History

The use of incense is deeply ingrained in the history and traditions of India, beginning in 5000 BC. The first reference to incense was found in the Vedas, especially the Rigveda and Atharva-veda. Agarbathies were almost exclusively manufactured by monks and medicinal men. The earliest Ayurvedic practitioners often employed incense as the first phase of healing.

In Yagnas and Havans meant to appease the Gods, fragrance played an important role. Aromatic herbs and twigs were added to the sacrificial fire, in addition to medicinal and other herbs, roots and seeds. According to mythology, the sacrificial fire (Agni) carried these offerings to the heavens. The fragrant fumes were said to appease the Gods and vitalize the environment. It even acted as a natural disinfectant. Even today, this tradition continues with incense sticks along with dhoop being part of the 16 offerings in any Hindu ritual.

Out of these traditional practices was born the modern agarbatti.

Even in other ancient civilizations of the BC era, incense played a major role. The quest for spices and incense led to the establishment of new sea routes. Fortunes were spent on the quest for new incenses and thus, incense is of high historical significance. Frankincense and Myrrh, both aromatic resins, were among the early important incenses. According to Biblical mythology, the three wise men who visited Jesus Christ after his birth bore gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The tomb of Tutankhamen which reignited an interest in ancient Egypt was found to contain large quantities of fragrant oils and incense.

In Ancient China too, incense acquired great significance, being used in worship as early as 2000 BC. In fact, among the earliest documented instances of incense utilization is that of the Chinese who used incenses such as cassia, cinnamon, styrax and sandalwood amongst others. During the reign of the Song dynasty, numerous buildings were erected for this purpose.

In the AD era, incense was extremely popular in Japan. Brought to the country by Korean Buddhist monks in the 6th century, incense quickly became a fascination of the nobles. Until the 16th century when the use of incense spread to the upper and middle classes, the nobles were the sole consumers. During the reign of the Kamakura and Ashikaga Shogunate in the 14th century, Samurai warriors perfumed their helmets and armour as they believed it would give them an aura of invincibility.

Today, incense is used in various forms by millions of people across the world.


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