Washington: Walk into Lake Forest Mall, White Flint Mall or any other mall in America and the aroma that wafts into your senses is indelibly Indian.
This is Indian incense at its zenith, and there is no mistaking the aroma of sandalwood, jasmine or the heady champa.
"We are importing agarbattis (incense sticks) from India on a large scale," says Martha Rodman at the Next store. "I think that incense sticks have actually appealed to the West because they are not cumbersome, there is no liquid, there is only ash and it is so easy to handle."
She adds:" Aromatherapy is an experience in America and we are continuously looking at products that will offer satisfaction to a wide range of customers. We are happy when people walk up to us and say `What scent is that? Could I buy it?'"
Obviously, incense today has come way beyond just purposes of ritual and worship - their traditional use in India. It is being used by people of various nations and homes are becoming used to the act of burning incense.
Incense sticks from Bangalore, Mysore and Pondicherry's Aurobindo Ashram seem to be clear favorites in shops and stores. ITC's agarbattis too seem to be well packaged.
The Rs.10 billion agarbatti industry has reportedly been growing at three to four percent every year.
"The use of incense was very common in olden times," says David Stern, a theologian. "It was employed for profane purposes as an antidote to the lassitude caused by very great heat, as perfumes are now used. Mention of its introduction into pagan worship is made by classical writers, but today it has brought people together."
"Indian incense offers a physical, psychological and spiritual link between our tangible world and the intangible realms beyond our senses," says Stern.
Madhu Puri, a housewife who lights it every day, says: "Indian incense, with its sweet-smelling perfume and high-ascending smoke, is typical of prayer, which enkindles in the heart a certain cosmic sense of balance."
Obviously for consumers in America, Indian incense produces an agreeable scent.
"But more important, as the smoke rises from the incense burned by men and women, their consciousness rides the smoke and blends with the divine emanations of cosmic light, allowing a brief spiritual attuning with the Divine Consciousness," says Stern who appreciates the invasion of Indian incense.