The first prototypes of the banyas were known way back in ancient times. These ancestors of the modern banyas were meant not as much for domestic application as sacral. It was believed that in the banya, all the four elements are at work. Here is the purifying power of the water, the heat from the fire, the penetrating miraculous vapour, the healing work of the grass and trees. This is why after visiting the banya, a person absorbed the power of the elements and became healthier and stronger.
In Rus’, banyas were always respected and honoured. No wonder that the banya was associated with the key moments in the life of the man: for example, before wedding, the bride must have visited the banya. It symbolized the transition from maidenhood to marriage. Our ancestors believed that the main purpose of the banya – purification of the soul. There was a saying: “if the banya didn’t help, nothing will”.
A steam bath in Rus’ was called “Vlaznya”, “Myl’nya” or “Movnya”. According to historical sources, there were already banyas in Russia in the V-VI centuries. They were used by all: the common people and the rich. Therefore, the view that the Russian people had no idea about personal hygiene and were very uncivilized is unfair in this regard. In Russian folklore, there is a mention of the banya at the time when the writing was not.
Before the baptism of Rus’, the banya was of such great importance probably due to pagan beliefs. It was believed that in the banya, one could attract the favour of the elements, which had inherent divine traits.
Since ancient times, our ancestors believed in the great purifying and healing power of the banya, while health, both physical and spiritual, they associated with purity. Banya was considered the principal means for the treatment of diseases and ailments, getting rid of all the bad things, removing the evil eye and spoilage. Sweating in the banya was looked positively on, by the society. It was a sign of hospitality and cordiality of the hosts, so first, guests were asked to sweat in the banya, and only after that were they invited to the table. No wonder, in all Russian tales, Baba Yaga takes Ivan Tsarevich to the banya, and only after that, she treats him to food.
The Slavs were not the only ones, who had a steam banya. Similar banyas have appeared in the possession of the Ural, Volga and Siberian peoples, as well as the Finnish, Ugric and others. Up to this day, there are hunting huts built on the principle of the banyas preserved in the Siberian forests. During the great migration, some of the Finnish peoples have brought to Europe a type of banya called “black banya”. Also, it is believed that the banyas of ancient Indians – temazcals- that still exist in Mexico and Central America, where people are steaming and using herbs and corn stalks, were brought by the tribes