Oil massage – it’s worth all the fuss and ritual

Oil massage – it’s worth all the fuss and ritual

The weekend was upon us. Being a lazy, relaxed Sunday, I wanted to give my children an oil massage before their weekly hair wash ritual. But it was easier said than done. Thoroughly displeased with the idea, they had vanished ‘POOF’ in the blink of an eye and had me chasing them all over the house … with the oil bowl in hand. After a good one hour of chasing and a great deal of cajoling I managed to grab them and pin them down (with some help from my husband). WHEW! My energies were sure drained out; nonetheless, there was no escaping the oil massage.

Talking of oil massage brings me vivid memories of my childhood. My mother was a great perpetrator of weekly head oil massages, followed by a thorough hair wash with shikakai an hour later. We weren’t allowed to use shampoo, because my mother believed that it led to hair fall and premature graying. So every week, she would religiously apply her concoction of warm til (sesame) oil and methi (fenugreek) seeds (to keep away dandruff) to all kids. Then, each of us had to wait for our turn to collect hot water from the kitchen for bathing.

Younger children and infants were given both head and body oil massage, followed by a hot bath. Green moong dal (green gram) powder or besan (gram flour) powder was used to wash off the oil and hair was dried over the aromatic fumes of a burning sambrani (Indian Frankincense). At the end of this long, elaborate ritual, kids would be exhausted and go to sleep as soon as they had been fed.

My paternal grandmother followed this weekly ritual of til oil and besan powder well into her eighties. She applied fresh kundudukai (reetha) extract (powdered reetha to which hot water is added and then filtered) on her hair. This is a powerful foaming and cleansing agent. Shikakai on the other hand, can be prepared ahead and stored. It is sun dried and powdered along with hibiscus, amla, rice arapu leaves and stored. Later, this powder is mixed with water at the time of using.

What are the benefits?

The traditional oil massage is believed to relieve stress, encourage the flow of lymph, relax muscles, soothe nerves, improve blood circulation (which in turn encourages hair growth), provide relief from sinusitis and for some, may even relieve constipation! It goes without saying that an oil massage leaves behind a smoother and softer skin.

The aromatic sambrani on the other hand, aids in a restful sleep and better relaxation. Some people use a blend of aromatic essences (like rose, lavender or jasmine) in vegetable oils (sesame or coconut oil).

To be honest, I am not as diligent as my mother in giving my kids oil massage baths. I still use the conventional shampoo (what can be more convenient?) though badly want to revert to shikakai. But the thought of the laborious process involved in making the shikakai awakens the lazy bone in me. I sometimes wonder where my mother got her energy and drive from to take care of so many us. Is there a recipe for that amma? Modern conveniences has sure made us lazy!

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