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Incense usage and history
Incense usage and history


 

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Incense (from Latin: incendere, "to burn")  is composed of aromatic biotic materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned. The term "incense" refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odor that it produces. It is used in religious ceremonies, ritual purification, aromatherapy, meditation, for creating a mood, and for masking bad odours. The use of incense may have originated in Ancient Egypt, where the gum resins and oleo gum resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali coasts to be used in religious ceremonies.
Incense is composed of aromatic plant materials, often combined with essential oils. The forms taken by incense differ with the underlying culture, and have changed with advances in technology and increasing diversity in the reasons for burning it. Incense can generally be separated into two main types: "indirect-burning" and "direct-burning." Indirect-burning incense (or "non-combustible incense") is not capable of burning on its own, and requires a separate heat source. Direct-burning incense (or "combustible incense") is lit directly by a flame and then fanned or blown out, leaving a glowing ember that smoulders and releases fragrance. Direct-burning incense comes in several forms, including incense sticks (or "joss sticks"), cones, and pyramids.

The use of incense dates back to ancient times but the origin is uncertain. It may have originated in Sumerian and Babylonian cultures, where the gum - resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali coasts to be used in religious ceremonies. It was also used by the Pharaohs, not only to counteract unpleasant odours, but also to drive away demons and gratify the presence of the gods. Resin balls were found in many preistoric Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. The oldest incense burner found dating back the 5th dynasty.
The Babylonians used incense while offering prayers to divining oracles. Incense spread from there to Greece and Rome.
The Indus Civilization used incense burners. Evidence suggests oils were used mainly for their aroma. Incense was used by Chinese cultures from Neolithic times and became more widespread in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Incense usage reached its peak during the Song Dynasty with numerous buildings erected specifically for incense ceremonies. Brought to Japan in the 6th century by Korean Buddhist monks, who used the mystical aromas in their purification rites, the delicate scents of Koh (high-quality Japanese incense) became a source of amusement and entertainment with nobles in the Imperial Court during the Heian Era 200 years later.
During the 14th century Shogunate, a samurai warrior might perfume his helmet and armor with incense to achieve an aura of invincibility (as well as to make a noble gesture to whomever might take his head in battle). It wasn't until the Muromachi Era during the 15th and 16th century that incense appreciation (Kōdō) spread to the upper and middle classes of Japanese society.

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