Russian Banya (Русская баня)
03 February, 2016
Russian Banya (Русская баня)
I wrote before about the Latvian saunas, it is time to talk about Russian banya now, which are very similar due to their development under the soviet regime, and some customs are exactly the same.
From medieval times going to bania is a very old Russian custom that grew with popularity and not to bathe in at least three times a week was practically taken as a proof of foreign origins. Most villagers in Russia had a bathhouse, usually some way off from the rest of the houses in the village. The bathhouse had its own resident sprite, the bannik, the most hostile of the Russian domestic goblins, and was not a place to visit alone. The bannik was envisaged as a naked dwarf or a little old man. The proper time for people to use it was the five or seven hours before the midday . Only three or two bathing sessions were safe, after that it was Devil’s turn and no peasant would go in after the third session or after the sundown. A site of former bathhouse was considered to be unclean, even evil and new houses were not built there.
Every noble household had its own steam house. In towns and villages there was invariably a communal bath, where men and women sat steaming themselves, beating one another, rolling around together in the snow. Because of its reputation as a place for sex and wild behavior, Peter the Great attempted to stamp out the bania as a relic of medieval Russia and encouraged the building of Western bathrooms in the palaces and mansions of St. Petersburg .
Going to the bathhouse often was, and is regarded as a way of getting rid of illnesses – it was called the “people’s first doctor'”. There were all types of magical beliefs associated with it in folklore. To go to bania was to give both your body and your soul a good cleaning, and it was the custom to perform this purge as a part of important rituals. Bathhouse was the place for the ritual pre-marriage bathe and for the delivery of babies. It was warm and clean and private, and in a series of bathing rituals that lasted forty days, it purified the mother from the bleeding of the birth which, according to the Church and the popular belief that held to the idea of Christ’s bloodless birth, symbolized the fallen stale of womanhood. according to the recordes, when the tsarina went into labor, she was taken off to the bathhouse and remained there until her child was born.
The bania’s role in prenuptial rituals was also to ensure the woman’s purity: the bride was washed in the bania by her maids before her wedding. It was a custom in some places for the bride and the groom to go to the bath house before their wedding night. These were not just peasant rituals. They were shared by the provincial nobility and even by the court in the final decades of the 17th century.
However, some russian families kept their banya near their dacha and keep using it to purify their body; russians warm thesmselve to extreme heat naked, they anoit themselves with tallow, young reeds and lash their bodies.
This blog was brought to you by Eliant, an intern and a student at Liden and Denz