It is because a virgin desireth the company of every one, that she hath received the appellation of Kanya, from the root kama meaning to desire." Those who want their desires to be fulfilled would worship the rivers and hence the rivers are kanyas. The kanni theertham was there in earlier times which was in the submerged land of Pandyans. Fulfillment of desires and propitiation from sins committed due to desires are connected with Kanni theertham. The Pandyan land itself was called as "kanni desam" in Thiruvilaiyaadal puranam. Like this there are significances attached to kanya in our ancient texts.

The concept of Pancha kanyas must be viewed from these significances. Some time later I will take up this topic. For the moment I suggest the reading of the articles by Pradeep Bhattacharya from the following link in He had published a book on Pancha kanyas.

Unknown said...

Hi Jaishree,
Just wanted to check with you if I can take the oil bath on Sunday. Due to practical difficulties, I am not able to do it on Saturday. Is it a sin if I have it on Sunday.


Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

Dear Mr Bharat,

There are so many things we don't follow nowadays, so no issues with oil bath too.

VK said...

Madam, We are using sesame oil for taking an oil bath, somewhere I read that pitta body should not use sesame oil. Is it so? please guide me on this

Also, can Ghee be used for an oil bath?

Jayasree Saranathan Ph.D said...

@ VK,

Only sesame oil is recommended. In Ayur Veda sesame oil bath is a therapy to reduce body heat (=acidity / pitta) to restore balance of Dhatus.

Ghee is not recommended for oil bath

VK said...

Thank you, ma'am