Incense in India

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Incense being sold in a market in Bangalore

In India, incense sticks, also called Agarbatti (Agar: from Dravidian[1][2] probably Tamil அகில் (agil), அகிர்(agir).,[3] Sanskrit vatti: "wound" or "grief"[citation needed]),[4] are a large part of the economy and many religions in the region.

The basic ingredients of an incense stick are bamboo sticks, paste (generally made of charcoal dust or sawdust and joss/jiggit/gum/tabu powder – an adhesive made from the bark of litsea glutinosa and other trees),[5] and the perfume ingredients – which traditionally would be a masala (powder of ground ingredients),[5] though more commonly is a solvent of perfumes and/or essential oils.[6] After the base paste has been applied to the bamboo stick, it is either, in the traditional method, while still moist, immediately rolled into the masala, or, more commonly, left for several days to dry, and then dipped into the scented solvent.

Various resins, such as amber, myrrh, frankincense, and halmaddi (the resin of a tree) are used in traditional masala incense,[7] usually as a fragrant binding ingredient,[8] and these will add their distinctive fragrance to the finished incense. Some resins, such as gum Arabic,[9] may be used where it is desirable for the binding agent to have no fragrance of its own. Halmaddi has a particular interest to Western consumers,[10] possibly through its association with the popular Satya Nag Champa.[11] It is an earth coloured liquid resin drawn from the Ailanthus triphysa tree; as with other resins, it is a viscous semi-liquid when fresh, it hardens to a brittle solid as it evaporates and ages.[12] Some incense makers mix it with honey in order to keep it pliable. Due to crude extraction methods which resulted in trees dying, by the 1990s the Forest Department in India had banned resin extraction;[13] this forced up the price of halmaddi, so its usage in incense making declined. In 2011, extraction was allowed under leasing agreements,[14] which increased in 2013, though production is still sufficiently limited for the resin to sometimes be stolen via improper extraction to be sold on the black market.[15]

The oldest source on incense is the Vedas, specifically, the Atharva-veda and the Rigveda, which set out and encouraged a uniform method of making incense. Although Vedic texts mention the use of incense for masking odours 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.[16] The method of incense making with a bamboo stick as a core originated in India at the end of the 19th century, largely replacing the rolled, extruded or shaped method which is still used in India for dhoop and cones, and for most shapes of incense in Nepal/Tibet and Japan. Other main forms of incense are cones and logs and benzoin resin (or sambrani), which are incense paste formed into pyramid shapes or log shapes, and then dried.

Ingredients[edit]

Various flavorants used in incense

The basic ingredients of an incense stick are bamboo sticks,[17] paste [18] (generally made of charcoal powder or wood powder and joss/jiggit/gum/tabu powder – an adhesive made from the bark of litsea glutinosa and other trees),[19] and the perfume ingredients – which traditionally would be a powder of mixed ground ingredients, though more commonly is a solvent of perfumes and/or essential oils. After the base paste has been applied to the bamboo stick, it is either, in the traditional method, while still moist, immediately rolled into the flavourant, or, more commonly, left in the sun for several days to dry, and then dipped into the scented solvent.

Many Indian incense makers follow Ayurvedic principles, in which the ingredients that go into incense-making are categorized into five classes: ether (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.[16]

Halmaddi is a fragrant binding ingredient which is used in traditional masala incense.[20] It is an earth coloured liquid resin drawn from the Ailanthus triphysa tree; as with other resins, it is a viscous semi-liquid when fresh, it hardens to a brittle solid as it evaporates and ages.[12] Some incense makers mix it with honey in order to keep it pliable.[21] Due to crude extraction methods which resulted in trees dying, by the 1990s the Forest Department in India had banned resin extraction; this forced up the price of halmaddi, so its usage in incense making declined.[22][23] In 2011, extraction was allowed under leasing agreements, which increased in 2013,[24] though production is still sufficiently limited for the resin to sometimes be stolen via improper extraction to be sold on the black market.[25] Other tree resins or gums are also used as a binding agent, such as amber, myrrh, and frankincense, and these will add their distinctive fragrance to the finished incense; some resins, such as gum arabic, may be used where it is desirable for the binding agent to have no fragrance of its own.[26][27][9]

History[edit]

Ancient pot with holes used for burning incense

The practice of incense as a healing tool was assimilated into the religious practices of the time. 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 stick making to China.[16][28] Some incense, depending on the contents, may also act as organic insect repellent.[29][30]

Hinduism[edit]

Fragrance Incense Sticks

In Hinduism, agarbatti is an integral part of most rituals. The name is derived from agarwood which is commonly used in incense production.[31]

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.[16]

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 is known as dhupa and involves the offering of incense before the picture of a deity, as a token of respect. An incense stick is lit to introduce pleasant fragrances and to cleanse the air of negative energy. The ashes of the burning agarbatti collected symbolize the sacrifice of one's self to others.[32][33]

A sādhu will regularly burn incense in this fashion, as a gesture to Agni, the God of Fire, to ward away 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.[citation needed]

Production[edit]

Production may be partly or completely by hand, or partly or completely by machine. There are semi-automatic machine for applying paste, semi-automatic machine for perfume-dipping, semi-automatic machine for packing, or fully automated machines which apply paste and scent, though the bulk of production is done by hand-rolling at home. There are about 5,000 incense companies in India which take raw un-perfumed sticks hand-rolled by approximately 200,000 women working part-time at home, apply their own brand of perfume, and package the sticks for sale.[34] An experienced home-worker can produce 4,000 raw sticks a day.[35] 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 companies, are based in Bangalore.[36] The state of Karnataka, referred to as the Capital of Agarbathi (Incense Sticks),[37] is the leading producer of the agarbathi in India, with Mysore and Bangalore being the main manufacturing centres of scented agarbatti and Gaya, Bihar was the manufacturing hub of unscented agarbatti.[38] 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. In recent years, growth in the production of agarbathi (incense sticks), Dhoop-Deep[39] has been seen in every part of India. There are plenty of manufacturers in Maharashtra,Gaya and Gujrat and the western India agarbatti market is totally dominated by them. At a national level, the most prominent manufacturers include N. Ranga Rao & Sons with their Cycle Pure Agarbathies,[40] Patanjali with their Aastha agarbatti, Samun Agarbatti with their gaya darshan and ITC with their Mangaldeep.[41]

Economy[edit]

India is one of the world's top incense producing countries,.[30] It was the largest exporter of incense until 2015, after several years of reduced import tariffs as a result of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement. Subsequently, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry (India) increased tariffs on incense imports in 2019[42] and 2020.[43]

Under the aegis of the "Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan", the government of India approved an incense production and employment program on August 2, 2020. The program is called "Khadi Agarbatti Atma Nirbhar Mission", and was proposed by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) of India. Under this scheme, the incense artisans will be provided automatic agarbatti and powder-mixing machines through private business partners. One quarter of the cost of each unit will be borne by KVIC via a subsidy, while the remnant will be paid through loans by the artisans.[44]

Dhoop[edit]

Dhoop is a type of extruded incense, lacking a core bamboo stick. Many dhoops have very concentrated scents and emit a lot of smoke when burned. The best-known is probably Chandan Dhoop, a formulation containing a high percentage of sandalwood.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Burrow, T.; M. B. Emeneau (1984). A Dravidian etymological dictionary (2 ed.). Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. p. 4. Ta. akil (in cpds. akiṛ-) eagle-wood, Aquilaria agallocha; the drug agar obtained from the tree; akku eagle-wood. Ma. akil aloe wood, A. agallocha. Ka. agil the balsam tree which yields bdellium, Amyris agallocha; the dark species of Agallochum; fragrance. Tu. agilů a kind of tree; kari agilů Agallochum. / Cf. Skt. aguru-, agaru-; Pali akalu, akaḷu, agaru, agalu, agaḷu; Turner, CDIAL, no. 49. DED 14.
  2. ^ Turner, R. L. (1962–66). A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages. London: Oxford University Press. p. 3. agaru m.n. ʻ fragrant Aloe -- tree and wood, Aquilaria agallocha ʼ lex., aguru -- R. [← Drav. Mayrhofer EWA i 17 with lit.] Pa. agalu -- , aggalu -- m., akalu -- m. ʻ a partic. ointment ʼ; Pk. agaru -- , agaluya -- , agaru(a) -- m.n. ʻ Aloe -- tree and wood ʼ; K. agara -- kāth ʻ sandal -- wood ʼ; S. agaru m. ʻ aloe ʼ, P. N. agar m., A. B. agaru, Or. agarū, H. agar, agur m.; G. agar, agru n. ʻ aloe or sandal -- wood ʼ; M. agar m.n. ʻ aloe ʼ, Si. ayal (agil ← Tam. akil).
  3. ^ Shulman, David (2016). Tamil: A biography. Harvard University Press. pp. 19–20. We have ahalim [in Hebrew], probably derived directly from Tamil akil rather than from Sanskrit aguru, itself a loan from the Tamil (Numbers 24.8; Proverbs 7.17; Song of Songs 4.14; Psalms 45.9--the latter two instances with the feminine plural form ahalot. Akil is, we think, native to South India, and it is thus not surprising that the word was borrowed by cultures that imported this plant.
  4. ^ Jayaraj, Rsc; Hazarika, P.; Dutta, Nibedita; Biswas, S; Dutta, R. (January 2018). "Status of agarbatti industry in India with special reference to Northeast". ResearchGate.
  5. ^ a b Jonathan Mitchell, Christopher Coles (2011). Markets and Rural Poverty: Upgrading in Value Chains. IDRC. p. 50. ISBN 9781849713139.
  6. ^ Ramya, H. G.; Palanimuthu, V.; Kumar, R. Dayananda (March 2013). "Patchouli in fragrances-incense stick production from patchouli spent charge powder" (PDF). Agricultural Engineering International: Cigr Journal. 15 (1): 187–189.
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  12. ^ a b "Resin". britannica.com.
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  20. ^ NIIR Board of Consultants and Engineers (22 Feb 2016). Entrepreneur's Start-Up Handbook: Manufacturing of Profitable Household (FMCG) Products with Process & Formulations. Asia Pacific Business Press. p. 184. ISBN 9788178331645.
  21. ^ http://www.dhuni.co.uk/the-worlds-most-extraordinary-indian-incense Archived 2012-12-01 at the Wayback Machine, (taken from interview with Bhalendra Sunduram , during the 5th International Conference on Ayurveda. Bangalore, June 2012).
  22. ^ Devaki Jain (1991). Women's role in dynamic forest-based small scale enterprises. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. p. 27. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  23. ^ Myforest. Forest Department, Karnataka. 1992. p. 144. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
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  40. ^ "Cycle.in". Cycle.in.
  41. ^ "ITC". www.itcportal.com.
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  43. ^ "Import duty on bamboo for agarbatti industry hiked to 25%". /www.thehindubusinessline.com. 9 June 2020.
  44. ^ "Government launches a programme for agarbatti manufacturing workers". economictimes.indiatimes.com.