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The burning of incense or poe is a very popular facet of Himalayan Buddhist culture. With its origin in Indian Buddhist rituals of offering smell (gandhapuja) and the ancient Bon smoke-offering (sang), the use of incense has a long history and deep cultural and religious significance. In its most mundane sense, incense embodies the essence of pleasant smell, one of the five objects of sensual pleasure.
It is considered as a substance which stimulates the senses to bring physical pleasure and mental tranquility. In its ultimate form, incense symbolizes the purity and perfection of all objects of olfactory sense and is personified in the form of the female goddess Dugpoema. From a village shanty to a grand state temple, the offering of incense and smoke constitutes a very common and essential practice, performed daily for various purposes.
Incense as an offering:
The burning of incense is generally practiced as a ritual of offering. Every morning at sunrise, billows of smoke ensue in front of every Bhutanese village house to mark the offering of incense and smoke. In all temples and shrine rooms, incense is also burnt regularly in specially designed censers and incense stick holders and fresh branches also mark the reception of holy and important persons and a sacred eremonv. A ceremonial procession is led by a person bearing a censer with fragrant incense.
Incense-smoke is not only an offering of fragrant smell but it forms a medium for visualization of a much greater and multifarious offering. The incense and other substance to be burnt are first purified through a deep meditative dissolution into the state of Emptiness. Then, the billows of smoke, which illusorily arise from the expanse of Emptiness, are transformed through a meditative projection into immeasurable clouds of wonderful items offering
The clouds of offering are then multiplied to cover the entire universe and presented to the various objects of veneration and offering. Buddhist literature classifies the recipients of the offering into four categories of guests:
The incense smoke is visualized as innumerable kinds of congenial items of enjoyment and presented to these recipients in whatever forms and shapes they wish to have. The offering of incense-smoke is thus an exercise of charity and meditative visualization.
Incense as a fumigant:
Incense-burning is also a very well known technique of fumigation. The incense sticks and powder contains herbal ingredients that have fumigating qualities. In addition to the power of the substances, the smoke is invested with blessings of meditative visualization and powerful mantras. Incense smoke is then used by religious people to cense holy objects, pacify spirits, to treat ill persons and to purify negativities. It is for this reason, the Bhutanese word for censing, sang, also connotes cleansing and purification. Incense is also used to placate malicious spirits and assuage the wishes of various deities.
Incense as a therapy:
Composed of a wide range of herbal ingredients, incense also has a powerful therapeutic value. It can be used in aroma-therapy to relax the body and calm the mind. It helps nourish and stabilize the psycho- somatic composition of the human being. The aroma of the incense stimulates the senses to unlock the energy channels, mobilize vital air, and release internal bliss.
The Art of Making Incense
The main ingredients of the incense include sandalwood, clove, red sandal, elletaria cardmomum, saffron, nutmeg, aquilaria agallocha, pure honey, cane sugar, shorea robusta, nandostachys jatamansi, cinnamomum camphora and juniper powder. To these are also added a wide range of other Bhutanese herbs and plants with medicinal and fumigating power.
Blending Incense All ingredients are first ground into powder. The powder is then mixed with water, sugar and honey. Juniper forms the main component although the amount of juniper depends on the quality. The better the quality of incense, lesser amount of juniper is used. The mixture, fused to a perfect blend, is then stored in a big container in a warm temperature.
A smell emits as a sign of fermentation after about a week. Tshe, a bark is added to it to act as an adhesive substance and the mixture is further mashed before it is put through the presser to turn it into incense sticks. The sticks are straightened, cut into respective sizes, and dried in the shade for four to five days.
All of Nado incense products are made in strict accordance to ancient Buddhist scripture. It governs the materials we use and the method by which we make our sticks and powders. The scriptures require us to separate Kriya tantra or incense made with no meat or alcoholic ingredients from Upa tantra which allows us to use a far greater array of ingredients. The incense recipes incorporate flowers, bark, wood, leaves, fruit, and roots. Most of the products use around 40 ingredients whilst some of our special ceremonial incense uses 108 natural ingredients, an auspicious number to us Buddhists. Many of the natural products we use grow at more than 4000 m in the Himalayas. Collecting is undertaken by yak herders as they move their herds up and down the mountains searching for summer and winter pastures as well as families who live permanently high in the remote Himalayas.
They produce broadly two forms of incense: The traditional hand-made stick and the incense powder. The Trational hand made incense stick is two types. Zur poe or Zim Poe and Riwosangchoe. Under Zur-Poi type , they produces about seven grades of incense sticks, which are used for both offering and meditational purposes. And under Riwosangchoe Incense, they produce two types which is used for special ceremonial purpose.
Nado Poi Zoikhang produce two varieties of incense powder. One is very fine herbal powder (ZANGDRUP) and the other is the coarse high altitude plant leaf powder. (SANG)
JUNIPER & RHODODENDRON:
Juniper, Rhododendron, Safflower and Pine. Usage: For offerings and Purification Ceremonies.
Same as above, but doesn't contain ingredient which is considered not good for Fasting Rituals, Tara Puja.
Used in Fasting rituals, Tara Puja, Medicine Buddha rituals, Buddha Aksobhya liturgies, One thousand-offerings to Vijaya and in Nagas and Earth spirits rituals.
Besides the regular contents as above, this incense contains the best of all fruits, cereals, milk products.
Mountain smoke Offering - White morning is offered to propitiate the celestial beings & Red evening is offered to alleviate the hunger spirits.
Riwosangchoe-White Morning (22 cm, 30 sticks)
Source: Nado Poizokhang