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incense stick

Name for both a small wooden stick coated with a tick layer of incense and a solid stick completely made of incense material, without a supporting core. There are many different colours (fig.) and they are made from a wide variety of materials, both natural and artificial. They are often used at religious ceremonies and spiritual purification rites, in places of worship of different religions. There are several kinds, such as very thick and large incense sticks used at special occasions like funerals (fig.), but the most commonly used incense sticks in Thailand are small joss sticks, cored incense for religious practice that consist of a light coloured incense on a usually purple or red wooden stick of about 20-30 cm long (fig.). Incense sticks are made from bamboo, which is cut into very thin sticks, of which one end, the one that will serve as the handle, is dyed or painted in a certain colour, usually red, and then dried (fig.). Then, the end which has no dye on it is rolled in a sticky, dough-like mixture of oil and cinnamon, and then dipped in fine sandalwood powder, which serves as a coating and enhances combustion. When this process is completed, the incense sticks are laid out to dry in the wind or sun once again, now to allow the incense itself to harden. After that, the incense sticks are ready for use (fig.). Thai Theravada Buddhists habitually burn three incense sticks at a time, symbolic for the Triratana, the three objects of veneration for Buddhists, i.e. the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, whereas Thai-Chinese Buddhists belonging to the Hinayana sect tend to burn a whole bunch of incense sticks at the same time. It is believed that when offering food, the scent of the incense takes the food up to heaven as long as the joss stick burns. Once the incense is burned up the food is taken away, often for own consumption. Due to the large amount of incense sticks burning simultaneously, especially in Chinese temples and on auspicious days when large crowds of people gather to make merit, the incense sticks are discarded before they are burned up completely (fig.) and burned in gong de or joss ovens (fig.), in order to make place for newly arrived worshippers as well as to avoid suffocation in badly ventilated locations where breathing may become difficult due to high emissions of carbon monoxide and concentration of smoke. If they are not discarded they are sometimes left and piled up on top of each other to form a tower of sticks (fig.). Incense sticks are also used for other than religious purposes, e.g. against mosquitoes or to enhance the smell in ones home. Joss stick are usually burned in a special vessel called an incense burner (fig.), known in Thai as kratahng toob, or in a censer called takan (fig.) used when burning incense such as cones for one. Before burning incense sticks the person offering them will first make a vow called athitahn, in which the hands are brought together above the head, making a wai. In Thai, incense sticks are called toob. See also jieba, miao, and incense coil.