The Sandalwood Saga
Among the eight magical Vedic fragrant substances, sandalwood or ‘chandan’ can be called the
backbone of Vedic spirituality and fragrance, as
well as the key ingredient in Vedic ritual even today.
Although Gundhi believes that at one time ‘agar’ or
agarwood that is extracted from the forests of Assam
in eastern India, must have also been offered to the
sacred fire during the ‘Agnihotra Havan’ ceremony,
its prices later sky-rocketed due to its high demand
in the Arab market causing its scarcity and decline in
usage. Agarwood has also been synonymous with its
Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) with its formidable 95% santalol content is considered among
the world’s most superior varieties. Rigid government restrictions and regulations have however,
made it difficult to easily acquire it in pure form.
Sandalwood trees grow in southern India in
regions like Karnataka and pure sandalwood chips
and sticks are offered to the sacred fire and even in
powdered form to idols of various deities throughout
India. Although ‘Hinduism’ as the Vedic religion or
‘Sanaatana Dharma’ is commonly called, is said to be
essentially monotheistic, idol worship and polythe-
ism are considered later inclusions. Sandalwood
incense sticks (agarbatti) and even tiny incense cones
(dhoop) are offered to different deities. Sandalwood
is rightly believed to be incredibly healing, calming
and spiritually inspiring.
Sandalwood paste is also applied on the forehead
by many spiritual preachers. Making a small san-
dalwood ‘tilak’ mark in the center of the forehead is
a common practice among Hindus and even Jains,
followers of another great Indic faith, Jainism. Due
to its cooling effect, many also include sandalwood
in nourishing herbal facial skin packs and soaps.
Camphor is also another popular and exotic
fragrant ingredient that graces Vedic rituals. ‘Loban’
resin and also the gummy, resinous Indian Bedellium
called ‘gugal’ play (both lobal and gugal, so ‘their’
role)its roles in scenting Hindu worship.
Incense-The Ritualistic Essence
Among the most important forms of fragrance in
Hindu or Vedic spirituality is incense. Commonly
called ‘agarbatti’ or ‘light of agar,’ Navin Gundhi
explains that in the olden days, only pure powdered
agarwood was used to make incense sticks, hence the
name. Today because of its exorbitant costs, these
are a rarity, with several synthetic innovations of
varied aromas filling markets.
Traditional non-alcoholic concentrates used in Hindu worship stored in old-style Belgian-cut bottles.