In ancient times, pleasant-smelling perfumes were either offered to royal personages and saints, or were diffused over the roads on which they traveled. Over time, they came to be incorporated in the rituals on the anthropomorphic principle of what pleases humans must necessarily please the gods.
The oldest source of incense is the Vedas, specifically, the Atharva-veda and Rigveda. Incense burning was used for both to create pleasing aromas and as a medicinal tool. Its use in medicine is considered the first phase of Ayurveda, which uses incense as an approach to healing. Hence, a uniform and codified system of incense-making first began in India.
For Egyptians, incense held a direct connection with the dead. Each ingredient of incense was supposed to contain magical properties, which would carry prayers as well as the souls of the dead to heaven. In the royal court of Tanjore, about a 1000 years ago in India, was conceived the idea of a “Miniature Yagna”. Hence, everyone could have access to it in their own homes, replicating an offering to the Gods in the form of a Traditional “Homa” or a ‘Sacrificial fire’, with all the attendant properties and good effects and resulting benefits. Thereafter, incense sticks or their Indian version dhoop have become a part of our daily rituals.
Incense purifies the atmosphere like havan fire. But it works through the power of fragrance which is not so much the mainstay of Vedic ritual as the domain of flowers that have deep spiritual connotations in Hindu philosophy. Incense brands are often named after flowers. Because fragrance purifies the physical environment, the individual feels that, as part of the environment, he is also being purified. Psychologically, he reads a basic physical purification as a spiritual one. In the process, the person transfers himself into another world where meditation is easier.