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Aroma Science

Spiritual Traditions and Sandalwood

Many religions believe that sandalwood creates a link between heaven and earth, and thus powdered sandalwood is used in many spiritual traditions as incense in temples and personal altars to remind one of the fragrant heavens.

Sandalwood, known to be one of the most calming fragrances, has been used as incense for at least 4000 years. Besides incense, the sandalwood tree’s wood and oil are used in many diverse spiritual practices and are considered sacred by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, as well as numerous other religions.

According to the Vamana Purana, an ancient Hindu text, sandalwood is recommended for use in worshiping the god Shiva, and it is believed that the goddess Lakshmi resides in the sandalwood tree.  Additionally, many Hindu communities place a piece of sandalwood in a funeral pyre, similar to several Pacific Island religious ceremonies. The paste of the sandalwood tree’s powdered wood is often applied to the forehead—the third eye center—and other body parts, especially by devotees of the god Krishna and for the ritual bathing of other Hindu gods. Sandalwood is also crucial to the ritual of homa (havana), a Sanskrit word which refers to any ritual centered around offerings to a consecrated fire. Sandalwood oil is burned in a tent during Hindu marriages so that the smoke surrounds the bridal couple (Tibetan Incense, source, 2014).

In Buddhism, sandalwood-based incense is often burned during prayers and meditation and is one of the three fragrances integral to Buddhist practice, along with aloeswood and cloves. Sandalwood’s relaxing and cooling properties are known to boost concentration, readying the mind for meditation—a drop or two is often placed on the third eye, located near the middle of the forehead, just above the center of the eyebrows, in order to prepare the mind for an inward focus (Buddhist Blog, source, 2008). Because of these meditative properties, sandalwood has long been a precious commodity in the Buddhist community, and thousands of tons of this resource were once imported from India and the Pacific Islands to China for use in Buddhist rituals.

As with Buddhism and Hinduism, sandalwood forms the heart of Islam’s aromas. Sandalwood is among the perfumes approved by Islamic tradition, which also includes musk, amber, jasmine, and myrrh. The Middle East is a large importer of sandalwood, and demand for the sandalwood tree’s wood and essential oil is especially high in these regions at the end of the Islamic fasting month Ramadan. The powdered wood is used as incense, and the oil as a perfume for the Eid-al-Fitr holiday ending Ramadan (Ted Case Studies, source, 1997).