Why Incense

Incense is an aromatic material which releases fragrant smoke when it is burned. It can be made by aromatic plants, herbs, wood, resin and essential oils; generally used in any place of worship or in sacred ceremonies. 

It has been used by many cultures for centuries and still is, generally for its aromatic qualities and healing properties, however in many traditions, it is the smoke that has a deep meaning, considered to be a bridge between the world we can see and the one we cannot. 

The burning of sacred herbs and resins can be a very powerful tool, believed to clear negativity, used for protection and often accompanied by prayers. 

Smudging is the common name given to the burning of Sacred Smoke, referring to the art of cleansing your self and your environment using simple ritual and ceremony. Cleansing a space or our bodies with techniques such as smudging clears away all the emotional and psychic negativity,  It’s like spiritual spring-cleaning.

The most common  sacred plants and resins to use for smudging and clearing are:

White sage: use for clearing, blessing, cleansing, and healing; brings wisdom and is calming and healing.

Sweetgrass: use for blessing, bringing in more creative energy, and for calling in joy; attracts positive energy.

Myrrh: use this tree resin for enlightenment, and for clearing away the past or anything preventing you from standing in your truth.

Palo Santo:  is a wood from the rainforests in Ecuador, considered  Holy Wood. Burning Palo Santo has been used by the Incas since ancient times as a spiritual remedy, for purifying, and cleansing.

•  Cedar: deeply purifying, especially for clearing negative emotions and for healing. It is believed to aid clairvoyance, revive the tired mind, body, and spirit, and stimulate contact with other worlds. IN Canadian Native Americans, it is also used to bless a home before taking residence.

•   Mugwort: stimulates psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. It also banishes evil spirits.

•   Juniper: used to purify and create a safe and sacred space.

•   Yerba Santa: used to purify and to set and protect boundaries.

•   Rosemary: a powerful healer that brings clarity to problems.

There are also smudge kit that represents the elements (earth, Fire, Water, Air and Spirit, energy or Prana). The kit usually consists of four of five pieces, each representing one of the elements For example:
A shell (abalone shell is most often used) to represent Water
Unlit herbs to represent Earth
Lit herbs to represent Fire
Smoke to represent Air

In Yoga, we use incense to create a sacred space to practice. There are ceremonies, such a Puja that is part of devotion and spiritual practice.  

 Puja is like a powerful prayer, supported and assisted by divine energy. This ceremony can be performed every day or on special occasions, in a home, in a shala {sacre yoga studio}, in a temple or shrine.  The use of candles, bells, flowers, chants, ceremonies, fragrances evoke a mood and create a heart opening. It is not a religion, but some of the same tools are used in a similar way to access your own spirituality.

Part of the Puja ceremony is Aarti. This name comes from the Sanskrit word ārātrika (आरात्रिक), which means something that removes rātrī, darkness. The origin of Aarti is said to come from the Vedic concept of fire rituals, or homa.

In the traditional ceremony, the flower represents Earth, the water corresponds to with the water element, the ghee or Dija lamp represents Fire, the fan represents Air and Ether (space). The incense represents a purified state of mind. There are also offerings specific to each Puja ceremony. Below is some of things used in Puja:

  • Metal tray — The plate used for arati is a new plate, dedicated to puja only. It is a dedicated, sacred object.
  • Turmeric — This healing gold spice, The color of sunlight, to honors the goddess Lakshmi.
  • Kumkum — This paste is turmeric which has been processed so it turns red. It honors the goddess Durga and is the color of life, like the color of blood. Kumkum is also used to make the bindu, the red dot on your forehead between your eyes.
  • White rice — This honors Saraswati and is the color of purity and peace.
  • Dija Lamp — Dija lamp is a holder for securing a ghee wick {cotton wick saturated with ghee} To prepare the wick, use your fingers to saturate the wick in liquefied ghee, with a little extra ghee in the holder under the wick.
  • Flowers — an odd number of fresh cut flowers (one or more) with no stem. “Flowers are never offered in water. When you put them in the water you are trying to preserve the flower,” explains Swami. “ When you offer a flower you are giving it over, giving the flower in its fullness, bursting with life. You are giving today and you will give a new one later or tomorrow. You are not preserving the flower’s beauty for yourself.”
  • Jewelry — something very personal placed on the tray such as a pendant, ring, or earring. At the end of the ceremony, you take it back with the blessing.

A simple Puja:

  1. Light the candle or ghee wick. Swami Nirmalananda says, “Your flame holds the whole light of consciousness and represents the way it brings life to you and to the universe.” 
  2. Hold a candle in your right hand with a flat palm and place your left hand underneath. With this open-handed offering, complete your flame circles:  Lift the candle and move it up and down clockwise, like drawing circles with the flame, while you chant or repeat mantras. “When I do not have a candle, then I place my right hand on my heart,” describes Swami Nirmalananda. “Laying my heart in my hand, I use my heart instead of the candle flame, and then place it back in my chest.”

 “The puja ceremony is for the pujari, the one doing the puja, to invoke the flow of grace and increase your ability to receive it.”

When finished, let the candle burns out, or extinguish with a candle snuffer, never blow it out.  “After the ceremony, the flame is considered to offer blessings to the devotees and is honored, not blown out.”

Om Shanti



Raffaella BreareComment