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Heung, Aromatic Stuff

P1010761 (Medium) ^Coiled incense used inside a temple for the Northern King, a Chinese folk deity.

Chinese temples make for a good destination on a leisure, educational and, all the more so, photographic trip. Apart from the effigies depicting the divine celebrities, incense is an intriguing photographic subject.

As for all other photographic assignments, GX GARNERINGS suggests coming up with a theme before going on a photographic trip to the Chinese temple. Learning about the place before setting off also stands you in good stead; take for example, the incense so that you may have an idea about your unique perspective of photographing it.

The Chinese word for incense is pronounced as Heung in Cantonese or Xiang in Putonghua. Heung literally means "aromatic stuff" and comes in various sizes and shapes. The use of incense was recorded as early as in biblical times. In the Paraonic Egypt, incense were made from gums and resins of aromatic trees were imported from the coasts of Arabia and the present-day pirate-infested Somalia which is believed to be the Occident origin of incense. The Pharaohs used incense for religious ceremonies and to dispel unpleasant odours. The extensive use of incense was seen in the Babylonian times when people offered prayers to divining oracles.

Later, incense spread to Israel and from there to Greece, Rome and India. The Bible writes that one of the wise men from the East offer incense to the infant Jesus as a gift.

P1010757 (Medium)

^Incense coils seemingly ascending to the heavens

In the Oriental world, Buddhist monks brought incense with them to Japan in the 6th century which they used for purification rites. In the imperial China, incense was first used in the grand days of the Wu (literally, Military) Emperor of the Han Dynasty datd back to 156 B.C.

Nothwithstanding the nuances of differences among Buddists, Taoists and folk religions of whichever denomination in China, incense is a burnt offering to gratify the deities and mitigate one's sins. Burning incense is thought to bring the offerers a wealth of auspicious returns.

Now how about taking on a theme of bribery to the gods?

P1010760 (Medium)

You may as well be a wee bit disrepecting with your photographic theme.

Having followed up over 61,000 Chinese-Singaporeans for up to 12 years on a survey, researchers conclude that burning incense produces a sweet aroma which could lead to tracteal cancer risks if inhaled. Now figure out how to put the gods, worshippers and incense into an amusing perspective in the images.

P1010570 (Medium)

As for me, I am thinking of an unconventional theme on cheating the gods after seeing how the quantum leaps in the digital and electronic development in the mortal world impact the immortals. Incense offering now comes with an electronic option.

(Photos are by courtesy of Christopher Guy. Thank you, Chris)


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