Exploring the Role of Incense in Hindu Traditions

Exploring the Role of Incense in Hindu Traditions Common Scents and Their Meanings

Incense is a vital component of religious rituals, adoration ceremonies (pooja) and home life. It purifies the atmosphere, helps in meditation and chakra healing, and evokes feelings of joy and wellbeing.

Incense is made of dried ingredients that are blended with a plant-based binder. The mixture is then pressed or shaped into cones, coils and coreless sticks, before being dried.

Scents of the Gods

In ancient cultures, scents had a powerful ability to convey virtue or vice. The smell of a pious ascetic was proof of his or her deep sanctity, while the rotting stench of a starved ascetic’s body served as a warning against the temptations of sin and worldliness.

A variety of plant-based ingredients were used, including flowers, seeds, leaves, woods and resins. Animal-derived materials, such as musk and civet (the glandular oils of musk deer and civet cat) and ambergris, a substance secreted by sperm whales, were also popular.

The Egyptians had a pantheon of divinities related to perfume and aroma, including Chesmou, god of fragrance production, Merehet, goddess of unguents and Nefertum, god of the lotus blossom. The most prized incense of ancient Egypt was kyphi, made from a combination of exotic resins imported from other countries, honey, spices and roots. When burned, kyphi was said to lull worshippers into a druglike trance.

Scents of the Goddesses

Just like art for the eyes, music for the ears, or fine cuisine for the tongue, many people enjoy incense simply as a refined sensory experience. Incense can clear away old energies and create space for new vibes to emerge.

Masala incenses are made by blending solid, scented ingredients into a paste and rolling it onto a bamboo core stick. The paste contains a wet binding ingredient, often mucilage derived from botanical sources such as the bark of the tabu-no-ki tree, and a dry binder composed of cellulose powder that combusts into stable embers when lit.

Champas are a sub-group of masala incenses that contain halmaddi, a grey semi-liquid resin from the Ailanthus Malabarica or plumeria tree. Its distinctive flowery fragrance is a trademark of this group. Champa incenses are known to promote relaxation, spirituality, and emotional healing. They are also a great aid for a good night’s sleep, helping you to settle down, regulate your nervous system, and reduce anxiety.

Scents of the Seasons

The sense of smell is a powerful tool for changing the atmosphere of our homes and lives. A simple scent can instantly shift a room into a calm and relaxing space, or set the mood for meditation and ceremony.

Incense can be burned as a form of offering to the gods, or simply for its pleasant aroma. It is also used to mask unpleasant or irritating odors. While the smoke can create small particulate matter that could be inhaled, it is less harmful than cigarette smoking.

There are two main types of incense: indirect-burning and direct-burning. Direct-burning incense is usually made from a moldable substrate of fragrant finely ground or liquid incense materials and an odourless binder. It can take the form of sticks, cones or coils.

Scents of the Home

There are plenty of natural ways to add home fragrance to your space. You can choose candles that are crafted with essential oils, or reed diffuser sticks which absorb the scent and dispense it into the air. You can also try Palo Santo, a stick of wild wood from South America that is burned to create a smoky aroma. It is reputed to have energizing properties and can help clear negative energy in the home. It’s a key ingredient in our alluring Speakeasy luxury candle.

Traditionally, perfumers used plant-derived ingredients like flowers, leaves, seeds, woods, resins and gums to impart their scents. Animal-derived substances such as musk and civet were also popular. Today, these are usually synthetically recreated for use in perfumes, but they can still add a distinctive aroma. Myrrh, a dark resin derived from true myrrh trees that grow in the Middle East, has both bitter and sweet notes. Its complex profile can add intrigue to oriental perfumes.