(43) Unctions in general use, bathing, alligators [[202-206]]
[] Some ladies anoint their bodies with scented oils, but they mostly prefer that extracted from the sesamum, or mustard seed; which is also generally used throughout every branch of culinary preparation, among the natives of every sect. When the oil is applied to the body (over every part of which it is smeared, the person being generally exposed to the influence of the sun, while the unction is performing), it is in a raw state; but when intended for sauce it is, on account of the peculiar rankness of its flavour, subjected to a simple operation, whereby it is very considerably sweetened; though not divested of a certain flavour by which its use may always be detected.
The oil is put into a deep earthen or metal vessel, having some kind of lid, such as a flat pan, &c., to retain the heat while the oil is preparing. When it boils and crackles, one side of the lid is raised, and a small quantity of cold water thrown in, the lid being shut down as quickly as possible, lest the oil, which rises immediately when touched by the water, should scald the operator. This is repeated three or four times, at short intervals, till the oil is nearly divested of its unpleasant and acrimonious flavour. Both sexes anoint their bodies with the oil of sesamum, commonly called by Europeans mushuul [] oil, from its being invariably used by the mushuulchees to feed the flames of their links, or mushuuls. By the natives it is called kurwah-tale, or bitter oil.
In some instances, turmeric has been mixed with it, to excite perspiration. This absurd practice is not very general, but it might have been supposed that the fallacy of such an opinion would long ago have been discovered, and the turmeric found rather to increase the obstruction inevitably produced by the oil, than to promote diaphoresis. The only probable use of the unction, is that of stopping the pores. Hence all the poor throughout India avail themselves, whenever they have the means, of a handful or two of kurwah-tale, to rub over their skins, during the winter season especially. Many who can afford but light clothing, and are not competent to purchase quilted jackets, would be almost frozen, were it not for this precaution.
This practice, so extremely common, if not universal, throughout India, seems to be at variance with the opinions of European physicians, who consider it highly dangerous to close too many of the pores at one time. That it is done with impunity in India, is sufficiently known; such unctions are indeed recommended in high fevers, by the native doctors (generally Bramins), who likewise prescribe a thick plastering of pounded herbs to be in such cases applied all over the body. This, which rarely fails to produce relief, is evidently the basis of that refrigerant course adopted, of late years, by some of the most celebrated medical practitioners.
As a perfume, the more delicate ladies of India rub themselves with various drugs not very gratifying to the olfactory nerves of Europeans; the same is also used for the hair. A few use a kind of pomade, made extemporaneously of orange peels ground fine upon a stone, and mixed with flour made from peas, called basin. This is [] really fragrant, as well as cleansing, unlike the sandal which some substitute for the citric aroma. It is of a peculiarly sickly scent, which does not easily wash out of linen.
With respect to religious ablutions, the natives of every sect, but especially the Bramins, are particular, even to fastidiousness. They all bathe daily, at least once before dinner, and in all weathers, repairing for that purpose either to some neighbouring river, or to a pond (or tank). There they walk in the water up to their waists, and placing their thumbs in their ears, and their fore-fingers pressing their nostrils, immerse themselves several times in succession, by squatting suddenly upon their haunches, generally repeating various prayers on these occasions. All take this opportunity to wash their doties, and other parts of their apparel, having dry clothes in readiness on the shore.
It is curious at the ghauts, or wharfs, to see hundreds of persons bathing in this manner at the same time. The water is indeed often thronged for the whole day, especially at Benares, Allahabad, Betoor, and other sacred cities, to which pilgrims resort for that purpose at particular times, from immense distances. It is supposed that nearly a million of persons assemble to bathe in the Ganges; yet, as it must appear extraordinary to the European reader, scarcely ever does a person lose his clothes while bathing, perhaps in some measure owing to that astonishing concourse of barbers who officiate previous to each person entering the sacred stream, and usually take charge of the vestments.
At all the bathing places the sexes are intermixed, each being in their usual clothing. Women, however, of a superior class, are not suffered to go abroad except in close vehicles; and were they voluntarily to shew their faces to any male except their husbands, they would be [] in danger of losing their heads. Such never bathe in the river without ample precautions. A spot is selected where the water shoals gradually, and the bather cannot be overlooked from any height, &c. There an area is enclosed by kanauts, supported to the height of eight feet or more, by means of bamboo poles kept in their places by ropes fastened to stakes, or to poles driven into the sand.
The lady is carried to an overlap or opening in the kanauts, mostly in a covered carriage, of which the driver retires, taking with him the oxen, and leaving the machine enclosed within the area, where it serves the purpose of a dressing-room. The female servants attend the interior, while the exterior is guarded by sentinels, or perhaps by eunuchs, on the land side; and, towards any navigable channel a boat is stationed, to prevent the approach of strangers. Mahomedan women seldom bathe in this manner, but generally content themselves, like their husbands, with having five or six large pots of water thrown over their heads.
Europeans ordinarily bathe in this way, daily, during the hot season; and on some occasions, even the pious Hindoo resorts to the same domestic ablution, though it is held far inferior to immersion in the Ganges, or in some stream within a reasonable distance. Bigots will often travel several miles to be laved by the holy fluid, while others will scarcely go as many yards to enjoy that reputed blessing. All, however, must observe the law to a certain extent; and whether owing to habit or veneration, the number of trespasses is certainly very limited. It may be supposed that in so hot a climate bathing must be a luxury; yet at some seasons the waters are by no means inviting, and it has been found, on going into a bath in December and January, that the sensations were truly painful.
Mahomedans in opulent circumstances, and especially [] those of rank, generally have baths lined with marble or masonry. These are placed in some private apartments, to which their families can have immediate access. They are sometimes furnished with an apparatus for heating water to any temperature, as in all the public baths at Calcutta, and the several great cities throughout the East. These baths, which are called hummums, are extremely convenient and, if properly used, no less healthful.
It is necessary after quitting them to be extremely cautious of exposure to the air, on account of the perfect cleansing given to the skin by the attendants, who by means of hautties (a kind of glove made of hair or very coarse wool) bring off such a quantity of scurf as astonishes those who consider themselves to be very cleanly in their persons. These men cause every joint in the bather's frame to crack, thereby giving sometimes no inconsiderable pain: to which, however, the natives are so fully accustomed, as to consider it a luxury. Although the hummums are much frequented by Mahomedans, yet they appear to be chiefly supported by the resort of Armenians, Greeks, Portuguese, and English gentlemen.
The waters throughout the East are infested by alligators of an enormous size, of which some are most sanguinary depredators. It often happens that daily a bather is carried off from a ghaut, perhaps for a fortnight in succession, when some lucky shot either kills the alligator, or drives him from the vicinity. Such is the faith in predestination entertained by all the natives, whether Moossulmans or Hindoos, that though on such occasions they proceed to the ghaut with obvious apprehension, they omit none of their ablutionary duties on account of those depredations they have daily witnessed. They, however, shew great anxiety to have the alligator killed.