Every civilization has its legends regarding the rejuvenating properties of water, which is why, perhaps, all major religions in the country have rituals with water for all ceremonies and sanskars or purificatory rites as they are so called ; beginning with the Nama Karna , (the name giving ceremony ), to Kshaura (shaving ),which represents a persons growth into puberty , and finally vivah , the most important sanskar from societys point of view.
The significance of water at these ceremonies could be associated to the purity of water in spiritual terms , or it could have evolved from that all enduring belief in the fountain of eternal youth , endowing water with properties of miraculous powers to rejuvenate .While there is nothing such as snan water that distinguishes it from ordinary water , except , perhaps , the magical effect of the mantras or prayers chanted by the priest ,elaborate ceremony rites associated with the ritual of the bath, continue to be performed to this day at almost all ceremonies , particularly weddings .
Much significance has been accorded to the bathing ritual or mangalsnan for both the groom and the bride-to-be, prior to the wedding ceremony . Apart from spiritual reasons , the belief goes ,that this tradition perhaps takes root in the royal baths , where the queens were anointed with aromatic oils and bathed in fragrant water baths filled with attars or rose petals, to make them look more beautiful for their kings .Since then ,through the ages , every bride for every prince charming has been following the same ritual for enhancement of her looks , with slight modification and variation in the actual ceremony form associated with each ceremony and religion .
For instance , it was customary, at one time , amongst Punjabis , for the girls , to remain in her old clothes for one or two days (or even more ) , before the wedding . This so called Mayean pe gayen, where the girl remained in her old clothes for a period of time , sitting in front of four diyas lit before her was considered essential , as it was believed that the light of the diyas would be reflected on her face , thereby making her glow and look more beautiful on the wedding eve !
The Punjabi ritual of the bath is still a rather elaborate one , beginning with the first step of getting suitable holy water for the bath . For ghara ghardoli, as this ceremony is so called , the ladies of the house , usually the bride/grooms sisters , cousins , and bhabhis(sister-in-laws), led by a married sister who carries the ghara on her head ,placed over a pink chunni ,go to a nearby temple , to fetch the water for the bride/grooms bath, to the accompaniment of songs , jokes and laughter . As she enters the house , she is welcomed by the mother of the bide or the groom as the case may be with sweets and an auspicious token of money and gifts for this occasion.
The boy /girl is then anointed with vatna, a paste of haldi and oil , after which they are expected to bathe with holy water brought from the temple and presented with new clothes by the mama, or maternal uncle, while the old ones are given usually to the sweeper.
In Gujaratis too , the bathing ritual for the boy is performed in much the same way as the girls to the singing of traditional songs. The snaan ceremony is conducted on the day of the wedding , with 8-10 married women of the family applying turmeric and oil on their bodies and hair. While in Maharashtra , this tel halad ceremony is usually performed a day before the wedding , by the young unmarried girls from the brides side along with perhaps one married woman as chaperone , applying the uptan paste on to the boy. Beginning with the feet upwards till the head , the oil and turmeric is rubbed on to his body with a naagveli or the leaf of a betel.
In Bengalis too, the snan or bathing ritual takes place on the wedding day , in the evening or late afternoon, depending on the time of the lagan or wedding ceremony.
It is conducted in the same manner for both the boy and the girl , here again the married women , about 8-10 in number , apply turmeric and oil on the on the hair and body of the boy and the girl as the case may be . During snan both of them wear new clothes sent in by each others families , after the ceremony , these are gifted to the napit or barber.
Although called by different names in different communities , the significance of snaan ritual remains consistent , the customs , ofcourse ,vary from religion to religion . In Muslims , for instance, at the manjha ceremony , the haldi lapetan is only performed by the unmarried girls on the bride-to-be. The haldi and fragrant chameli oil are sent by the boys family. The girl restricts herself to wearing yellow clothes in keeping with the colour of the haldi ,and does not wear any jewellery. After this ceremony , she does not move out of her house or change her clothes until the wedding.
In the brahmin Iyer community from TamilNadu, uday shanti , as this ceremony is called , takes place in the morning of the wedding. The girl is made to sit on a low stool or palaha, around which kolam, or decorative rangoli is done. To the singing of traditional songs , the ladies of the house first apply chandan and kumkum on her forehead , the mother then puts oil in her hair, this is followed by anointing the body with haldi paste and a bath , after which the girl is gifted a new sari.
The same ceremony for the groom , is , however, carried out by the ladies from the girls side who visit the boys place or the place where the baraat is lodged, to the accompaniment of nada swaram , a shehnai like musical instrument, carrying with them ingredients for the boys bath , such as til oil, shikakhai and fragrant sandalwood powder. Gifts also include sweets and tambul in the form of coconut, paan supari , fruits and flowers (mainly venis and mogra flowers for the ladies from the boys family)
Mangalsnaan , as the name implies , has since times immemorial , been considered an auspicious occasion , the rituals , however , were more elaborate than they are now. Gone are the days when oil and chandan , the turmeric , sandal , besan , were ground to perfection for that special day , by the ladies of the household day , when they anointed the bodies of the groom and bride-to-be and even gave them a complete bath . Todays grooms and brides , being older and modern prefer to take their own baths , and hence only a token ceremony is performed.
So even though this ritual is still considered obligatory by almost all communities for spiritual purposes , the actual snaan, has been replaced ,perhaps to a mere scientific process , with the emergence of beauty specialists and therapists offering a varied choice of baths, as in Turkish , sauna , mud or whirlpool !