The History of Incense

History of Incense

Prabhuji’s Gifts incense supports cottage industry artisans, mainly women, hand-rolling traditional herbal incense sticks in accordance with ancient recipes. This helps improve local economy and provides a positive working environment.

During religious services, a server called a thurifer approaches the person being incensed with a lighted charcoal cylinder known as a thurible. These incense burners come in a variety of shapes and sizes.


Throughout the world incense is used for a variety of ceremonial purposes, from fumigating tombs to cleansing altars and offering it to the gods during religious services. The earliest evidence of incense comes from ancient Egypt where traces of fragrant resins such as Frankincense and Myrrh have been found in the burial chambers.

In the Heian period (8th to 12th centuries) court nobles started creating fragrances for their own enjoyment, and thus laid the foundation of a distinctive incense culture. This is how Koh-Do (the Way of Incense) was born.

Indirect burning incense requires an external heat source to ignite it and is composed of a combination of non-combustible ingredients, such as herbs and resins, that are mixed together. These are typically sprinkled onto a piece of lighted charcoal contained in a censer. The aromatic smoke rises in clouds. This is a beautiful ritual where the rhythm and sweetness of the incense are reminiscent of music.


Many religious ceremonies and purifying rites use incense as part of the ritual. Incense also has been used for its medicinal value and simply as an enjoyable experience.

Incense is a form of non-combustible aromatic plant materials that release fragrant smoke when burned. It can be derived from raw plants, or made synthetically using chemicals. The choice of ingredients and process varies by culture and tradition.

Incense can be categorized into two types, indirect-burning and direct-burning. Indirect-burning incense requires a separate heat source to burn and emits less smoke than other forms of incense. Indirect-burning incense includes incense sticks, wands, and cone-shaped incense. Dhoops, a sub-group of masala incense, are extruded incense without a core bamboo stick and tend to be more intense in scent.


The incense powders, sticks and cones we use today are a result of ancient methods. These recipes typically combine charcoal or wood powder with a gum binder and an oxidizer. The binders hold the mixture together and heat it so that aromatic oils are released when burned. Gum binder is the most common, but natural plant binders are also available.

The fragranced smoke can be used in spiritual ritual and as a purifier of the air. It is still used by Hindus as an offering to the gods, and it is a central part of many Buddhist ceremonies.

Fragrant resins such as frankincense and mastic were one of the primary goods traded along the Incense Road, which eventually closed down because of political upheaval and economic decline. In modern times these precious materials are largely imported from the Middle East.


Incense comes in two kinds – indirect-burning resins (such as myrrh and frankincense) and direct-burning powders. The latter can be ‘dipped’ into fragranced oils to produce ‘hand-dipped’ incense, commonly sold by flea-market and sidewalk vendors.

Natural plant-based binders such as mucilaginous materials and dry binding powders hold the fragrant material together while it combusts to form a glowing ember. Binders with too much water content may cause incense to burn unevenly or too rapidly, or the mixture may be too dense for effective smoldering.

Inhalation of incense smoke can lead to bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections and other respiratory ailments. It also creates small particulate matter that can be carcinogenic. This is why it is important to only burn high-quality incense that is sprayed with a minimal amount of solvent, and has been carefully prepared to minimize toxic exposure.