Incense of India
India has a rich tradition of using incense in many social and religious occasions since time immemorial. Incense sticks, also known as agarbathi (or agarbatti derived from Sanskrit word Agaravarthi, gara = odour , agar = aroma , varthi = wound ) and joss sticks, in which an incense paste is rolled or moulded around a bamboo stick, is one of the main forms of incense in India. The bamboo method originated in India, and is distinct from the Nepal/Tibet and Japanese methods of stick making in which a bamboo stick is not used. Though the method is also used in the west, particularly in America, it is strongly associated with India. Other main forms of incense are cones and logs and Benzoin resin ( In Sanskrit Saambraani), which are incense paste formed into pyramid shapes or log shapes, and then dried.
A uniform and codified system of incense-making first began in India. Although Vedic texts mention the use of incense for masking odors and creating a pleasurable smell, the modern system of organized incense-making was likely created by the medicinal priests of the time. Thus, modern, organized incense-making is intrinsically linked to the Ayurvedic medical system in which it is rooted.
The oldest source on incense is the Vedas, specifically, the Atharva-veda and the Rigveda. Incense-burning was used both to create pleasing aromas and a medicinal tool. Its use in medicine is considered the first phase of Ayurveda, which uses incense as an approach to healing. Incense-making was thus almost exclusively done by monks.
The specific knowledge of incense as a healing tool was assimilated into the religious practices of the time - early Hinduism. As Hinduism matured and Buddhism was founded in India, incense became an integral part of Buddhism as well. Around 200 CE, a group of wandering Buddhist monks introduced incense-making to China.
The basic ingredients are the bamboo stick, the paste (generally made of charcoal dust and joss/jiggit/gum/tabu powder - an adhesive made from the bark of litsea glutinosa and other trees), and the perfume ingredients - which would be a masala (mixed) powder of ground ingredients into which the stick would be rolled, or a perfume liquid sometimes consisting of synthetic ingredients into which the stick would be dipped. Stick machines are sometimes used, which coat the stick with paste and perfume, though the bulk of production is done by hand rolling at home. There are about 5,000 incense companies in India which take raw unperfumed sticks hand-rolled by approx 200,000 women working part-time at home, and then apply their own brand of perfume, and package the sticks for sale. An experienced home-worker can produce 4,000 raw sticks a day. There are about 25 main companies who together account for up to 30% of the market, and around 500 of the companies, including a significant number of the main ones, are based in Bangalore.
Halmaddi or mattipal is an ingredient which forms the basis of the 'sticky' quality in some hand-rolled incense sticks. It is an earth coloured liquid resin drawn from the Ailanthus triphysa tree; molasses-like when it is fresh and hardens to a brittle resin with a distinctive balsamic smell when it ages. Some incense makers mix it with honey in order to keep it pliable.
In accordance with Ayurvedic principles, the ingredients that go into incense-making may be categorized into five classes: fruits, for example star anise; water (stems and branches), for example sandalwood, aloeswood, cedar wood, cassia, frankincense, myrrh, and borneol; earth (roots), for example turmeric, vetiver, ginger, costus root, valerian, Indian spikenard; fire (flowers), for example clove; and air (leaves), for example patchouli.
Masala is a spice mixture. Masala incenses are made by blending several solid scented ingredients into a paste and then rolling that paste onto a bamboo core stick. These incenses usually contain little or no liquid scents (which can evaporate or diminish over time).
Dhoops are another masala sub-group. They are an extruded incense, lacking a core bamboo stick. Many dhoops have very concentrated scents and put out a lot of smoke when burned. The most well-known dhoop is probably Chandan Dhoop. It contains a high percentage of sandalwood.
Most incenses are made by dipping an unscented "blank" (non-perfumed stick) into a mixture of perfumes and/or essential oils. These blanks usually contain a binding resin (sometimes sandalwood) that holds the ingredients together.
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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.
A sādhu will regularly burn incense in this fashion, as a gesture to Agni, the God of Fire. 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.
The state of Karnataka, referred to as the Capital of Agarbathi (Incense Sticks), is the leading producer of the agarbathi in India, with Mysore and Bangalore being the main manufacturing centres. The Mysore region is recognised as a pioneer in the activity of agarbathi manufacturing and this is one of the main cluster activities that exist in the city. This is due to the fact that it has a natural reserve of forest products especially Sandalwood, which provide for the base material used in production.
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