Burma, Buddhism And Incense Sticks


May I tell you a story? It starts with a question. Do you remember the days of the 1960s and early 1970s or have you heard about them? These were the times of the Cuba Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The days of ‘The Beatles’ asking for ‘Love, Love, Love’, Janis Joplin, Frank Marley, the ‘Rolling Stones’ and Cat Stevens on his ‘Peace Train’, the times of Hare Krishna, Create Love-Not War, the times of Woodstock, Hippies and Flower Power, the days of Ravi Shankar with his Sitar, Yoga, Yogis and India. Really does any of this ring a bell with you? Properly, that was also the time when I acquired my first encounter with Incense sticks. It was absolutely ‘en vogue’ to burn incense sticks especially on parties and to drift away on swath of incense smoke cigarettes into the realm of dreams of a better world. Yes, in the 1960s we were ready to create a world without injustices and wars, in brief, to make the planet a better place, or so we believed, “Peace, brother. ”

Back then when I have had my first ‘Incense Party’ experiences I did, among others, not understand two things, namely that the dream of a better world would, alas, not really become reality and that the relaxing fragrance of incense sticks might one day become an everyday reality of my life.

What was back in the 1960s the exotic pinnacle of my life as an adolescent in Germany, who along with Ravi Shankar playing in the background burned incense for no factors other than to enjoy the sensory enjoyment and the exotic atmosphere coming along with it, did later become an integral part of my everyday life. Without Ravi Shankar, though. That was 25 years ago whenever after some years in South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand – all countries by which incense sticks play an important function in the people’s lives – I did so, finally, put down roots in Burma.

In my today’s life I am surrounded by the smoke and aromatic scents of incense sticks at virtually every corner. At home on my family’s Buddha altar, on the streets in nat houses that are placed in or at Banyan trees, in my friends’ homes, in the many smaller and larger temples and pagodas that are lining the streets, and even in workplaces and many local stores; everywhere are usually incense sticks slowly burning aside, mostly emanating their lovely perfume of sandal wood, which is the most important and mainly used ingredient in Asian incense. However , in case the particular incense sticks are used as a repellent to keep away the troublesome mosquitoes it is citronella that is used as organic insect repellent.

When looking at this closely my article should really be titled ‘Burma, Buddhism And Incense’, not ‘Incense Sticks’ for the stays are only supporting the layer associated with aromatic elements that is attached to this and burned by way of combustible incense a process that is also called direct burning. Aromatic elements or aromatic biotic materials used for incense are generally all sorts of woods, roots, resins, flowers, seeds, fruits, herbs and leaves that will release a pleasant fragrance when burnt. Depending on the intended use some of the mainly used materials are sandalwood, agar wooden, pine, Cyprus, cedar, star anise, vanilla, cardamom, frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, mastic, Dragon’s blood, galangal, sage, tea, rose, lavender, clove plus saffron.
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The incense stick is just one of several possible forms of combustible incense. The other forms are cones, coils, ropes and paper. But the stays are the by individuals worldwide most favored form of incense. Also, they were the very first form of incense I have experienced and it is therefore particularly the incense sticks that will remind me on those times in the 1960s and the pleasant emotions the incense sticks have triggered then and do still cause nowadays when they are slowly burning away that have triggered my wish to write this article.

Incense sticks are mostly reddish, occasional yellow or dark grey to black and available in 2 forms, which are the cored stay and the solid stick. The cored stick that is mainly produced in Tiongkok and India where they are called Agarbatti (derived from the Sanskrit term Agaravarthi, gara = odour, agar = aroma, varthi = wound) comprises incense material and the supporting core of a stick mostly made from bamboo whereas the solid stay that is mainly produced in Tibet plus Japan is made entirely of incense material. However , since the solid stick has no reinforcing core it is splitting easily. One special type of solid incense stick is the ‘Dragon Stick’. These sticks are often very huge and are burned in open room only for they produce such a wide range of smoke that if the incense would take place inside closed space people in the room would be quickly suffocated.

The main purposes incense is used with regard to are to worship divine creatures and ask for favours of them, in order to facilitate meditation, to assist healing procedures, to cleanse (both spiritual and physical) and disinfect, to repel insects or to just enjoy the physical pleasure of the fragrance. But no matter the purpose incense is used for, requesting divine favours or facilitate yoga or to assist healing processes or even cleansing and disinfecting or repel insects or to just enjoy sensory pleasure it all happens out of the exact same motive, which is to make the world a much better place to be and improve existence either on a small or smaller scale for a limited number of individuals or even on a large scale for humanity in its entirety.

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