Oil Bath – A Deepavali Tradition

26 Oct

Next weekend is Diwali (or Deepavali as it is called in South India). Popularly known outside India as the festival of lights, Diwali has many traditions associated with it; thorough cleaning of homes, decorating homes with oil lamps, wearing new clothes, buying gold, lighting fireworks, making and distributing sweets and savouries ….

The diwali diyas at Diwali Celebrations at Ban...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, Deepavali celebrations begin on Naraka Chaturdashi. This is the day Lord Krishna slew a demon called Narakaasura. Celebrations begin before dawn with the ritualistic oil bath. While taking an oil bath is a Deepavali tradition, it is by no means restricted to just this festival. In most South Indian homes, an abbreviated version of this elaborate ritual is (or should I say was) a weekly affair.

Here is how we take an oil bath at home.

For the body, you need:

  1. Besan, Senaga Pindi, or Green Gram Flour – 1 Cup
  2. Rice Flour – 1/3 Cup + 1/2 Cup
  3. Chandan or Sandalwood Powder – 1 tbsp
  4. Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  5. Milk – 1/2 Cup (Reduce to 1/4 Cup if you have oily skin)
  6. Milk Cream or Malai – 1 tbsp (Optional – Omit if you have oily skin)
  7. Sesame Oil – 3 tbsp

Preparation of the Bathing Paste/Scrub

  1. Set aside the sesame oil and 1/2 cup rice flour.
  2. Mix all the other ingredients together with a little water to form a smooth paste that just drops off the spoon.

For the head, you need:

  1. Coconut Oil – 1 tbsp
  2. Soap Nuts or Reetha – 12

Preparation Required to Use Reetha

  1. Soak reetha overnight in 2 cups of water. (Ideally, in an iron vessel)
  2. The next day morning, boil the soaked reetha.
  3. Once the water begins to boil, turn down the heat and let the liquid simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  5. Use your hands and squeeze the soap nuts/reetha well.
  6. Discard the reetha skin and seeds.

How to Take an Oil Bath

  1. Ensure that the bathroom is as dry as possible.
  2. Ensure that your person is dry.
  3. Apply the coconut oil to the scalp and the length of the hair.
  4. Apply the sesame oil all over the body.
  5. Massage in the oil gently till it is absorbed.
  6. Wait for 5 minutes.
  7. Now apply a thin layer of the besan paste all over the body.
  8. Stand still while it dries. Takes about 10 minutes.
  9. Gently rub the besan so that it drops off the body.
  10. If the besan is not coming off easily, then dust your body with some of the remaining rice flour and then rub.
  11. Continue the process till all the besan if off your body.
  12. Before you do anything else, clean the besan off bathroom floor.
  13. Wash off the rest of the oil and besan using just warm/hot water. Do not use soap or body wash.

How to Wash your Hair

You could use Shampoo and Conditioner.

  1. After you have completed the bath, pour small amounts of the reetha water onto your scalp and hair.
  2. Rub vigorously.
  3. Wash off with warm water.
  4. Repeat the process, if required.
  5. Dry off as usual.


  • The bathroom must be dry, otherwise you will have a messy floor.
  • Your person must be dry, otherwise you won’t be able to oil yourself.
  • Clean the bathroom before you use any water, otherwise, cleaning the bathroom is a messy affair.
  • Avoid using soap/body wash on your skin and shampoo on the hair. If you do, you will lose many of the benefits of the oil bath.

Advantages of Oil Bath

  1. An oil bath and the associated scrub helps in removing the dead skin cells and leaves your skin glowing.
  2. The scrub increases blood supply and invigorates the skin.
  3. If you follow a regimen of a weekly oil bath, you will notice a greatly improved skin texture and reduce body hair.

Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Musings, Traditions


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5 responses to “Oil Bath – A Deepavali Tradition

  1. Venkat

    October 27, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Diwali for me is waking up at 5 am… Granny vigourosly kneeding oil on my head and face…eyes tinging with Chikka power during th bath…putting on new clothes and namaskars to Granny…. Blare of Naadaswaram on the radio… rustle of silks as Mom gets ready… Dad looking imposing and benevolent with radiant veshthi and white smear of Vebhoothi on his forehead…. all of us doing namaskars to Granny to temple by 7 am.

    Back home to hot idlis, chutney and moologapodi . Home made sweets ( mysore pak, theretipal).. wearing old clothes and rushing off to brust crackers….

    Uncle and Family landing up to pay respects to Dad , Mom and Granny. More crackers with cousins !!!!

    Today, these are only cherised memories. Diwali is a mere festival now.

    The magic of Diwali can be captured only thru the eyes and mind of a child.

    I live these memories every diwali. !!!!!

  2. Cteavin

    April 9, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    I love reading about traditions so different from my own. Thanks for sharing. BTW, do men do this as well?

    • Aruna Panangipally

      October 20, 2014 at 4:56 PM

      Absolutely! This a tradition that does not distinguish between genders.


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