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The History of Incense

Historians have traced the origins of incense back to ancient Egypt, where it was used by priests during various worship ceremonies and in tombs. As early as 3300 BC, incense was also being used in India and other parts of South Asia. Notably, burning incense has been a fundamental part of Hinduism for thousands of years, so much so that modern-day India is the world’s main producer of incense. Incense spread to ancient China around 2000 BC, where it was also used for worship and prayer. The earliest documented evidence of the use of incense occurred in ancient China; reportedly, early blends were made from cinnamon and sandalwood, which remain popular fragrances today. According to documentation, late in the 12th century in China, buildings were even designed and built specifically for the burning of incense. Resin-based incense like frankincense was distributed to parts of Europe as early as 601 BC and a major trade route called the Incense Route moved incense and spices into the Mediterranean from Arabia. Ancient Japan also used incense as early as the 6th century. It was popular among some samurai in the 14th century and in the late 15th and 16th centuries, incense became popular among the upper and middle classes in Japan, who then established Kōdō, the art of appreciating incense in a ceremonial way. Today, incense is synonymous with spirituality and remains an important part of many religious rituals. In fact, it has long been used by many religions, including Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism. It should also be noted that various Indigenous Peoples, including many Native American tribes and the ancient Incas, are known for burning materials like white sage and Palo Santo in important rituals, but these are considered sacred cultural practices and are not the same as the practice of burning incense, which is used recreationally by many people all over the world for relaxation or as a spiritual aid. Modern incense is available in several forms, including incense sticks, dhoops, and incense matches.

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