Popular Traditions: Where There Is A Dacha, There Is a Banya

12 December, 2014

Popular Traditions: Where There Is A Dacha, There Is a Banya

Popular traditions throughout Russian history emits an incredibly long list of traditions. However, none of these are so famous as the culture of the Russian Баня (Banya), one of the oldest Slavic traditions. Despite the fact that this custom is several centuries old, the Banya is incredibly popular today. They can be found in virtually every city and small town in Russia, and dachas are almost always accompanied with a personal banya for the owner.

The earliest description of a banya is actually from 1133. The story goes that the Apostle Andrew visited the Eastern territories, reaching as far as the ancient city of Novgorod.He admired the Russian banya, saying that the Russians had mastered the art of pleasure mixed with revitalisation.

The set-up of a Russian banya is fascinating as demonstrates its popularity.It is normally made of three rooms. The first is called предбанник (pre-banya), where all clothes are left. The room normally contains a large, long table and a few benches, where people can take a break from the banya and relax with tea and water. It is not encouraged to drink alcohol when in the banya, but Russian men often drink beer (anything stronger will be extremely dangerous for your health!). This room is considered special by Russians, as it is a place that encourages conversations about life, and increases the time spent communicating and interacting on a common level.

The second room of the traditional Russian banya is called the парная (the steam room). This is the main part of the banya, which is traditionally heated with firewood (but more modern versions use electric heaters or coal). Wide wooden benches normally line the walls like steps. The higher up you sit or lie, the hotter the air gets (these rooms often heat up to higher than 93 degrees centigrade!). The real trick of the Russian banya comes with its unique веник, a bunch of dried branches and leaves, traditionally from white birch, oak or eucalyptus. These are moistened and used to slap the back of someone, in order to fully revitalise the body before cooling down again!

When a really good sweat has been induced, you have to enter the third and final room of the traditional Russian banya, which contains a cold plunge pool. This is used to cool off before entering the парная again for another round of sweating out toxins. In Siberia, people sometimes decide against having a cold pool in their banya and simply cut holes in nearby frozen lakes or roll around in the snow to cool down! This process repeats until you feel revitalised enough to face the real world outside again!

The banya is an important part of Russian culture. Its distinctiveness is mentioned in the works of Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It provides a perfect relaxing area to meet with friends and discuss current life, as well as providing pleasure for the people who frequent the banyas throughout Russia. You really have to go to a Russian banya to test out the experience, as it is difficult to put into words the bizarre nature of the Russian bathing areas. So enjoy your banya! Or, as the Russian saying goes, с лёгким паром!

This post was brought to you by Alexander, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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