According to Russian tradition, on every visit to the banya people should say “S lyogkim parom”. The literal translation of this phrase is “with light steam”, but in reality people are telling each other to enjoy their bath session. Since ancient times the Russian bathhouse has been considered the place to cleanse the body and soul, and for many people a visit to the banya is a ritual for which they have special rules and preparations. It is still not known for certain why “S lyogkim parom” is such a popular greeting, but it is believed that people were expressing the hope that their fellow guests would enjoy the bath before using the steam room, although now Russians say it after someone has visited the banya. Linguists have a number of explanations for the use of this phrase.
A long time ago, a visit to the banya was akin to experiencing a healing process as it was believed that the steam would relieve physical and mental health problems. Our ancestors thought that anyone who breathed heavily inside the steam room was full of negativity, sins and disease. However, due to the healing properties of the steam, they would undergo a cleansing process and, after eliminating all their disease, their breathing would become lighter as if they were reborn.
For a long time, the Russian banya was called “black” as there was no chimney or ventilation system. The smoke and soot from the stove spread along the walls and ceiling of the steam room, making the inner surface black, hence the name. It is not difficult to imagine that the steam room would soon become full of fumes and carbon dioxide that would be harmful and “heavy” for the human body. Sometimes, it even led to people fainting or suffocating. As a result, there was a call for the introduction of a “light steam”.
It is believed that every banya has its own mystical and dangerous creature called Bannik. If he doesn’t like some of the guests in the steam room, he could be naughty and spoil the steam. By asking for a “light steam”, people were trying to protect themselves from Bannik’s tricks.
The hottest spot
The hottest and most desirable spot in the steam room is on the top shelf. People use the mantra “S lyogkim parom” in the hope that the steam will be light, and therefore quickly rise to the ceiling and bring heat to the upper shelves.
Now the phrase has lost all its original meaning and is simply used as a good wish. S lyogkim parom!