A firsthand account from an incense stick
Namaste! I am the humble agarbatti and this is the story of my creation, which in India, is treated as a sacred art.
Did you know that India, which has developed the culture of fragrance to its highest level, produces the widest variety of fragrant flora in its many climatic and geographical zones?Stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the tip of the southern peninsula and from the hills in the east to the western desert, nature’s bounty of fragrant flowers, balsamic woods and aromatic resins offers the best sources for my creation — jasmine, champa, rose, sandalwood, musk, lavender, patchouli, saffron and countless others.
Is it any surprise that thousands and thousands of my varieties are made in this country? Interestingly, I am mostly still hand-made and a significant part of my production is a cottage industry. Being highly labour intensive, this industry is a huge employment generator. It necessitates no educational or technical qualification or specialized experience and thus employs a large number of women who work from their homes. It is also capable of providing employment to the partially handicapped, aged persons and other weaker sections of society in both cities and villages. What’s more? My making requires no huge capital investment and no dependence on power supply but it is a great foreign exchange earner.
My manufacture is actually both a science and an art. Some of my formulations are so ancient; they have been handed down through centuries. These are prepared under strict supervision. The finest ingredients are blended in exact proportions so that the same unique bouquet is obtained every time. My formulas are often family guarded secrets that have passed down over generations.
While I come in all kinds of shapes & sizes: cones, logs, coils, powders, wood chips, resin drops — my most popular form is the stick or agarbatti.
Here’s how I take that form:
– I start off as bamboo, which is evenly slit and cut into sticks of the right length and thickness.
– A fine paste of natural ingredients like aromatic roots, herbs, resins, gums and adhesives, including jiggit powder is carefully prepared and gently rolled onto me.
– I am then left out at the mercy of the sun to bake & dry for no less than three days.
– After this, I am sorted, bundled and packaged attractively in a variety of aroma — retaining covers.
Now I am ready for use!
Some of my cousins are made differently. While I am known as the masala bathi, another type called Charcoal bathi is the stick coated with a more basic paste of wood charcoal, spent sandalwood powder, binding resin, etc and is black in color. But he goes on to get lovingly dipped in a special blend of fragrant essential oils before being put out to dry again.
Yet another cousin is a combination of the two of us. He gets treated to both the masala paste and the special oils or he gets to have some resinoids and essential oils mixed with his masala paste. He has a very fragrant bouquet and leaves a more lingering fragrance. There are others, like sandalwood and some amber. They are actually masalas like me but contain only powdered or shaved wood and a resinous or solid perfume. But they are distinctly woody and are called wood base.
Yet another masala incense, the Durbars are slow burning, with a sweet, spicy, rich aroma. They are a mix of solid and liquid perfumes in a gummy base, they don’t dry completely and are soft to touch. Champas are those durbars which contain the sticky grey, semi-liquid halmaddi from the Indian plumeria tree.
I haven’t yet told you about my other relatives, Dhoops or logs, which are extruded fragrance sticks without the bamboo. These are masala or combination incenses, a resinous mixture of rice, coconut, flowers, etc and they are strongly aromatic. Cones are another variety of dhoops in a conical shape.
Thus, I can be a complex blend of up to 50 or more natural ingredients. Sometimes the climate of an area may determine the method by which I am made e.g. the number of days I need to dry would depend on how hot & dry or humid a place is. Did you also know that certain regions specialize in producing particular types of incense? E.g. sandalwood varieties which Mysore is known for. Another thing, while most of us cousins can be ignited directly, there are some mixtures like the sambrani , which need to be sprinkled in powder form over glowing charcoal or over a fire, to release their fragrance.
Like my fragrance, I could go on & on but I must stop here. However, while going, I must tell you to beware of cheap duplicates in the form of unprocessed wood slivers, dipped into synthetic perfumes, which are then ornately packaged and sold. These blank sticks, known as firecracker punks, produce harsh chemicals on burning, and can give you quite a headache!
Here is what goes into the making of a Cycle agarbatti at N. Ranga Rao & Sons Pvt. Ltd. :
The best of raw materials are sourced directly from the Asian sub-continent. None of these are issued for production until they pass very stringent quality control tests.
We have the strongest R&D setup in the entire agarbatti industry. Years of rigorous research have given us distinction in fragrance creation, and we are known to have set trends in creating different forms of incense and packaging.
NR Group’s core competence — the nurtured art of creating new fragrances is a family secret that has been handed down through generations, safeguarding the purity and original quality of the incense.
Adding to the company’s strength is the fact that all fragrances are made or blended in-house and all processes are developed in-house, ensuring that there are no collaborations. All statutory requirements under labour, forest, commercial and pollution control laws are applicable to this industry, which is recognized by the Government as a handicraft industry. This safeguards the interests of the production workforce and the environment.
A professionally managed company, N. Ranga Rao & Sons Pvt. Ltd. introduced modern practices such as Vendor Development Initiatives, Quality Management and HRD as early as 1960.
Cycle agarbatti gives full and part time employment to many tribal hamlets and also to more than 3000 families in India.
Cycle products are totally eco-friendly — no CFCs are released during production, no animal products used and no animal testing is involved.