The Lingering Scent of Sandalwood | A Short Story of the Incense Trade Route

The Sandalwood is a slow-growing tree. The ‘fruits’ of this slow-growing tree, namely its wood and its oil, give out an unmistakeable fragrance that has been highly prized for centuries. Sandalwood oil has a distinctive scent. It is soft, warm, smooth, creamy and milky. The scent of the essential oil calms the mind and acts as a mood enhancer.

Sandalwood, one of the most expensive woods in the world, is indigenous to the tropical belt of the Indian Peninsula, the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia. It spread to other regions through the Incense Trade Route until the 16th century CE. It was traded by Indian, Arab and Chinese traders. Producing commercially valuable sandalwood with high levels of fragrance oils requires the Indian sandalwood tree to be a minimum of 15 years old.

The Incense Route was a network of trade routes extending over two thousand kilometres that facilitated the transport of various incenses. It stretched from the Mediterranean ports across the Levant and Egypt through Northeastern Africa and Arabia to India and beyond.

In Hinduism and Ayurveda, sandalwood is thought to bring one closer to the divine. It is used for medicinal as well as purposes. In the Hindu faith, sandalwood is used for worship. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi lives in the sandalwood tree.

Sandalwood powder is popularly used in India and Nepal. It is applied topically to protect the skin. In East Asia, the incense is used by the Chinese, Korean and Japanese worshippers in various ceremonies. Zoroastrians offer sandalwood twigs to the urn at the fire temple to keep the fire burning during religious ceremonies.

Sandalwood comes under high regard in the ancient Vedic texts. It is a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicines to treat a number of ailments like: the common cold, UTIs and digestive issues. It is also known to act as an antiseptic.

In Ayurveda, Sandalwood is naturally astringent, purifying and cooling. It is especially helpful to calm excess heat Pitta. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend Sandalwood paste for cleansing wounds and treating inflammation, sunburn and acne.

Image Credit: Ping an Chang

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