Thursday, August 18, 2005


I wrote this on my blog elsewhere for my nonindian friends.
I am calling it a ritual but it is only a routine, nothing religious about it. It is a ancient routine to care for the hair and skin.

Every sunday, as I oil my daughter's hair and massage her scalp and body, I remember the routine that my mother did for us. It is common in India to massage the scalp and the body once a week. It is a light massage. Coconut oil, sesame oil, or castor oil is used depending on the season and the personal choice. In the southern part, where I live, we use coconut oil generally. Mother too always used coconut oil. Sesame oil is used in winter and castor oil is supposed to cool the head. Even grown ups sometimes get the treatment done by the family members. Diwali festival is the special occasion when this massage is done with scented oils and a hot water bath is taken with scented soaps. A new born baby and baby's mother are pampered with it everyday for the first three months minimum. It is so enjoyable and relaxing.

My mother and my two sisters have very long (hip length) thick hair. My hair too was thick but only waist length. I managed to spoil it during my teenage years when I neglected it. Later on it grew fast and thick again with proper care.

Mother would start with warming up some coconut oil in a small stainless steel cup. We were asked sit on a wooden plank. Mother would place four dots of the warmed up oil on the floor in a small square shape, then a fifth one would be placed in the middle of that square. Once I asked her what it was for and she said ' that is to remember that our body came from the five elements. I do not remember if I understood what she said at that time.

First, mother would put a couple of drops of that warm oil in my ear. The warm oil made me feel ticklish in the ear. She would then fold the ear and rub to let the oil get inside, then it was the other ear. She would take a couple of spoonfuls in her plam and put it on top of my head. pat pat pat. then a little more and again some more. she would rub it in with her fingers. My head would move with the moving of her hands, her fingers smooth and soothing on my scalp. my eyes would close automatically and sometimes I would hummmmmmmm with the movement. After some rubing, she would put some oil on her palms and rub on my body. It felt so good. My younger sister, M, would be waiting for her turn. We would jelously check how much time mother spent on massaging the each other's head. We would always want her never to stop.

After the whole body was oiled, the final touch that we hated. She would rub some oil on my face. When I protested , she said, ' If you oil your body and hair and not your face, you will become a monkey in the next birth'.

Looking at myself in the mirror I remember saying, 'I look like a monkey now only, with all this oiled body and face.'

After she had rubbed the scalp some more, she would give a gentle pat or a push to indicate that she was done with me. Now it would be my sister's turn.

We would wait to let the oil soak in the skin for an hour or so. Then we would be given bath with hot water. Mother used the soapnut powder ground specially with some herbs to nouish the hair. It irritated the eyes but we didn't have a choice. Soap was not considered good for hair. I did not use the readymade shampoo till I was almost 30 years old. Many women, even now, consider soap/shampoo a no no for hair.

Last year, mother was here with me for Diwali festival. As I finished the massage for my daughter, mother asked me, ' Shall I do it for you? '. I knew that the exercise would be too rigorous for her 70 plus year old hands. So I declined though I wanted to say yes.

My daughter has thick hair. I keep cutting it short for the sake of convenience though she wants long hair like me. She too enjoys the sunday oiling as we used to enjoy it as children. Sometimes she insists on doing the same for me and I do love it. I hope she will remember it when she grows up to do the same for her daughter.


Anonymous said...

good memories. I did not know that, mom never told me abt it. I'll also ask her to do a sunday massage for me.

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