The Scent of Safety

From the exhibit Exploring Objects, Fears, and the Future

Frankincense holder, Tuluva community, India.

Circa 1970s. 9-13320a,b.

According to Dr. Peter J. Claus, a folklore scholar who collected this object and worked with the Tuluva community for three and a half decades, women traditionally receive a small silver sickle, a tiny umbrella, and frankincense to protect themselves and their children for 40 days after childbirth. One legend tells of a historical figure named Pangala Bannare, an evil lord, who Tuluva people later reconceived as an evil spirit. In the legend, a deity named Bale Mani used these three tools—the sickle, umbrella, and frankincense—to try to repel Pangala Bannare, who was trying to lure Bale Mani away from her baby’s side.

Photo: David Garnick