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Holy Powders & Pastes

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 :
 

Kumkum

Kumkum 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" and "Soundarya Lahari", the practice of using kumkum on the forehead has been mentioned. Legends talk about Radha turning her kumkum into a flame like design.

Practices Associated with Kumkum
According to ancient beliefs, the sixth chakra called "Agna" is 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" is the 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" (good fortune) when used by Indian women denoting that their husbands are alive. A widow never wears kumkum. Kumkum is also not worn during mourning.
 

Pooja Bells (Ghanta/Ghanti)

Bells 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 is all-auspiciousness.

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 devotees.

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 of Bell.

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.

Betel Leaf

Betel Leaf Botanical Name: Piper betel Linn.
Family: Peperaceae, The Betel Leaf Family
Indian Name: Paan

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 events.

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, India.

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, etc.

Medicinal benefits
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.

Betel Nut

Betel nut Botanical Name: Areca Catechu Linn.
Family: Arecaceae/Palmaceae, The Palm Family
Indian Name: Supari

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 supari 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 dreams.

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.

Medicinal benefits
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.

Coconut

Coconut Botanical Name: Cocos nucifera Linn.
Family: 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 surface.
  • Nir-akshi Coconut : These are coconuts without any eye on it.
  • 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 guests.
  • 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 the ego.

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/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 (Lamps) and 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 (110-120C), 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.

Camphor (Kapur/Kapoor)

Camphor Botanical Name: Cinnamonum camphora
Family: 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 formula C10H16O. 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 residue.

Medicinal Benefits
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 benefits.

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 or Agynana. 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.

Havan Samagri

Havan Samagri 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 wisdom.

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
  • Sankalpam
  • 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 as well.

The sacred fire acts as a link between man's consciousness and the cosmic consciousness. A havan can achieve a number of things including :

  • 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 power.

Honey (Madhu)

Honey 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 prepare Madhu-parka - 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 (the 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.

Medicinal Benefits
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/Diyas

Lamps/Diyas 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 of wealth.

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 bankura (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 Lights, 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.

Panchagavya

Panchagavya 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 ages Panchagavya 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 therapeutic agent.
  • 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.

Miscellaneous Pooja Thali Items 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 mantra :

"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)
Panchpatra 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.

Niranjan
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
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" or 'Snana' of the deity is performed, a packet of cotton is offered as a symbol of clothing.

Sacred Red
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.

Abir
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 Deity.

Haldi (Turmeric)
This is used as a decorative item and is primarily used for applying 'tilak' on the forehead of the deity. Haldi is a very cleansing substance and represents the purifying of the thoughts to adorn the mind.

Janeu/Janou
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.

Dry Fruits
Various kind of dry fruits are used as offerings in pooja thali, which include almonds, cashews, walnuts, kismis & pista.


Vermillion/Sindoor

Vermillion/Sindoor 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 Hindu women.

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 Harrappan times.

The use of sindoor has also been mentioned in the Puranas, Lalitha Sahasranamam 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 Hastinapur.

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 wear vermilion.

Mythological Explanations
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 (Chandan)

Sandalwood 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 ornate carvings.

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 Description of Sandalwood Botanical Name : Santalum album Linn.
Family : Santalaceae, The Sandalwood Family

Extents
The sandalwood tree is found in southern parts of India, Sri Lanka, Hawaii and a number of South Pacific Islands.

Tree Description
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.


Sandalwood Flowers 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.

Sandalwood Fruits 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 like :

Fragrance
  • Sandalwood oil- Santalol is used in perfumery, both in India and Europe.
  • It has a characteristic sweet and woody odor and excellent blending properties.
  • 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.

Religious Use

  • 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 Hindu Gods.
  • 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.

Medicines

  • In Ayurvedic medicine, the wood is grounded with water to form a paste that is applied to the foreheads of people suffering from fevers.
  • 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 this.
  • 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 digestive disorders.
  • 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.

Cosmetics

  • Sandalwood oil is an expensive oil and is used in skin products. It has moisturizing, astringent, antiseptic, balancing and stimulating properties.
  • 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 blotching.
  • Sandalwood paste is also used to attain a clear, smooth and unblemished face.

Crafts
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 craft objects.

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.

Miscellaneous Powders/Pastes

Miscellaneous Powders/Pastes Ashtagandha
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
Shrigandha is the fragrant paste of sandalwood. It is used to smear Hindu Gods as part of their bathing ritual.

Turmeric (Haldi Powder)

Turmeric 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 as tea.
 

Botanical Description of Turmeric

Botanical Description of Turmeric Botanical Name : Curcuma longa Linn
Family : Zingiberaceae, The Ginger Family

Extents
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 world.

Turmeric Plant
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.

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.

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 potassium oxalate.

Medical Research on Turmeric

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 existing plaques.
  • 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

Uses of termeric 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 :

Food Additive
  • 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 from sunlight.
  • The oleoresin component of turmeric is used for oil-containing products.
  • 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 for fading.
  • 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.

Medicinal
 

  • Turmeric is used for treating digestive disorders.
  • Raw Turmeric juice is used to treat hyper acidity and indigestion.
  • 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 histamine(hormone) levels.
  • The flouride present in turmeric is essential for teeth.
  • Turmeric also has a protective effect on the liver and also in atherosclerosis.

Cosmetics

  • 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 the skin.
  • 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 smooth.
  • 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.

Miscellaneous Uses
 

  • 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 scientific tests.
  • It has been recently discovered that in water cooled type of radiators, a spoonful of turmeric added to the water, plugs any leaks.

Mehndi/Henna

Mehndi/Henna 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" (good 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 treatment.

Origins
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 Description

Botanical Description Botanical Name : Lawsonia inermis, Synonym Lawsonia alba
Family : Lythraceae, The Pomegranate Family

Extents
Mehndi is grown in India, Sudan, Egypt, Middle east countries and countries of North Africa. This plant thrives well in hot and humid climate.

Plant Description
Mehndi is medium sized shrub that sometimes takes a tree like shape and growth. It has many angled branches with opposite sharp pointed leaves.

Mehndi Flowers are small, white or pink in color, fragrant and grow in large bunches at the top of the shrub.

Mehndi Fruit 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 dry.

Henna Uses

Uses 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 patterns.

Medicinal

  • The leaves of Mehndi are astringent and are used against skin diseases.
  • 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.