Bukhur, which comes from the Arabic word “bakhur,” is the name given to substances such as plants, roots and seeds that emit good odours or fragrant smoke when burned. In English it is “incense.”
Bukhurdan is a special container in which bukhur is burned and usually made of metal or baked clay. It is called “incensory” in English.
It is known that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) wanted bukhur to be burned in crowded places, masjids and mosques to remove bad odours. In addition, it is narrated that when Sayyidina Umar (ra) came to the mosque, Abdullah al-Mujmir whom he set free used to burn bukhur, and for this reason he was nicknamed “al-Mujmir” which means the one who burns bukhur. This information shows that in the early years of Islam the burning of bukhur in the masjids became a tradition.
The use of rose water and bukhur in the Seljuk and Ottoman states became a tradition especially in religious ceremonies and meetings. The first examples of Bukhurdan used by the Turks were in animal form. It was produced in the 8th century in the workshops of Khorasan. At the times of the Great Seljuk period, it is known that animal-shaped Bukhurdans were made in the 11th and 16th centuries. They were made of bronze and brass, especially as predators and birds.
These bukhurdans usually had a hinged lid at the chest level, and had holes drilled in the mouth and body for adornment purposes. In particular, Bukhurdans with three legs, cylindrical bodies, dome covers, embossed, and decorated by pencil work or openwork technique were used.
The Ottoman bukhurdans were made of brass, copper, tambac, silver and gold; they were generally produced in the form of pine cone, poppy and fruit shapes. The steamers were generally seated on a single pedestal base on a wide table and were held on their sides with an ornate and large handle. There was a lattice lid or ornamented holes for the smoke to escape. In general, the lids of the bukhurdan were pointed or dome shaped and there were handles on them. The forms of bukhurdan often had the artistic characteristics of the period in which they were made. The common characteristic of the Ottoman bukhurdans is that they consist of two sections called “ateşlik” (firepan) and “külâh” (cone) and that their upper parts are generally decorated with curved branch motifs. When the aesthetic quality and technical characteristics of the bukhurdans are taken into consideration, they appear as indicators of the abundance and richness of that period.
It was customary to burn Bukhur in the palace in Ottoman period; after meals offering rose water and coffee in a ceremony has become a tradition. Particularly on the days of the Divan, one servant used to distribute rose water while the hands were washed, and another servant perfumed the room with bukhur.
Bukhur had an important place in the daily life of Ottoman sultans. After the sultan finished his meal and washed his hands, the sultan’s clothes and room were deodorized from food odours with bukhur. Bukhurdan was also used in places where the sultan would go. Before the sultan reached the mosque, the treasurer would go to the mosque and prepare the place where the sultan would pray, lay down his prayer rug and burn the bukhur.
Bukhurdan was also burned after the meals in the Ottoman harem. Separate tables were set up for the Valide sultan, the Hanım sultans, the Hasekis. They used to eat together at these tables all together. After the meal, the hands were wiped off and the rose water was applied to the hands; then bukhur was burned, and coffee was drunk.
In addition to the palace, incense was also used in houses, mansions and lodges. Especially during the visit of the lihyatu’sh-sharifah (beard of the Prophet Muhammad (asm)), while reading the mawlid, at the ceremonies of ijazah of ‘calligraphy’ and ‘hifzu’l-Qur’an’, and in the room to have iftar meal at quarter to the time of the call to prayer. Commonly used bukhur materials are known to be musk, tragacanth, rosewood, oily tree, rose oil, amber, juniper seed, sweetgum, sandal powder.