An X-ray analysis of a Chinese deity scolar incense burning vessel provides some insight into its structure and function. The three main components of this ancient incense burner are shape, material, and function. If you’re wondering what these components are, read on!
The shape of a Chinese deity scolar incence burner is significant in many cultures. The shape is representative of the personification of the deity, which is often depicted as sitting four-square, his hands clasped in front of his chest. It also contains a tablet bearing his title. Although the shape is symbolic of the deity, it is not a precise representation. This is because Fukienese believed that the spirit of the deity resided in the ash of the main incense pot.
Traditionally, small censers are found in the prayer halls of temples, and larger incense burners are placed outside the temple. These are generally used to burn a greater amount of incense. The branches of the Cupressus funebris are commonly used for burning these incense burners.
Traditional Chinese deity scolar incence burner materials are primarily composed of wood, sticks, and incense powder. Some of these are specialized for burning outdoors and others are used in temples and houses. The burning method is not the same regardless of the material used.
The materials used to make these incense burners are typically found in the countryside. The ashes are then screened using a 2mm bore sieve and then mixed with 7500kg of clay. Then, after careful stirring, they are fired using Dayao. They burn at 900-950 degrees Celsius for 160 hours. This produces a soft base with few impurities and a high level of plasticity.
After the collapse of the Song dynasty in 1279, incense burners of this type were commonplace in Eastern Orthodox Christian temples. By the following century, incense burners were used in many places, including Buddhist temples.
Incense burner materials were also used in ancient China for religious purposes. The earliest vessels to burn incense appeared in the western Han dynasty. Some were even zoomorphic. The Western Han dynasty incense burner featured an opening on its back to allow the odour to escape. The incense burning materials were also associated with sacred animals representing the cardinal points: the tiger represents the south, the dragon represents the west, and the tortoise represents the north.
The incense sticks used in the burners are made with glue to adhere the incense powder to the sticks. The wooden sticks are soaked in water before being dipped in the plant powder. The plant powders are composed of the subterranean parts of plants. Generally, it is preferred to use Gonostegia hirta (Blume) Miq. and Pinus yunnanensis to improve the combustibility of the sticks.
The incense burner is a symbol of Chinese religious rituals. The use of incense smoke is an ancient practice that promotes health. It is used in formal ceremonies to cleanse and purify objects and places. In early Chinese written sources, people burned aromatic woods and plants to drive away evil spirits and energy.
In addition to the burning of incense, Chinese people also performed prostration rituals. This involves kneeling on a prayer cushion and bending over at the chest. Then, they place their foreheads on their hands. Westerners call this kowtow, but Chinese call it ‘koutou Kou Tou,’ which means ‘to knock one’s head on the floor.
The Chinese pantheon contained over 200 gods. The early gods, before Shangti, were called Tudi Gong, and they were earth spirits with only local power. Sometimes they were believed to be a deceased member of the community, but in most cases they were simply ancient spirits that lived in the area. They were helpful if people acknowledged them, but they were hostile if they were ignored.
During the Ming dynasty, the scolar incense burner became a symbol of high social status and was associated with literary activities. It was no longer confined to the home and study area, but spread to gardens and pavilions. This period is marked by a painting by an anonymous artist depicting a group of 18 scholars incense preparation. In one scene, a boy attendant prepares the incense on a table, while another scholar plays the guqin. Meanwhile, other companions are engaged in calligraphy and chess.
From the 11th century, supra-local cults became prominent in China. One example of this was the worship of Lord Guan. The conventional account of how the Lord Guan cult spread assumes that people knew about the deity from written narratives, such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, in northern China, oral stories were used to spread the cult and its beliefs.