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“No ashes are lighter than those of incense, and few things burn out sooner.”
(Walter Savage Landor – English writer and poet, 1775-1864)
This Holy man was burning incense sticks, as a gesture to Agni, the God of Fire, while facing the Ganges in Varanasi (Benaras).
For the sadhu the world is alive with unseen forces that must be continually propitiated with offerings and cleansing rituals.
Their sacred fireplaces, known as dhuni, perform the same function as incense, on a larger scale, which is to transform matter into aether.
Burning incense is thus a reminder, of the sacred power of fire to transform, and the ultimate journey of all physical matter towards spirit.
For most Indians, incense remains an important part of the daily puja ritual, which is a religious offering performed by all Hindus to their deities, especially during the beginning of a new venture, or to commemorate some special occasion.
The aspect of the ritual known as Dhupa involves the offering of incense before the picture of a deity, as a token of respect.
Indian incense-making involves a wide variety of ingredients.
In accordance with Ayurvedic principles, all the ingredients that go into incense-making are categorized into five classes:
1. Ether (fruits) – examples: Star anise
2. Water (stems and branches) – examples: Sandalwood, Aloeswood, Cedarwood, Cassia, Frankincense, Myrrh, Borneol
3. Earth (roots) – examples: Turmeric, Vetivert, Ginger, Costus root, Valerian, Indian Spikenard
4. Fire (flowers) – examples: Clove
5. Air (leaves) – examples: Patchouli