A Primer on Indian Incense

A Primer on Indian IncenseIncense has been used in India for thousands of years. It has a unique and exotic fragrance that many people find enjoyable. It has been used in meditation practices, but is also linked to the
Ayurvedic medicine system in which it has its foundations.


Incense has been used as a medicinal tool for thousands of years in India, Egypt and China. The use of pleasurable scents, including incense, is considered the first step in healing in Ayurvedic medicine. For many years, incense-making and healing was conducted by monks. Hindu and later Buddhist monks used incense as part of religious ceremonies. Forming the first organized methods of incense production, Hindu and Buddhist monks developed specific procedures for manufacturing incense.

In approximately 200 CE, incense-making was introduced to China as Buddhism expanded across the continent of Asia. Prior to introduction to China, incense had been used in Egyptian cultures as part of spiritual rituals in prayers to gods and goddesses and with readings from oracles for prophecy. The use of incense spread from the Middle East and upper Africa to Greece and Rome, where it was also used as part of spiritual practices.

In China and Japan, incense sticks are sometimes referred to as “joss” sticks and, even today, are frequently used in meditation and funeral rituals.

Ingredients and Ayurvedic Principles

Ingredients in Indian incense are derived from plant materials. Each of these materials elicits a specific fragrance and is associated with an Ayurvedic quality. Ayurvedic medicine is founded on the concept that health is about finding balance between the qualities of ether, earth, fire, air and water. If a person is experiencing health problems, it is because one or more of these qualities are out of balance. Introducing fragrances associated with the quality out of balance is the first step to regaining harmony physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Ether is associated with fruit fragrances. An example of an incense with this principle is one made primarily of star anise.

Earth is associated with roots. Examples of earth quality incense fragrances include ginger, valerian, vetiver and turmeric.

Fire is associated with flowers. Examples of fire qualities include lavender, clove and rose.

Air is associated with leaves. Examples of air qualities include patchouli and sweet grass.

Water is associated with stems and branches. Examples of incense with water qualities include myrrh, cedarwood, sandalwood and frankincense.

Incense Classifications

There are two primary different types of incense classifications – masala and charcoal. Masala incense sticks are manufactured using dry ingredients. Charcoal incense is manufactured using liquid ingredients.

Masala – masala means “spice mixture” in Hindi. This type of Indian incense is created by blending several different scented ingredients together to create a paste. The paste is rolled onto a bamboo stick and dried. Dubars are very sweet and spicy fragrance masala incense sticks and are slightly soft to the touch. Champas are one of the most popular and well-known subgroups of dubar incense. The most well-known is Nag Champa. Dhoops are another subgroup of masala incense. Dhoop sticks do not have a bamboo stick and are concentrated incense fragrance. The most common dhoop is Chandan Dhoop, which has a high concentration of sandalwood. Dhoop stick incense often smells very strong and produces a great deal of smoke when burned.

Charcoal – Charcoal incense is manufactured by dipping an unscented binder into essential oils. Most charcoal incense is in cones or block shapes and is black in color.

Uses of Incense

In practical terms, incense can be used to mask unpleasant odors. Many forms of Indian incense are extremely enjoyable and often people burn it simply because they like the way it smells. Traditionally, incense was burned in places where large numbers of people gathered to cover up the smell of unwashed bodies.

Today, incense is still used in large spaces and many religions used incense burning as part of routine spiritual rituals, such as in a Catholic church service. Incense can be used as part of a meditation ritual, helping the mind focus and become still.

Incense has been used by humans for thousands of years. Indian incense is often associated with specific qualities found in Ayurvedic medicine and is used as the first stage in finding balance for health. You can buy Indian incense at many spiritual retail stores and online.

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