Sunday, February 6, 2011

Indian Sandalwood

Indian sandalwood scientifically known as Santalum album (Family - santalaceae) is naturally distributed in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It produces an immensely valuable sandalwood oil (santalol) which is an essential ingredient in perfume manufacturing.

In Sri Lanka, Indian sandalwood can be found in hilly areas with fairly high temperature at the day time and cold nights. That area is generally called "cold arid zone". As the occurance of this species is declining, (due to the low regeneration rate and slow growth rate) the Government of Sri Lanka has banned harvesting it without the permits. However, in the above mentioned area, there are signs of illegal felling for obtaining oil.

Indian sandalwood is an evergreen small/medium size tree. The colour of the bark vary from grey, brown to black. The branching pattern is irregular and erect. Leaves are small (6-8 cm in length). Flowers arrange as an inflorescence with purple colour. Although sandalwood stem produces a heavenly smell, flowers are unscented. Fruits are purple when ripe.

Santalol is used as a base ingredient in quality perfume manufacturing. Due to its wonderful smell, sandalwood is called as the wood scented by gods in the Indian literature. The holly fire lit by using sandalwood is used in religious activities and traditional weddings in India. Also the scented sticks are commonly used in meditation rooms as it enhances the ability of focusing the mind.

Sandalwood leaves are used as a food in most of the rural villages. It also has insect repellent abilities. It is a fodder for animals like rabbits and goats. Sandalwood stem is used for carvings. Statues of different gods made out of sandalwood stems are very popular all over the world.

Indian sandalwood may be the mostly mentioned tree species in the ancient literature found in India and Sri Lanka. In Subhashitha (Sinhala advisory peams), written by Algiyawenna Mukaveti before about 500 years, it is said that,

"Good people with quality characters do not get hurt even due to very harsh actions by others as sandalwood spreads its fragrance wider and wider as it is cut and beaten".

In Guttilia Kavya (written by Ven. Vetteve Thero in Kotte Kingdon of Sri Lanka in 1400s), it is said that, "ladies applied fragrant sandalwood paste in their bodies prior to participate for the musical contest".

Lo Veda Sangarawa (another ancient Sinhalese writing by Ven. Vidagama Maithriya Thero) says "having delicious food and applying wonderful sandalwood paste ..."

In addition to that, Great Writings in Eastern Literature such as Buddhist Jathaka stories, Dhamma Pada, Vinaya Pitaka (400 BC) etc mentioned sandalwood trees.