By Swami Harshananda
Snāna literally means ‘bath’.
Significance of Snāna
In the life of a person, even ordinary acts like snāna or bathing, needed to keep the body clean and pure are considered a sacrament that elevates one spiritually. A bath is compulsory for persons of all the varṇas. It is to be taken in a river, a big tank, the tank attached to a temple or from the water drawn from one’s own well or even a public well.
Denotation to Each Varṇa for Snāna
The brāhmaṇa householders are expected to take bath twice, before sunrise and at noon, whereas a brahmacārin is to take it only once. A sanyāsin should bathe thrice, the last one being before sunset. The bath should always be accompanied by the chanting of Vedic mantras such as Rgveda, Taittirīya Samhita and Ṛgveda.
Types of Snāna
When a person is unable to take bath as prescribed with all the formalities and mantras shortcuts are permitted such as invoking river-goddesses into the water and sprinkling the same over himself. Some of the purāṇas and smṛtis give a list of six varieties of snāna. They are:
- Nitya - Nityasnāna is the one already described.
- Naimittika - Naimittikasnāna is occasioned by a nimitta or a special reason like the birth of a son or the completion of a sacrifice or an eclipse and so on.
- Kāmya - Kāmyasnāna is undertaken in a place of pilgrimage or at any other place.
- Kriyāṅga - Kriyāṅgasnāna is resorted to as a part of a religious rite.
- Malāpakarṣaṇa or abhyaṅga - Malāpakarṣaṇa snāna is actually an oil bath undertaken on certain auspicious days to get prosperity.
- Kriyā - Kriyāsnāna is the bathing done at a place of pilgrimage to get the merit and performed as per the procedure prescribed.
Types of Gauṇasnāna
The dharmaśāstras have also enumerated six kinds of gauṇasnāna. They are:
- Mantrasnāna - sprinkling water over oneself with certain mantras
- Bhaumasnāna - smearing the body with loose earth
- Āgneyasnāna - applying holy ashes
- Vāyavīyasnāna - taking on or exposing the body to the dust raised by the hoofs of cows
- Divyasnāna - wetting one’s body in a shower of rain accompanied by sunshine
- Mānasasnana - repeating the name of God in the mind
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore