Holy Powders & Pastes
Hinduism is a religion of ceremonies and rituals. The
elaborate ceremonies consist of many religious products. Holy powders
and pastes form an integral part of any Hindu pooja. The most commonly
used powders and pastes are :
The traditional Kumkum or Kungumam(in Tamil Nadu) is
made from dried turmeric. The turmeric is dried and powdered with a
lime/lemon giving the rich red colored Kumkum or Roli. Kumkum is used
as a "Tilak"
for Hindu Gods and also by Hindu males.
Kumkum, which is made from the turmeric powder is an auspicious
symbol. Kumkum is applied to the forehead of a visiting girl or
married woman as a sign of blessing and respect. However, it is not
offered to widows. Men wear the mystic central kumkum dot as a mark of
spiritual intelligence and also during religious ceremonies.
Historical aspect of Kumkum
In the ancient Puranas like "Lalitha Sahasranamam"
, the practice of using kumkum on the forehead has been
mentioned. Legends talk about Radha turning her kumkum into a flame
Practices Associated with Kumkum
According to ancient beliefs, the sixth chakra called "Agna"
present in the area between the eyebrows. This chakra is said to be
the seat of concealed wisdom, command and concentration. During
meditation, the latent energy ("Kundalini")
rises from the base
of the spine towards the head. This "Agna Chakra"
probable outlet for this strong energy. The red kumkum between the
eyebrows is said to retain energy in the human body and control the
various levels of concentration.
Kumkum represents intellect and is a symbol of auspiciousness and
happiness in the family. It also denotes "Soubhagya"
fortune) when used by Indian women denoting that their husbands are
alive. A widow never wears kumkum. Kumkum is also not worn during
Pooja Bells (Ghanta/Ghanti)
The Bell, known in Sanskrit as the Ghanta/Ghanti
is used in all poojas for invoking the Gods. The ringing of the bell
produces what is regarded as an auspicious sound. It produces the
sound Om, the universal name of the Lord. There should be
auspiciousness within and without, to gain the vision of the Lord who
Another significance of ringing the bell is that they help drown any
inauspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might disturb or
distract the worshippers in their devotional ardor (dedication),
concentration and inner peace.
In mandirs (Hindu temples) aarti is performed daily by pujaris
(priests). There is usually a 'mangala-arati' first thing in the
morning, another later in the morning, one at lunchtime, and the final
aarti of the day at sundown.
Devotees sing various types of kirtana and bhajans during the aarti
ceremony. The pujari performing aarti first purifies his hands with
sacred water from the acamana cup. He then sprinkles three spoonfuls
of water over a conch, and blows it three times. He then lights an odd
number of incense sticks (usually three) from a ghee lamp standing
beside the altar. While ringing a small bell, he waves it seven times
around the deities, and then he waves it once to the assembled
The fine combination of pure brass and bronze produces a harmonious
and rich tonal sound when rung by hand while singing the Aarti or even
chanting traditional Mantras for worship. Prayers or Pooja of any kind
on any occasion are incomplete without the joyous sounds and chanting
We chant this mantra when we ring the bells :
Agamaarthamtu devaanaam Gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam
Kurve ghantaaravam tatra Devataahvaahna lakshanam
I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity, So that
virtuous and noble forces enter (my home and heart); And the demonic
and evil forces from within and without, depart.
Botanical Name: Piper betel
Peperaceae, The Betel Leaf Family
The betel leaf enjoys the pride of place among all the accessories of
a traditional Hindu pooja thali. The betel leaf denotes freshness and
prosperity. Betel leaves or the tambool
, which comprises betel
leaf, betel nut and lime, marks the beginnings of all auspicious
Betel leaf is an evergreen perennial, with glossy heart-shaped leaves
and white catkin inflorescence, and grows to a height of about 1 metre.
The Betel plant originated in Malaysia and now grows in India,
Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The best Betel leaf is the "Magahi"
variety (from the Magadha
region) grown near Patna in Bihar,
Since antiquity, Betel leaf is much more popular in India than in any
other country of the world. This would be evident from the numerous
citations laid down in the ancient Indian scriptures. In these
citations, significance of the leaves has been explained in relation
to every sphere of human life including social, cultural, religious
and even day-to-day life, which is very much relevant even today. For
example, a well-prepared betel quid is still regarded as an excellent
mouth freshener and mild vitalizer, routinely served on the social,
cultural and religious occasions like marriage, religious festivals,
Betel leaves are stimulant, digestive, carminative, anti flatulent,
anti inflammatory, invigorating, anti phlegmatic, pain reliever. In
Ayurvedic medicine, they are used as an aphrodisiac. In Malaysia, they
are used to treat headaches, arthritis and joint pain. In Thailand and
China, they are used to relieve toothache. In Indonesia, they are
drunk as an infusion and used as an antibiotic. They are also used in
an infusion to cure indigestion, as a topical cure for constipation,
as a decongestant and as an aid to lactation. In India, they use betel
to cast out (cure) worms.
Botanical Name: Areca Catechu
Arecaceae/Palmaceae, The Palm Family
The betel nut is an integral part of the daily or ritualistic Pooja.
It is also popularly used in the age old-custom of Indian eating. The
is symbolic of the nut of the ego that must be offered
on the altar of God. It represents the hard, coarse qualities that
must be surrendered to God, leaving only the soft, pure qualities.
Mostly symbolic the Supari is many a times traditionally represented
as the Nine planets (in the Navgrah Pooja) and takes the form of
Deities like Brahma, Surya and others during different Poojas. The
betel nut can also represent a human being. In Maharashtra, the wife's
presence is must at important religious rituals. But if she is away or
dead, a betel nut wrapped in a cloth can represent her. In Bengal,
betel nut is believed to carry magical properties. it is placed under
the pillow at night so that the sleeping person can see his future in
Betel nuts are believed to increase prosperity and they are tied to
the pandal, the grinder, the pounding stone, large utensils and the
bridegroom's clothes. In North-West India, milk and cooked rice is
offered to the village deity when betel nut trees are planted. This is
called Deonar pooja
. In Vikrampur
, Goddess Bhagawati
is worshipped as a mark of respect for the betel nut.
Betel nut, also known as Pinang or Areca nut
, is the seed of
the Betel Palm (Areca catechu). Betel nuts are often chewed for their
helpful effects, which are caused by the relatively high levels of
alkaloids in the seed. Chewing betel nuts is an important and popular
cultural activity in many Asian countries including India.
Powder of betel nut is used as a constituent in some tooth powders.
Other medicinal uses include the removal of tapeworms and other
intestinal parasites by swallowing a few teaspoons of powdered betel
nut, or by taking tablets containing the extracted alkaloids.
Botanical Name: Cocos nucifera
Arecaceae/Palmaceae, The Palm Family
In India one of the most common offerings in a pooja thali is a
coconut. It is also offered on occasions like weddings, festivals,
before using a new vehicle, bridge, house etc. The breaking of coconut
before God coaxes us to break the hard nut of our ego before God.
'Nariyal' or 'Kopra' is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Every
auspicious work begins with the breaking of the coconut and the giving
of 'Nariyal' is a traditional ritual.
Types of Coconuts
- Eka-akshi Coconut : These are one-eyed coconuts. This
type of coconut is offered especially to Devi Lakshmi.
- Dvi-akshi Coconut : These coconuts have two eyes on their
- Nir-akshi Coconut : These are coconuts without any eye on
- Green Coconut : Green coconut is placed on an earthen pot
(kalasha) full of water, adorned with mango leaves and a coconut on
top is worshipped on important occasions and used to receive revered
- Laghu Coconut : Laghu coconut is a small supari sized,
three eyed coconut. Laghu coconut is known to bestow wealth and all
comforts of life on the individual who offers it to the deity.
Coconut is offered in the sacrificial fire whilst performing
homa. The coconut is broken and placed before the god. It is later
distributed as prasada. It is offered to please the god or to
fulfill our desires. There was a time when animal sacrifice (bali)
was practiced. Slowly this practice faded and the coconut was offered
instead. The fiber covering of the dried coconut is removed except for
a tuft on the top. The marks on the coconut make it look like the head
of a human being. The coconut is broken, symbolizing the breaking of
Tender coconut water is used in abhisheka rituals it is
believed to bestow spiritual growth on the seeker. The coconut also
symbolizes selfless service. Every part of the tree - the trunk,
leaves, fruit, coir etc. is used in innumerable ways like thatches,
mats, tasty dishes, oil, soap etc. It takes in even salty water from
the earth and converts it into sweet nutritive water that is
especially beneficial to sick people. It is used in the preparation of
many Ayurvedic medicines and in other alternative medicinal systems.
Desi Ghee/Clarified Oil
Desi Ghee holds its position of purity in nearly all
the Hindu pooja rituals. In Hindu mythology, Prajapati/Brahma
created Ghee by rubbing or "churning" his hands together and then
poured it into fire to engender his progeny. So, whenever the Vedic
rituals are performed, the pouring of Ghee into fire symbolises a
re-enactment of creation.
According to the Vedas, Ghee is the purest substance obtained from the
purest Hindu animal - the cow
. Dating as far back as 1500 BC
the Rig Veda comprised of hymns that were sung in praise of Ghee.
Desi Ghee is used in Hindu temples to light diyas
to prepare the sacred food, or Prasad
. This exalted status of
ghee makes it not only a sacred and pure, but also a very expensive
food, enjoyed only by the rich in the past. The age old study of
Ayurveda considers it "the golden oil" of life, some believe that it
puts us at a high level of health risk.
Desi Ghee Preparation
Desi ghee is made by slowly melting butter or cream that has been
collected over a period of days. When the butter is heated
(110-120°C), there is a lot of frothing, which consists mainly of
proteins (casein), impurities and the sediment of non-fat milk solids.
When practically all the water evaporates the milk solids in the
butter sink to the bottom, and the clear liquid on top is poured off
and used in cooking. Because the milk solids are removed from the
clarified butter, it can be used at higher cooking temperatures than
unclarified butter, and it will also keep longer. Also called drawn
butter or anhydrous butter fat, desi ghee does not rancid as readily
as butter and can be stored unrefrigerated for several months.
Botanical Name: Cinnamonum camphora
Lauraceae, The Laurel Family
Camphor is a white transparent waxy crystalline solid with a strong
penetrating pungent aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical
O. It is found in wood of the
camphor laurel (Cinnamonum camphora), a large evergreen tree found in
Asia (particularly in Borneo); it can also be synthetically produced
from oil of turpentine. It is used for its scent, as an embalming
fluid and for medicinal purposes. It has calming properties.
Puja kapoor has a unique place in the Hindu ritual of traditional
Pooja or any other festive or customary occasion. The camphor that is
burnt has a special quality and naturally has a special meaning. It is
pure white in colour, and when it is burnt it takes on the hue of agni
(fire), and it burns itself out completely, without residue. Lighting
camphor before God symbolises that if we burn our illusion or ego with
the fire of true knowledge, we shall merge with the God, leaving no
Camphor has excellent medicinal properties. It protects against many
diseases in the hot climate that pervades most of India. According to
Homeopathy, the camphor and other aromatic substances purify the
atmosphere and when the devotees place their palms over the Aarti and
bring the palms to their eyes and nose, they absorb the medicinal
The kapoor aarti, lasts for a very short while and thus it signifies
the short span of human life and the physical, sensual pleasures,
which come of attachments caused by Avidya
Thus, Aarti inspires the devotee to seek God who is permanent. Since
the Aarti is short lasting, it compels the devotee to focus his
attention on the God.
The Havan Samagri is very sacred and each item is
significant. Puja Samagri normally consists of a mixture of sandalwood
powder, lobaan and ghee. Other essential ingredients are :
- Agarbatti (Incense Sticks)
- Dhoop (Incense)
- Roli (Colored powder)
- Gangajal (Holy Water)
- Mauli (Sacred Thread)
- Kapoor (Camphor)
- Laung (Clove)
- Elaichi (Cardamom)
- Mishri (Crystal Sugar)
The process of eradicating inner imperfections prevalent in our
being is called havan. This process has all the healing techniques
incorporated in it beautifully. It is a rare combination of
accupressure, touch healing, meditation, psychiatry, knowledge and
Rituals involved in every Havan
The common rituals for every havan are as follows :
- Pavitra Dharanam & Prarthana
- Achamanam & Siromarjanam
- Sthala Shuddhi
- Mahaganapati Puja
- Kalasha Puja
- Sri Bhagavati Bhagavan Pooja
- Agni Pratishtapanam, Dhyanam & Agni alankaranam
- Pradhana homa
- Jayadi homa
- Purnahuti homa
- Pradakshinam, Namaskaram & Prasthanam
Havans are age-old sacred rituals to invoke and propitiate various
deities using the sacred fire as a medium for the attainment of
various wishes and boons in the materialistic and the spiritual world
The sacred fire acts as a link between man's consciousness and the
cosmic consciousness. A havan can achieve a number of things
- Cleansing of the atmosphere
- Cleansing of the physical and psychic bodies
- Awakening of auspicious energies
- Enabling mystical experiences
- Invoking grace of God in our Lives
Havan is a scientific procedure, which is associated with the
science of mind and soul. This science was realised by our great
rishi-munis or seer scientists in Vedic times, through their mind
Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by
honeybees from the nectar of flowers. Honey is an integral part of
traditional pooja thali. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of eternal
love, purity and prosperity. During the pooja ritual, honey along with
milk, tulsi and yogurt is poured on the idols. Honey is used to
- a beverage made of honey, sugar, and milk
is offered to the deity.
The Sanskrit word for honey is "madhu."
In Hindu mythology, the
gods Vishnu, Krishna
and Indra were called Madhava
nectar-born ones) and their symbol is the bee. Kama
, the Indian
god of love, carries a bow strung with bees indicating that love's
sweetness can also cause pain.
Honey is, in fact, almost pure sugar. About 40 percent by volume is
fructose, a simple sugar, which turns into glucose without any
digestive change whatsoever and makes honey the quickest source of
energy. An additional 34 percent is dextrose, 2 percent is glucose and
18 percent is water.
Indian Honey also contains significant amounts of minerals like
B-complex vitamins, amino acids and digestive enzymes, but quantities
fluctuate according to the composition of the plant from which the
bees gathered their nectar.
One of honey's most remarkable qualities is its hygroscopic nature.
This means that it absorbs moisture from the air or from any
moisture-bearing material. The most obvious result is that breads and
cakes made with honey stay moist and chewy longer than confections
made with sugar.
Honey is antiseptic because it destroys the water content in bacteria.
For centuries, honey was used to treat wounds and burns, and it is
still sometimes employed as a surgical dressing. Because honey helps
the skin retain moisture, it is an excellent lotion and facial mask.
Painting oneself from head to toe with honey is an effective if messy
way to combat dry skin.
Lamps are an integral part of Hindu pooja thali. The
earthen lamp or 'diya' is the most common, easily available and seen
lamp. Made on the potter's wheel from clay, thousands of these are
turned out every year for use by people. A good diya has to be soaked
in water before use. The single diya is the most common lamp. However,
the potter often lets his imagination run riot to churn out different
types of diyas. Some are just attractive domes with openings to hold
the lamp so that only the slight flickering can be seen while the dome
protects it from wind. Some are a bunch of five diyas - one in the
middle, surrounded by four others.
Why do we light a lamp or diya?
Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness symbolizes ignorance. The
Lord is the "Knowledge Principle" (Chaitanya)
who is the
source, the Enlivener and the Illuminator of all knowledge. Hence,
light is worshiped as the Lord himself. Knowledge removes ignorance
just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner
wealth by which all outer achievements can be accomplished. Thus, we
light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms
Types of Lamps or Diyas
There are different types of lamps used for different purposes. The
lamp is considered a woman and is symbolic of Goddess Lakshmi
(goddess of wealth) and is referred to as Deepalakshmi
Porcelain lamps shaped like diyas are also made these days, as are the
ones in terracotta and clay. Designer diyas hold a place of their own.
They come in all sizes. The diya is held atop an elephant or a
(horse); there are hanging lamps in the shape of pigeons
or birds wherein the chain is hooked onto the bird's beak and the body
of the bird houses the place for filling oil or wax.
An Aarti diya
, used at the time of prayer, is different from
the one used to light the sanctum sanctorum
. The Aarti diya
usually has a handle attached to it for holding it. The arrangement of
the lamps is also artistic and varies according to place and occasion.
These are either placed in circles or in rows.
Lamps, thus, play an important role in everyday life in India.
Lighting a lamp near a Tulsi plant is a ritual followed by people
almost all over the country. Diwali, essentially a Festival of
, is all about lamps lighting up life and chasing away
darkness. Lighting a lamp in a house is believed to bring prosperity,
plenty and abundance to the family. Electricity has not been able to
replace the traditional and emotional significance of a humble lamp in
the lives of the people of India.
In Sanskrit, Panchagavya
means the blend of
five products obtained from cow. Panchagavya
is made from five
products of the cow -- its dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd. Since
is being used by Hindus in traditional
rituals. The uses and healing properties of different components of
Panchagavya are :
- Cow Dung : Cow dung is anti-septic. It has anti-bacterial
and fungicidal action. Thus a filtrate of the suspension made by
thoroughly mixing cow dung and water forms one of the main
ingredients of skin ointments, which are useful in serious skin
conditions like psoriasis, eczema and gangrene.
- Cow Urine : The Cow 's urine, which is being sold under
the label 'Gift of the Cow', is well known for its medicinal
property. Cow's urine has been described in Ayurveda as a
- Cow Milk : According to Ayurveda, cow milk provides
special and unique nutrition that cannot be derived from any other
type of food. Cow milk, when digested properly, nourishes all the
tissues, promotes balanced emotions, and helps to balance all the
doshas. It is one of the most important foods to promote Ojas
(the force that maintains life).
- Cow Ghee : In Ayurveda, cow's Ghee is believed to be the
best for human consumption. It is full of nutritive qualities and an
ideal diet for these heart patients who suffer due to excessive
cholesterol in their blood. Its regular consumption enhances
physical and mental strength, keeps the body healthy and increases
the potency of the body. It is not only nutritive, but also helps in
taking out the impurities from the body. It enhances eyesight, keeps
muscles and tendons healthy, and bone sturdy yet supple.
- Curd/Dahi : Curd is a byproduct of cow milk. The Sanskrit
name is for curd is dahi. All the leading practitioners of
Ayurveda, including Charaka and Sushruta, have written on its
qualities and usefulness. It is considered as one of the most
wholesome food items throughout the world. Curd has its therapeutic
value in many diseases. It has been described as a tonic and is
credited with the properties that prevent premature aging. Curd also
brings relief to patients of diarrhoea and dysentery and is
recommended in chronic specific and non-specific colitis.
Panchagavya is also a traditional method, used to safeguard
plants and soil micro-organisms and to increase plant production.
Panchagavya application is found to be more profitable than
recommended fertilizer application and chemical spray. The modified
versions of panchakavya (unique liquid organic fertilizer) used for
organic farming have been standarised by experimental trials.
Akshat/Rice grains (Chawal)
Akshat means unbroken rice grains, which are offered to gain wealth
and prosperity and it is offered to the deities by chanting this
"Akshtaashcha Surshreshtth Kumkumaaktaah Sushobhitaah. Mayaa
Niveditaa Bhaktyaa Grihaann Parameshwar."
The unbroken rice grains also symbolize steadfastness and firmness of
the brain and are also a symbol of peace.
The rice grain without the husk, called Akshat, is a kind of grain
that does not germinate. One cannot grow rice plants by seeding this
type of rice. Symbolically it means that rice is the last birth. By
offering this in Pooja one should strive to live life in such a way
that at the end of this life one will be liberated and not born again.
Hand Spun Flower Garland
These are beautiful hand-spun hand-woven garlands made of natural
flower and fibers like cotton, wool, etc. are an integral part of the
decoration of the Idols of any God or Goddess that is routinely
followed while doing pooja.
Panchpatra & Pali (Charanamrit Set)
and pali set
(also called Charanamrit set
is made of solid brass and is an integral part of poojas where the
holy charan amrit is placed before the deity at the beginning of the
pooja and then distributed upon its completion. The Charanamrit
literally means Amrit
(Holy Nectar) from the Charan
(Feet of the Lord) of the deity being worshipped and is partaken as a
sacred offering or a holy gift after the completion of the Pooja.
This is an integral part of any festive ritual or a Pooja. You can
perform the daily Aarti
or Pooja with this decorative wick-lamp
holder in which you can light five wicks placed in oil or ghee. Having
multiple wicks instead of a single wick enables the image of God being
worshipped to be illuminated completely.
Cotton is used to make cotton wicks while lighting the lamp (Nandadeep,
Niranjan or any other)
and is thus, the most integral part of the
daily or any other festive Pooja. Another usage of this packet of
cotton is as a symbolic form of clothing. When the ritualistic "Abhishek"
of the deity is performed, a packet of cotton is
offered as a symbol of clothing.
Thread : Mouli or Kalawa is a cotton red thread roll, considered to be
very sacred and used in all religious purposes of the Hindus. The
thread is used as an offering of cloth to the deity. The Mouli thread
is an integral part of any puja. Normally the Mouli is tied around the
Sadhana article, that is, Mouli is tied around a copper tumbler filled
with water. On its mouth five mango leaves are placed with a coconut
in a red cloth over them. This represents the shrine you are offering
pooja and is known as "Kalash Sthapana"
Next, before the start of the pooja, the red sacred thread is tied
around the wrist of the members of the family. As a rule, all males
and married females wear it on the right hand. Unmarried females wear
it on their left hands. Only the Brahmin females, both married and
unmarried can wear it in their right hands. The basic significance of
wearing this thread is to get blessings from God.
This is also in important part of the Pooja custom and is used for
decorative purpose and is applied as a 'tilak' on the forehead of the
This is used as a decorative item and is primarily used for applying
on the forehead of the deity. Haldi is a very cleansing
substance and represents the purifying of the thoughts to adorn the
It is considered to be the most important part of Hindu culture to
wear the sacred and auspicious white thread called Janeu/Janou
It is mandatory and most important to wear the sacred Janeu/Janou
while doing any Pooja or any act of devotion or worship. A special
ceremony called the Upanayan Sanskar
is held wherein an
unmarried boy is granted the Janeu
and from then on can
participate in every Vedic ritual. If for some reason, this ceremony
is not done during the childhood, it is mandatory to be held before
marriage. A Hindu male cannot get married unless he has worn the Janeu.
Various kind of dry fruits are used as offerings in pooja thali, which
include almonds, cashews, walnuts, kismis & pista.
Vermilion/Sindoor is worn in the center parting of
the hair by married Hindu women. Sindoor is made of sulfides of
mercury or by cinnabar. Sindoor is applied to Hindu goddesses like
Parvati, Lakshmi, Durga, etc. Sindoor stands for power and good
fortune and is a sign of "Soubhagya"
in the case of a married
Historical Aspect of Vermilion/Sindoor
The tradition of wearing sindoor or vermilion by Indian women dates
back to 5,000 years. Excavations of female figurines from Mehrgarh,
Baluchistan, have proved that vermilion was worn by women even in
The use of sindoor has also been mentioned in the Puranas, Lalitha
and Soundarya Laharis. In the famous epic
Mahabharata, Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, is believed to have
wiped her sindoor in disgust and despair at the happenings in
Practices Associated with Vermilion/Sindoor
During the marriage ceremony, Sindoor is applied for the first time to
a Hindu woman by her bridegroom and is called the "Sindoor Dana"
ceremony. Even in the ancient Aryan society, a bridegroom made a 'tilak'
mark on the bride's forehead as a sign of wedlock. The present
practice could be an extension of that tradition.
In traditional Hindu society, wearing sindoor is considered must for
married Hindu women. It is a visible expression of their desire for
their husbands' longevity. Traditionally therefore, widows did not
The tradition of wearing vermilion/sindoor by married women has been
explained with the help of mythology. According to the scholars, red
is the color of power and vermilion represents the female energy of
Sati and Parvati. Sati is considered an ideal Hindu wife because she
gave her life for her husband's honor. Hindus believe that Goddess
Parvati grants "Akhand Soubhagya"
(lifelong good fortune) to
all the females who wear sindoor in their hair parting.
Physiological Aspect of Vermilion/Sindoor
Vermilion/sindoor is prepared by mixing turmeric-lime and mercury.
Mercury controls blood pressure and activates sexual drive. Sindoor
should be applied right up to the pituitary gland where all our
feelings are centered. Thus, this also proves why sindoor is
prohibited to widows.
Sandalwood is an Indian plant that has an
extraordinary fragrance. Sacred rituals are accompanied by offerings
composed of the five elements: Earth is represented with sandalwood
paste. The paste is smeared on the foreheads of devotees of Vishnu and
Shiva as a tilak or dot. The sandalwood dot is meant to cool and
protect the "Agna chakra"
present between the eyebrows. The
fragrance of sandalwood is also said to be an aphrodisiac.
Sandalwood is commonly used for incense, religious ceremonies,
aromatherapy, fragrance industry and fine woodworking. Sandalwood is a
not an ideal building material. However, a few temples in India have
been constructed by sandalwood and have retained the smell of chandan
after centuries. It is also used for making jewelry boxes, fans and
In India, for centuries, the death pyre is made using sandalwood
branches. In Sri Lanka, since 9th century, the sandalwood paste was
used to embalm the corpses of royal family. Sandalwood, alongwith
agarwood, is the most popular and commonly used incense material by
the Chinese and Japanese in worship and various ceremonies.
Myths and Legends
Legend say that Lord Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati - wife of
Lord Shiva. Goddess Parvati created Ganesha out of sandalwood paste
that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure.
In Indian mythology, sandalwood tree is depicted as being entwined
with serpents. Sandalwood remains aromatic and cool even when the
poisonous serpent coils around it. This portrays that the basic nature
of an individual cannot change because of outer effects.
Botanical Description of Sandalwood
Botanical Name : Santalum album
Santalaceae, The Sandalwood Family
The sandalwood tree is found in southern parts of India, Sri Lanka,
Hawaii and a number of South Pacific Islands.
Sandalwood is a partial parasite that uses nutrients derived from
hosts to grow. Nearly 300 species of hosts have been found including
grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees. Sandalwood is a small evergreen tree
about 20 to 30 feet high with many opposite slender drooping branches
and a smooth gray-brown bark. Leaves are smooth and ovate in shape.
The light yellow colored wood is heavy and hard but splits easily. The
cross section of the wood shows alternating light and dark concentric
zones which give a fair idea of the age of the tree. Sandalwood has a
persistent odor and a peculiar taste.
are small, numerous with short stalks. The
flowers are found at the top of the plant. Sandalwood flowers twice
very year from March to April and then from September to October.
are spherical, concealed and the size of a
pea. The fruit is crowned by rim-like structure. It is smooth, fleshy
and nearly black with single seed.
Cultivation and Production of Sandalwood/Chandan
Sandalwood is harvested by uprooting the entire tree. This way, the
valuable wood from the stump and root can also be sold or processed
for oil. The branches are worthless. The trunk is left on the ground
for a few months so that white ants could eat away the worthless outer
wood - sap wood. The stump is then trimmed and sent to saw mills.
There it is trimmed again and graded(according to quality).
Indian sandalwood is an endangered species so its cultivation and
production is under government control. Commercially valuable
sandalwood has high levels of fragrance oils and is harvested at the
age of 40. However, 80 years or an age above this is preferred.
Inferior sandalwood produced from trees of 30 years can also fetch a
decent price due to high demand for real sandalwood.
Uses of Sandalwood
Sandalwood is has many uses
- Sandalwood oil- Santalol is used in perfumery, both in India and
- It has a characteristic sweet and woody odor and excellent
- In India, sandalwood oil is also used as a fixative for the
manufacture of traditional attars such as rose attar because it has
a large proportion of high boiling constituents.
- The wood of Chandan is used for holy havans.
- Incense from sandalwood has a calming effect and is conducive to
clarity of mind. Thus, it is used for meditation.
- Sandalwood paste is used in the ritual bathing of Hindu Gods.
- The sandalwood paste is also used as a "Shringar" of
- The sandalwood paste is smeared on the foreheads of devotees of
Vishnu and Shiva as a dot or tilak. This paste cools the "Agna
Chakra" and centers the concentration powers of an individual.
- In Ayurvedic medicine, the wood is grounded with water to form a
paste that is applied to the foreheads of people suffering from
- The sandalwood paste is also mixed with coconut water and taken
as a drink to decrease dehydration effects.
- An infusion of sandalwood powder made with water or rose water
is used to treat headaches, scorpion stings, dry skin, dermatitis,
psoriasis, prickly heat and other skin conditions.
- Sandalwood paste has also been used to treat warts and forms of
skin cancer. Clinical trials are being carried out to investigate
- The infusion has also been used as a deodorant and as a
mouthwash to treat bad breath.
- Oil from the heartwood is used as a skin lotion to treat itching
and inflammatory conditions.
- Sandalwood is mixed with honey, sugar and rice-water to treat
- The oil can be added to candles or burnt as incense in rooms
with patients that have mental health problems or are very stressed
as the perfume has a calming effect.
- Sandalwood oil is used to relieve tension and stress and so is
used in aromatherapy.
- Santalol has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties.
- Sandalwood oil is an expensive oil and is used in skin products.
· It has moisturizing, astringent, antiseptic, balancing and
- Recommended for dry and aging skin, it can be blended with other
plant-derived extracts in hair oils and body lotions.
- The sandalwood paste is used for its cooling properties in case
of skin burns.
- The paste is used to decrease effects of skin tanning and
- Sandalwood paste is also used to attain a clear, smooth and
Sandalwood is used for making carved figurines of Gods, Goddesses,
mythological figures. Sandalwood is used for a variety of small carved
articles such as boxes, cabinet panels, jewel cases, combs, picture
frames, fan handles, pen holders and card cases etc.
Sandalwood is very valuable and so it is weighed in grams when being
sold. It has a fine texture and few knots in the wood. It is the
heartwood which is used most because of its long lasting smell. The
yellow or brown color gets darker with age. Sandalwood sapwood is
white or yellow and not scented, although it can still be made into
A large amount of craftwork is exported or sold to tourists. This
provides an income for many people in India, who often form craft and
trade co-operatives to support each other. Different regions in India
have distinct styles of carving. For example, in Surat and Ahmedabad,
carved leaves are a bit large and deeply cut, while in Mysore the
leaves and branches are more delicate. However, due to sandalwood
being an endangered species, it is under Government control and so the
carvings are strictly limited.
Ashtagandha is a mixture of eight fragrant herbs. Vedic talismans are
written on Bhojapatra or Onion skin with a special ink. This ink is
made of Ashtagandha herbs, 24 karat gold dust and Ganges water. It is
said that the fragrance of Ashtagandha used to continuously emanate
from the form of Lord Krishna.
Shrigandha is the fragrant paste of sandalwood. It is used to smear
Hindu Gods as part of their bathing ritual.
Turmeric (Haldi Powder)
According to Vedic literature, turmeric usage in
India dates back to nearly 4000 years when it was the principal spice
and also of religious significance. Turmeric is a very important spice
in India. India is also the biggest producer and uses about 80% of
that produce. It is employed in some Hindu rituals, where the yellow
color symbolizes the Sun or Maitreya.
Turmeric or Haldi is one of the most commonly used spice in South
Asian cuisine. It has a peculiar fragrant odor, a bitter taste(like
ginger) and colors the saliva yellow. It is used as a holy paste in
religious rituals, to add color to curries, as an antiseptic and as an
anti-coagulant. It makes a poor dye since it is not colorfast.
Another variety, known by as "white turmeric"
, is consumed by
Southeast Asians and is available from late spring to summer. The
rhizomes of white turmeric are lighter in color and have a pungent
taste. This turmeric is cooked, the young roots are also eaten raw or
blanched, dipped in spicy sauces. Ordinary Turmeric cannot be eaten as
a vegetable because of its staining properties.
In Ayurveda, turmeric is said to have many medicinal properties. In
some Asian countries, it is taken as a dietary supplement to treat
stomach and digestive problems. In Okinawa, Japan, turmeric is popular
Botanical Description of Turmeric
Botanical Name : Curcuma longa
Zingiberaceae, The Ginger Family
Turmeric/Haldi is extensively cultivated in South East Asia. In India,
the main trading center for Turmeric is Sangli in Maharashtra. Sangli
is also the most important turmeric trading center in the entire
Turmeric plant is a perennial plant which grows to a height of about 3
to 5 feet and has deep orange roots or tubers. The leaves are long,
smooth uniform green and tapering at each end. Rhizomes or root tubers
are powdered to obtain turmeric powder.
is a perennial plant which grows to a height of
about 3 to 5 feet and has deep orange roots or tubers. The leaves are
long, smooth uniform green and tapering at each end. Rhizomes or root
tubers are powdered to obtain turmeric powder.
Propagation of Turmeric
plant is done through root cuttings.
The cuttings have parallel rings with a yellow shade on the outside
and reddish brown on the inside.
Composition of Turmeric
The turmeric plant contains a yellowish coloring matter called
Curcumin, an acrid volatile oil, starch, chlorides of calcium, woody
fiber and gum. The acrid oil is called turmerol and has an aromatic
odor. Alkaloids of oxalic acid are also present that yield crystals of
Medical Research on Turmeric
For centuries, the ancient Indian texts have stated
the almost magical qualities of turmeric. However, it is only in
recent years, that the Western world has woken up to this ancient
knowledge of the medicinal uses of turmeric. Research activity into
Curcumin - the active ingredient of turmeric, has increased.
The following researches/studies have been undertaken to study the
effects of turmeric and curcumin on the various diseases :
- The U.S. National Institute of Health has four clinical trials
underway to study curcumin treatment for pancreatic cancer, multiple
myeloma, Alzheimer's and colorectal cancer.
- An experiment involving genetically altered mice suggested that
curcumin might restrict the accumulation of destructive Beta
amyloids in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and also break up
- Recent studies have suggested that turmeric can be effective in
fighting a number of sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea.
- Investigations into the low occurrence of colorectal cancer
amongst groups of people who eat turmeric in the curries as compared
to people whose intake of turmeric is low has suggested that some
ingredient of turmeric may have anti-cancer properties.
- Several Research companies are studying the use of a curcumin
cream for psoriasis(a skin disorder) treatment.
- Recent reports suggest that turmeric slows the spread of breast
cancer into lungs and other body parts.
Uses of Turmeric
Since ancient times, turmeric has been used as a
traditional medicine and for beauty care. In Ayurvedic system of
Indian medicine, turmeric is an important herbal medicine prescribed
for various diseases. In fact, turmeric is even used in modern times
to plug radiator leaks in water-cooled radiators.
The various uses of turmeric are as follows :
- Turmeric is a mild aromatic stimulant used in in the manufacture
of curry powders.
- Turmeric is used in products that are packaged to protect them
- The oleoresin component of turmeric is used for oil-containing
- The curcumin solution or curcumin powder dissolved in alcohol is
used for water containing products.
- Sometimes in pickles and mustard, turmeric is used to compensate
- Turmeric is also used for coloring cheeses, salad dressings,
margarine, yoghurts, cakes, biscuits, popcorn, cereals, sauces, etc.
- Turmeric also forms a substitute for mustard in the cattle feed.
- Turmeric is used for treating digestive disorders.
- Raw Turmeric juice is used to treat hyper acidity and
- The juice of raw turmeric also acts as a blood purifier.
- Curcumin - an active component of turmeric, has anti-oxidant
properties and so turmeric is used in alternative medicine.
- Turmeric is used for cuts and burns as it is believed to have
antiseptic effects and promotes healing.
- Curcumin also has an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing
- The flouride present in turmeric is essential for teeth.
- Turmeric also has a protective effect on the liver and also in
- The juice of raw turmeric is applied to the skin as a paste,
kept for around thirty minutes and then washed off. It adds glow to
- It is an essential ingredient of the traditional bathing ritual
of Indian marriages where it is applied along with sandal wood paste
before the bath.
- It is believed that regular bathing in water containing turmeric
reduces growth of body hair.
- Regular turmeric use is said to make the skin fair, soft and
- Turmeric is used for spots caused due to pigmentation or
blotches and also for diseases like eczema.
As a tester for Acids and Alkalies
Unglazed white paper is saturated with an alcoholic solution of
curcumin. When dried, this paper is used for testing of alkalies,
acids and boric acid.
- Alkali and Acid Test : The paper turns red-brown with
alkalies. This color becomes violet upon drying and the original
yellow color is restored with acids.
- Boric Acid Test : When the paper is dipped into a
solution of boric acid, it turns orange-red. The color remains so
even when it is moistened with free mineral acid. Paper that has
been turned to orange by boric acid will assume a blue color when it
is moistened with diluted alkali.
- Ayurveda states that turmeric is poisonous for crocodiles. So
anyone swimming in crocodile infested waters should apply turmeric
paste to protect himself.
- Turmeric is also believed to ward off snakes and the presence of
turmeric plants around the house acts as a barrier for them.
- The turmeric paste is used in Indian medicine for snakebites.
- The leaves of turmeric are said to act as mosquito repellents.
- Turmeric is used as a coloring agent for filter paper used in
- It has been recently discovered that in water cooled type of
radiators, a spoonful of turmeric added to the water, plugs any
Mehndi/Henna is used as a temporary dye to
artistically decorate hands and legs usually during a marriage
ceremony or during festivals. In India, Mehndi is said to be
auspicious and considered a symbol of "Soubhagya"
fortune). Therefore, it is not applied to widows. Mehndi and Henna are
interchangeable names because they are applied to both the plant from
which leaves are obtained and also to the body art.
Mehndi is used for coloring hair and for temporary body art. It does
not cause allergies. Mehndi when used coats only the dead cells of the
upper layer of skin. The depth of penetration depends on the duration
for which the paste was left on the body. The satin lasts longer if it
is fully absorbed by the skin.
Another variety of Mehndi called Black Henna is also common in Middle
East. It is an artificial product created by the addition of
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) to natural henna to create a black stain.
This henna causes a lot of skin allergies and requires medical
Some historians and researchers believe that Mehndi originated in
India. While others believe that it was brought to India by travelers
from Middle East and North Africa. The illustrated Bodhisattivas and
deities on the cave walls of Ajanta prove that Henna was part of the
Indian culture in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Designs of Mehndi/Henna
Henna has been associated with special celebrations like engagements,
weddings, the eighth month of pregnancy, the birth, the 40th day after
a woman gives birth, naming ceremonies, festivals, etc.
Various designs are applied and they symbolize good health, fertility,
wisdom, protection and spiritual enlightenment. The Indian Mehndi
styles involve fine, thin lines for floral and paisley patterns
covering hands, forearms, shins and feet. The Arabic styles are quite
in fashion now and are usually large and floral.
Botanical Name :
Lawsonia inermis, Synonym
Lythraceae, The Pomegranate Family
Mehndi is grown in India, Sudan, Egypt, Middle east countries and
countries of North Africa. This plant thrives well in hot and humid
Mehndi is medium sized shrub that sometimes takes a tree like shape
and growth. It has many angled branches with opposite sharp pointed
are small, white or pink in color, fragrant and
grow in large bunches at the top of the shrub.
is pea sized, small and round. It has many seeds.
Cultivation of Mehndi
The propagation of Mehndi is done through stem cuttings. Cuttings of
henna are planted in June when the monsoons are about to arrive. The
plant requires good water and fertilizer supply to grow. It can
withstand high temperatures. Leaves are plucked thrice a year -
May-June, August-September and December-January. The quality of leaves
is very high initially and deteriorates with every picking.
Processing of Mehndi
Premium quality mehndi leaves are selected, cleaned and dried in
shade. If the leaves are very dry, the powder obtained would be fine
and will give a stronger shade of mehndi. Impurities like roots, sand,
dust, weeds etc. make the quality of the powder inferior. Quality is
also affected if the leaves are powdered before they are completely
Mehndi/Henna is mainly used for adorning hands and
feet during weddings and festivals. It is considered auspicious and so
is used on every happy occasion and festival.
Coloring Agent and Fragrance
- The chief use of the Henna plant is for coloring palms, nails,
feet, hair, beard.
- Henna, mixed with other natural dyes, is largely used as hairdye
and even for textiles.
- The oil obtained from its flowers is used in perfumery.
- The oil of the mehndi is also used to add color to the henna
- The leaves of Mehndi are astringent and are used against skin
- A brew of Mehndi leaves is used to gargle sore throat.
- The paste of leaves is largely used in Indian homes in headache,
burning sensation in feet, etc.
- The leaves are said to have some action against tubercular and
other bacteria, and in typhoid and haemorrhages. However, there is
no evidence in support of this.