By V. Balakrishnan
September 7th, 2010
Brushing our teeth is something we do every morning without sparing a second thought. But like each and every act of daily life, this too had come under the keen observation of the sages of the past. And like many other daily acts, they prescribed a routine for cleaning our teeth too.
Accordingly, before cleaning the teeth, one has to hold water in mouth, gargle well and spit it out. While doing this, bow your head to the left side, for there are rishis in front of us and devas on our right side. As per old beliefs, the left side alone is vacant.
Now start brushing. Take a small, green twig of neem, red mandaaram, fig or mango tree, beat its head with a stone and brush with this softened end. This prescription appears in Devi Bhagavatham also.
However, on certain days like Vavu, Prathama, Shashti, Navami, Ekadasi etc, this sort of brushing is not permitted. On these days, gargling 12 times with fresh water will do.
While brushing, mentally chant the prayer:
"Annadyaya vyoohadhwamse somorajayamagamatu Samemukham prakshalyate yasasa cha bhagena cha
Ayurbalam yasorvarcha: pasuvasooni cha brahma
prajnjancha medhancha twannodehi vanaspathe”
In Kerala, Sankarasmriti does not encourage people to brush using these twigs. According to the text, burnt chaff or leaves of the mango tree are preferable to twigs.
Householders should not brush their teeth on Sundays and Tuesdays. There is also a taboo on brushing one’s teeth on birthdays, Prathipadam, Chaturdasi etc as well. However, no such restrictions are binding on Mondays. It is a must-day for brushing!
Likewise, the texts warn us not to brush our teeth facing southwards. You can face east or northeast while brushing your teeth.
One may wonder why there are specific instructions with regard to trifles like brushing one’s teeth.
Traditional beliefs and observances have something remarkable in them and that is why they persisted so long. For one, these prescriptions urge us to do justice to great beings. And, more importantly, they indicate that no task is mundane.
In Yajnavalkya Smriti, for instance, bathing is mainly classified into Mukhyam and Gaunam, and these have six and seven sub-divisions respectively. All auspicious acts are supposed to be done after taking a bath. Otherwise they don’t incur any results. Hence, one has to begin the day with bathing.
However, there is restriction on bathing on certain days like Ahashti, Ashtami, and newmoon. Likewise, one should not take bath immediately after food, while suffering from diseases and at midnight. Dip-bath in water bodies or bathing in medicinal water is recommended.
While bathing in a lake or river one has to imagine the presence of holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati and worship them uttering the shloka:
“Gangae cha Yamunae chaiva Godavari Saraswathi
Narmada Sindhu Kaveri theertho asmin samidhin kuru”
After taking bath, one should stand in the water and undertake certain observances to please the deities. Then drying your hair and body, again as per specific prescriptions, you can return home.
These restrictions and prescriptions succeeded in ensuring personal and social wellness apart from imposing habits of hygiene on our ancestors.
— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Asian Age