Spiral Joss Sticks
At the beginning of every ceremony, incense is burned so that the fragrant smoke will accompany the prayer that rises to the other world. The lower part of the joss sticks is dyed in a bright colour, green, red or yellow. The joss sticks are stuck in a vase filled with sands or ashes. The upper part is coated with a fragrant paste, containing benzoin resin or similar substances. In the light that filters into the pagoda, the perfumes mingle – citronella, sandalwood, cardamom, rose and lotus.
Incense is used in ceremonies to honour the Buddha, tutelary spirits, ancestors and the dead. Worshippers offer fruits and flowers, lighting up three joss sticks, and prostrate themselves five times. These numbers are symbolic – three represents the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; five represents the Five Poisons: ignorance, greed, hatred, pride and jealousy. Votive papers are suspended from the coils of incense, inscribed with wishes written in Chinese characters by the pagoda’s scribe. The coils will burn for weeks, giving time for the wishes to be granted.
Buddhism reached Viết Nam by two routes. Theravada Buddhism arrived from the south with the merchants who came to the country by land and sea from Thailand, Burma and Ceylon. Mahayana Buddhism came from the north, originating from India and Nepal via China.