The topless woman stood on one leg in a field of flowers. She wore a crown of gold and a necklace of rubies and emeralds; in her right hand she held a single smoking wand.
50 reasons to love the world – 2021
Why do you like the world?
“Because incense invokes peace of mind, and it is the basis of happiness. So with every incense wand I make, I can share that happiness with the world.” – Nado, incense maker
More reasons to love the world
“This is Dugpoema, the Buddhist goddess of the incense offering,” Nado said, showing the deity’s screenprint on the wall of her office in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. “It is said that Lord Buddha first created incense, and then disciples like Dugpoema spread it around the world. In many ways, I feel like a disciple myself. I do the same job.
Nado – his only name, since Bhutanese do not traditionally use a surname – then offered to show me around his incense-making workshop, Nado Poizokhang. The oldest and largest of its kind in the country, it produces sticks and powders which are sought after in the homes and monasteries of the Himalayan kingdom. Even the king personally asks Nado Poizokhang to burn incense in the walls of the royal palace.
“I believe that one of the reasons why my incense is so loved and its effects so powerful is because of the incredible purity of the ingredients,” Nado said, before opening the door to a storeroom full of dried spices, plants and conifers. . “Everything is 100% organic: from the large branches of juniper – the basic ingredient of all Bhutanese incense – to the most delicate jatamansi flowers that make spikenard essential oil richly scented. Other incense makers can. using substandard chemicals and materials to keep costs down – but this just weakens the healing properties of incense and may leave you with a headache or restless feeling while burning. Here the focus is on quality. “
Most of the medicinal plants and leaves used by Nado are harvested by nomadic yak herders at high altitudes to ensure that they are free of toxins and contaminants. “They live a difficult life, but the harvest provides them with additional income,” he said. “This good deed sets in motion ripples of good karma before a single stick is made or burned.”
In Bhutan, burning incense is an almost obligatory ritual
The time of harvest is essential. Nado explained that the optimal period is the following month Thrue-Bab, the blessed rainy day, which marks the end of the monsoon. “Meanwhile, the sun warms the leaves and petals after being fed by months of rain; it helps me to produce a wonderful and rich scent. And this scent is vital for the incense sticks and powder to work their age. old magic. “
The supply of perfume and smoke has a long history and deep cultural significance in Bhutan, where it is traditionally burned twice a day. “In other countries, incense can be used only for ceremonies, but in Bhutan it is also how we start and end each day,” Nado said. “It’s an almost obligatory ritual.”
To this day, frankincense is still used as it has been for centuries, in one of two ways: powder or stick. The powdered version is the smokier of the two and is burnt over hot embers in homes, monasteries and temples. It is used both as an offering to the gods and as a fumigant to cleanse sacred rooms and sacred objects, appease evil spirits and eradicate negative energy. Incense sticks are also used to make offerings, but they are also burned for their healing properties.
“The gentle release of fragrant smoke nourishes the mind and stimulates the senses,” Nado said. “It brings pleasure and, in turn, mental tranquility. My own incense recipe can do all of this, but also release stuck energy and heal many types of illnesses.”
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Nado’s all-natural formula for good health and happiness remains a well-kept secret known only to him and his daughter, Lamdon. He explained that it was based on a widely known recipe from the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Mindrolling in India, which is over 350 years old.
“I adapted it though, because the original amounts of saffron were so large that today it would make incense extremely expensive and out of reach for ordinary people,” he said. “I also mixed it with another recipe from the Drukpa Kagyu School of Buddhism to enhance the scent and maximize its healing powers. I use about 30 ingredients in my regular incense, and 108 in the version reserved for Important religious ceremonies. The number 108 bodes well for Buddhists and this special version can only be made on a holy day, according to Buddhist astrological charts. “
To make the incense, the various ingredients (including the bark, spices, wood chips, flowers and leaves) are powdered in the workshop’s flour mill. While the team members helping with this step know roughly what goes into making the incense, they don’t know the exact proportions, Nado explained. “And they sure don’t know what’s in the cup I put at the end.”
What he reveals is that the powder intended for direct combustion is mixed with additional medicinal herbs to ensure more smoke before being sent for packaging; while the stick powder is mixed with water, honey and a natural purple dye to form a paste which is left to ferment gently in a large vat for a week.
Burning incense is as important as the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
“I think of it like a treasure chest,” Nado said, slowly lifting the lid to allow me to peek inside and inhale the floral yeast aroma. “A lot of people would like to get their hands on the riches inside.”
As the dough ferments, Nado and his team keep a close eye on it, as it’s easy for a batch to spoil. “That’s why so many things we do here are handmade. It’s handcraft, not mass production.”
Nado then led me to the extrusion room to see the next step in the stick making process. There, Gyenzang, one of Nado’s 12 production workers, fed handfuls of fermented dough into the hopper of a machine that turned clay-like dough into coils of sweet incense in seconds.
“Making incense is a process that has to come from the heart,” she said, catching the plum-colored coils on a platter as they spilled from the extruder nozzles. “It’s a job that we all love a lot. None of us received a good education; otherwise, we would have had trouble finding work without Nado, ”she added, before passing the baccalaureate to her colleague. , Yeshey, for smoothing.
“The work is stimulating,” Yeshey said, rolling the incense flat along a block of wood. “We can earn money and feel independent from our husbands and families. Work has given us all greater self-esteem. We feel the benefit of Nado’s kindness and are happy to know that all of the good deeds and positivity involved in incense – the manufacturing process will be passed on to the finished product and the people who burn it. “
After the smoothing is complete, the incense sticks are sent to be air dried in the attic, then cut to size and tied into market ready bundles. “We make around 20,000 baguettes and 350 kg of powder per month,” Nado said. “We are now exporting to as far away as China, the United States and the United Kingdom. But while this is a business that makes a living for me, the money in no way precedes the spiritual importance of what I do. Making incense has been part of my Buddhist devotion for over 50 years. It is my vocation. And it gives me great personal satisfaction as I see with my own eyes how people benefit from incense. Come with me, I’ll show you. “
In one stick there is tremendous power
Nado and I set off down the wooded hill towards the center of Thimphu, and on the way he told me how he discovered his purpose in life. “I joined the monastery when I was 15 and stayed for 10 years,” he said. “I excelled in calligraphy, and when the third king of Bhutan requested that the Buddhist canon be written in golden script, I was recruited for this task. After I finished, I wanted to find something equally satisfying that mixes creation with the sacred, and this led me down the path of incense-making. “
In downtown Thimphu, we entered the vast centennial farmer’s market; its ground floor dedicated to fruits and vegetables, the upper level filled with incense products that promised to relieve abdominal pain, help relaxation and help perform exorcisms.
At one booth, we chatted with a woman named Choden, who often burned Nado’s incense at the temple shrine near her home and bought a new supply of scented wands.
“Just like I brush my teeth, I also burn three incense sticks in the morning and three in the evening,” she said. “I would feel incomplete if I didn’t. It’s a ritual passed down to me from my ancestors, and I passed it on to my children. Burning incense is as important as food as we are. let’s eat. the water we drink and the air we breathe. It’s a practice that unites us all – rich and poor. “
We continued to a monastery that Nado supplies with his incense. There, in a sunny prayer hall, a monk gently rocked a censer, the aromatic smoke escaping from its perforated lid to permeate the air and seep through the folds of his clothing. “When I run the puja (a cleaning ceremony using hot powder) it removes any negative energy from the room and makes me feel spiritually, physically and mentally clean, “he said.” Incense helps me focus my mind for prayer and to develop myself as a human being. It helps me become the best possible version of myself. “
In the hallway of a study room, a group of monks sat cross-legged, shaved heads buried deep in their prayer books, each with a smoking wand by their side.
“I believe in one stick there is tremendous power,” said one of the monks, named Wangchuk. Nado nodded in agreement.
“Frankincense can remove bad omens and obstacles from the path of life,” Wangchuk continued. “It creates a way for people to be kinder to each other. Incense is a key that can unlock the door to happiness.”
BBC Travel celebrates 50 reasons to love the world in 2021, thanks to inspiration from well-known voices as well as unsung heroes in local communities around the world.
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