Why do we use kapur (camphor) in Vedic rituals?
The English word ‘camphor’ is derived from the French ‘camphre’ which comes from the Medieval Latin ‘camfora’, which is inspired from the Arabic ‘kafur’ that originates from the Sanskrit ‘karpuram’.
Camphor is extracted from the wood of the camphor laurel, a large evergreen tree found in South East Asia and also from the unrelated Kapur tree, a tall timber tree from the same region. Camphor is also chemically produced from the oil of turpentine. For several centuries, it has been used widely in perfumery and scents, in cooking, as an embalming fluid and in religious ceremonies. Camphor is easily absorbed through the skin and produces a coolness or warm sensation and acts as a slight local anesthetic.
However, long before its use in cooking, medical treatments and as a preservative, kapur was actively used in the Vedic rituals and homas when the Vedic Age prevailed. In the botanical context, the Camphor laurel (tree of kapur) has different chemical variants that are linalool, 8-cineole, nerolidol, safrole, or borneol. All these chemicals have stronger aromas that are toxic to insects, germs and bacteria.
Burning a camphor tablet drives away the germs, bacteria (invisible to the naked eyes) and purifies the atmosphere, making it conducive to performing puja, meditation or any other spiritual activity with a focused mind. Kapur flames easily and its aroma makes the air fresh. This is the main reason why kapur is burnt in the thali during puja aarti.
According to the belief of great rishis and munis, burning of kapur minimizes Deva Dosha (malefic ruling deity), Pitru dosh (karmic debts of ancestors) and dispels other negative energies prevailing in the house. And that’s why in every Vedic ritual (Hindu puja), one finds the use of kapur.