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If you do not light a lamp while doing a prayer and reciting any mantras. But it is necessary to burn an incense stick. This is practised by Buddhist too. Why do we need to do so?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

It is not completely necessary to burn incense sticks while praying. It has just become a traditionally followed practice. What is necessary is to create an environment of sweet fragrance and aroma made out of pure material (like natural products). Because that purifies the air and it helps higher beings and ethereal beings to roam there if you are calling them. It is because prāna (life air) is the food for all beings starting from animals to gods:

prāṇaṃ devā anu prāṇanti manuṣyāḥ paśavaśca ye prāṇo hi bhūtānāmāyuḥ tasmātsarvāyuṣamucyate [Tait Up - 2.3]

The gods live on breath, also men and animals. Prāna certainly is the life of all beings. Therefore prāna is called life of all.

As prāṇa acts as the food for the jivātmā, using incense sticks, dhupa, etc. through the aromatic air food is offered to them in various worships, puja and rituals. So it's not completely necessary to burn incense sticks while praying unless some god or higher being is going to come there in a subtle form. But anyway, burning incense stick is a good practice as it will at the least make the place of worship pleasant.

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Usually,sandhyapuja is done at 'twilight' or 'trisandhya'. That is the time when many insects and mosquitoes are present. Along with the aroma as the other user mentioned, the dhoop/ incense stick also gets rid of the insects and mosquitoes.

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As far as I know incense stick stands for the principle of smell which is associated with Prithvi (earth) lodged in Muldahar Chakra. One thanks the Deity in Arati for the Pancha Bhutas (Earth, Water, fire, air and space) which makes life possible.

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