Sandalwood is known for its medicinal properties

A Letter From Grandpa

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at   

By Niranjan Shah

My dear Nikita and Sanjna:

Sandalwood’s name is derived from the Sanskrit chandan. Santalum album popularly known as sandalwood is indigenous to India. In antiquity the Indian sub-continent was known to be the source and exporter of mainly luxury goods such as gold, gems, spices, fine textiles, perfumes, sandalwood and ivory. The coastal route to the Persian Gulf was ancient and rice, sandalwood and peacocks were traded. This plant is renowned for its soul-stirring fragrance and extremely high price as well.

Sandalwood has always been valued for its fragrance and its resistance to insects. It is a vital accessory in India’s rituals. Besides providing oil celebrated in commerce, the sandalwood is used for carving fine items such as figures and caskets, as well as images of deities and temple doors. It is also made into a paste which has universal application in Vedic practices. Indians frequently smear the paste in symbolic marks on their faces and bodies. The paste is also believed to have a cooling effect on the body. The paste, oil and wood have medicinal applications and the powdered wood is even used in antidotes to snakebites.

Sandalwood is also known for its medicinal properties. The main medicinal properties of sandalwood reside in the oil. Sandalwood oil was used traditionally to treat skin diseases, acne, dysentery, gonorrhea, and a number of other conditions.

The wood has been used to make various religious artifacts such as staffs and figurines, and a sandalwood paste was made for marking the skin. Because of its resistance to white ants, the wood was also used in early buildings.

It was an important trade item and has been found in Egyptian enbalming formulas. It was also used in death rituals also. In  India it was burned on funeral pyres or even used to make coffins for the very wealthy.  A key ingradient in perfumes and incense, lotions and body oils, sandalwood has been one of the most important perfume materials for more than 2000 years. Sandalwood’s use in European and American perfumery was not significant until the 1900s, where it was (and still is) appreciated for its fixative ability as well as its fragrance. Today it is often used in fine perfumes. In the past, it was often used for temple doors, and it is still valued for intricately carved furniture —although with today’s high prices, it is used for this purpose less than in the past. Chips of wood are burned as an incense or ground to make incense sticks.

The oil can also be used for bronchitis and for inflammation in mucous tissue. A decoction of the wood may be helpful for indigestion and fever and externally for skin problems, especially those of bacterial origin. Sandalwood has positive affects on the circulatory, digestive, respiratory and nervous systems. It relieves fever, thirst, burning sensation and stops sweating. It is good for fever or overexposure to the sun. Sandal-wood is also good for most of inflammatory conditions and for cleansing the blood. Sandalwood helps the awakening of intelligence. It also aids in the transmutation of sexual energy. The oil or paste is useful for most infectious sores or ulcers if applied externally.

— Grandpa’s blessing

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