Persia/Chapter 36

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In Persia the baths are numerous and magnificent, and the price of admission to them is moderate. They are open to persons of all classes and of both sexes to the men five days in the week, and to women the other two.

These buildings consist of two very spacious rooms, the one for undressing, and the other containing the bath. Along the walls of the former, are placed seats of marble or stone two feet high, covered with mats and carpets, on which the bathers sit to strip off their clothes. A narrow passage leads to the bathing-room, which is an octagon surmounted by a cupola, at which air and light are admitted, and paved with marble. At the upper end of this room is a large reservoir.of water heated by means of boilers.

The process of the bath, when applied by either sex, is much the same: it is thus described by Sir Robert Porter:

The bather, having undressed in the outer room, and retaining nothing but a piece,of loose cloth round his waist, is conducted by the proper attendant into the hall of the bath: a large white sheet is then spread on the floor, on which the bather extend himself. The attendant brings from the cistern, which is warmed from a boiler below, a succession of pails full of water, which he continues to pour over the bather till he is well drenched and heated. The attendant then takes the employer's head upon his knees, and rubs with all his might a sort of wet paste of henna plant into his mustachios and beard. In a few minutes, this pommade dyes them a bright red. Again he has recourse to the little pail, and showers. upon his quiescent patient another torrent of warm water. Then, putting on a glove made of soft hair, yet some of the scrubbing-brush qualities, he first takes the limbs and then the body, rubbing them hard for three quarters of an hour. A third splashing from the pail prepares for the operation of the pumice-stone. This he applies to the soles of the feet. The next process seizes the hair of the face, whence the henna is cleansed away, and replaced by another paste, called rang, composed of the leaves of the indigo plant. To this succeeds the shampooing, which is done by pinching, pulling, and rubbing with so much force and pressure, as to produce a violent glow over the whole frame. Some of the natives delight in having every joint in their bodies strained till they crack; and this part of the operation is brought to such perfection, that the very vertebra of the back are made to ring a peal in rapid succession. This climax of skill, however, has a very strange effect to the spectator; for, in consequence of both bather and attendant being alike unclothed, the violent exertions of the one and the natural resistance of the joints in the other, give the two the appearance of a wrestling-match. This over, the shampooed body, reduced again, to its prostrate state, is rubbed all over with a preparation of soap, confined in a bag, till it is one mass of lather. The soap is then washed off with warm water, when a complete ablution succeeds, the bather being led to the cistern and plunged in. He passes five or six minutes, enjoying the perfectly pure element; and then emerging, has a large dry warm sheet thrown over him, in which he makes his escape back to the dressing-room. During the process of the bath, many of the Persians not only dye their hair black, but their nails, feet, and hands, a bright red. They often smoke half a dozen kalliouns; and in short, take the whole business more easily than a European would his sitting down under the hands of a barber to shave his beard.

The Persian ladies regard the bath as the place of their greatest amusement. They make appointments to meet there, and often pass seven or eight hours together in the carpeted saloon, telling stories, relating anecdotes, eating sweetmeats, sharing their kalliouns, and completing their beautiful forms into all the fancied perfections of the East.