View Full Version : Frankincense : சாம்ப்ராணி

09-10-2012, 01:05 PM
249It was my first posting in Salalah in Sultanate of Oman. Salalah is the most beautiful place in Arabian peninsula. Salalah is the capital of Vilayat of Dhofar (Province) in far south of the Sultanate bordering Yemen and the Arabian sea. On my first outing in the town,I was taken to the local market area in Haffa by my colleagues, what was called Haffa Souq. It was March, 1982, formative years of rapid development of the Sultanate. Vestiges of old culture were visible in the Country.

Market looked like our own roadside markets in Tamil Nadu on a weekly shandy day , with the items of sales spread out on the roadsides. Here I found most of the "shops" were managed mostly by "Zanzibari" women, who are very much different from rest of the Omanis. The market was filledup with all sort of materials essential for day to day use in the household. For the first time I saw the resins of Frankincense ( சாம்ப்ராணி) sold in bulk. The sales women burnt the granules and spread the wonderful aroma around. I was curious to know more about this wonderful material that was commonly used in our Pooja . I give below a brief account of what I learnt about Frankincense.

Frankincense : சாம்ப்ராணி
The high quality frankincense tree, the boswellia sacra, grows only in the Dhofar region (and in parts of northern Somalia). The best of it comes from trees on the inland side of the Dhofar mountains, but some frankincense also grows on the plains to the south of Salalah. Visually, the tree is not so attractive, but strong, a low twisted bush-like tree which has no central trunk. And it has numerous prickly branches extended every side.

Later, I came to know Dhofar region (in Oman and Yemen) had the natural privilege of growing this wonderful tree in a relatively restricted habitat which is just out of range of the monsoon rains but where cool winds depress air temperatures in hot summer months .

The resin is extracted today the same way it was done 4,000 years ago. In the spring, tiny slits are made in the tree bark, and the resin that oozes out is collected in bowls.Ducts inside the bark produce a milky white, sticky liquid that flows out when the tree is injured. The liquid solidifies into a resin when exposed to the sun.

Frankincense is being used for religious purposes for centuries by Greeks, Romans, Egyptians. Mention of this aromatic resin is found in the Holy Bible.
Frankincense is one of the three gifts brought by the three wise-men who followed the bright star in the east to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
"And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts;Gold,and frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11).

It is our tradition to spread the aromatic smoke of Frankincense in our Pooja in Temples as also in homes. I believe this practice must have introduced from North or during the Maratha rule.

But I do not know the reason for calling halfwits as Mada Sambrani ( மட சாம்ப்ராணி) !

11-10-2012, 10:15 AM
If I am correct the Arabic word for Frankincense (Sambrani) is Luban, the Greek and Latin words for frankincense libanos and libanus are derivations of this. The traditional angular incense burner is called "Mabaakhur". Nowadays Electrically operated incense burners are available.

There is another aromatic wood, the smoke of which is used for religious purpose, mostly by Hindus and Buddhists. It is called Oud, Oodh or Oudh in Arabic the resin of which is extracted from tropical tree known as Agar Tree (Aquilaria). In Sanskrit also it is known as "Agar". In Tamil "Agir" "அகிற்". "When the wood of this tree gets infected with a certain mould variety (Phialophora parasitica), it reacts by producing a precious, dark and fragrant resin, which is the perfume ingredient oud (also called agarwood)". The word "Agar-bathi" or "Oodubathi" is derived from Agar only. Oudh-oil is highly valued perfume, most expensive perfume in the world . The oil is known as "dehn al oud" and the resin is " Oud Mubakhar" in Arabic.

Oh Yes ! . Oudh or Agar is considered an effective aphrodisiac. It finds in many places in romantic literature in Sanskrit. Poet Kalidasa wrote" “Beautiful ladies, preparing themselves for the feast of pleasures, cleanse themselves with the yellow powder of sandal, clear and pure, freshen them with pleasant aromas, and suspended their dark hair in the smoke of burning Aloes(AGAR)wood…” (Abhijñāna Sākuntalam).