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Sandalwood and CarrionSmell in Indian Religion and Culture$
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James McHugh

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199916306

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199916306.001.0001

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The Toilette of the Gods

The Toilette of the Gods

(p.218) 10 The Toilette of the Gods
Sandalwood and Carrion

James McHugh

Oxford University Press

Building on the wide-ranging study of smell, perfumes, and aromatics in the previous chapters, this chapter examines the question of why people offered these materials to the gods. A passage from the Mahābhārata provides a very clear answer to the question “Why do we give flowers and incense to the gods?” After a close reading of this text, the chapter presents two later sources. Here it appears that the aromatic practices and olfactory sensibilities of the gods changed over time, from simple incense made of Indian myrrh to far more complex perfumes made of exotic aromatics. Although adornment is shared between the “sacred” and “profane” worlds, nevertheless there are important differences between the olfactory tastes and sensory capacities of the gods and of humans, such that one can justifiably talk of a religious olfactory aesthetics.

Keywords:   incense, perfume, ritual theory, sacred, gift

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