Religion Wiki

Santalum paniculatum (ʻiliahi), Hawaiʻi.

Sandalwood is the name of different fragrant woods. These woods are yielded by trees in the genus Santalum, which are often used for the essential oil it contains. The wood is heavy and yellow in color as well as fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods it retains its fragrance for decades. Sandalwood has been valued and treasured for many years for its fragrance, carving, medical and religious qualities.

Genuine sandalwoods

Santalum album

The genuine sandalwoods are medium-sized hemiparasitic trees of the genus Santalum. The most notable members of this group are Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) and Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum). Several other members of the genus species also have fragrant wood and are found across India, Australia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands.

  • Santalum album, or Indian sandalwood, is currently a threatened species and consequently very expensive. It is indigenous to South India, and grows in the Western Ghats, and a few other mountain ranges like Kalrayan and Shevaroyan Hills. Although all sandalwood trees in India and Nepal are government-owned and their harvest is strictly controlled, many trees are illegally cut down and smuggled out of the country. Sandalwood essential oil prices have risen up to $1,000–1,500 per kg in the last 5 years. Some countries regard the sandal oil trade as ecologically harmful because it encourages the overharvesting of sandalwood trees. Sandalwood from Mysore region of Karnataka, Southern India is widely considered to be of the highest quality available. New plantations have been set up with international aid in Tamilnadu in order to avail of the economic benefits of sandalwood. Today, in Kununurra in Western Australia, Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) is being grown on a very large scale. Huge plantations surround this picturesque little town.
  • Santalum ellipticum, S. freycinetianum, and S. paniculatum, the Hawaiian sandalwoods (ʻiliahi), was also used and deemed of high quality. These three species were intensively exploited for only a brief period (approximately 1790–1825) before the supply of trees ran out. Although S. freycinetianum and S. paniculatum are relatively common today, they have never regained their former abundance or size, and S. ellipticum remains rare[1][2]
  • Santalum spicatum (Australian sandalwood) is used by some aromatherapists and perfumers. The concentration of constituent chemicals in its essential oil – hence, its aroma – differ considerably from those of other Santalum species. In the 1840s, sandalwood was Western Australia's biggest export earner. Oil was distilled for the first time in 1875, and by the turn of the century, there was intermittent production of Australian sandalwood oil.


Sandalwood leaf

Producing commercially valuable sandalwood with high levels of fragrance oils, requires Santalum trees to be around eight years of age as a minimum, but a preference of fourteen years and above is present. Australia is now the largest producer of Santalum album with a majority being grown around Kununurra, Western Australia.

Unlike most trees, sandalwood is harvested by toppling the entire tree instead of sawing them down at the trunk. This way, valuable wood from the stump and root can also be sold or processed for oil.



Sandalwood essential oil provides perfumes with a striking wood base note. Sandalwood smells not unlike other wood scents, except it has a bright and fresh edge with few natural analogues. When used in smaller proportions in a perfume, it is an excellent fixative to enhance the head space of other fragrances.

The oil from sandalwood is widely used in the cosmetic industry and is expensive. The true sandalwood is a protected species, and its demand cannot be met. Many species of plants are traded under the name of "sandalwood". Within the genus Santalum alone, there are more than 19 species that can be called sandalwood. Traders will often accept oil from closely related species such as various species in the genus Santalum as well as that of West Indian Sandalwood (Amyris balsamifera) in the family Rutaceae.

Religious use


Sandalwood paste is integral to rituals and ceremonies, to mark religious utensils and to decorate the icons of the deities. It is also distributed thereafter to devotees, who apply it to the forehead or the neck and chest. Preparation of the paste is considered a duty fit only for the pure, and is therefore entrusted in temples and during ceremonies only to priests.

The paste is prepared by grinding pieces of the wood by hand upon granite slabs shaped for the purpose. With slow addition of water a thick paste results, which is mixed with saffron or other such pigments to make Chandan.

Sandalwood is considered in alternative medicine to bring one closer to the divine. Sandalwood essential oil, which is very expensive in its pure form, is used primarily for Ayurvedic purposes and treating anxiety.


Sandalwood is considered to be of the padma (lotus) group and attributed to Amitabha Buddha. Sandalwood scent is believed to transform one's desires and maintain a person's alertness while in meditation. Sandalwood is also one of the more popular scents used for incense used when offering incense to the Buddha.

Chinese and Japanese Religions

Sandalwood, along with agarwood, is the most popular and commonly used incense material by the Chinese and Japanese in worship and various ceremonies. It is also used extensively in Indian incense, religiously or otherwise.

It is said to have been used for embalming the corpses of princes in Sri Lanka since the 9th century.


Zoroastrians offer sandalwood twigs to the firekeeping priests who offer the sandalwood to the fire which keep the fire burning. Sandalwood is offered to all of the three grades of fire including the Atash Dadgah's which are in the Fire temple. Sandalwood is not offered to the divo, a homemade lamp. Often, money is offered to the mobad with the sandalwood. Sandalwood is called sukhar in the Zoroastrian community. The sandalwood in the fire temple is often more expensive to buy than to buy at a Zoroastrian store. It is often a source of income for the fire temple.


Sandalwood essential oil was popular in medicine up to 1920-1930, mostly as an urogenital (internal) and skin (external) antiseptic. Its main component beta-santalol (~90%) has antimicrobial properties. It is used in aromatherapy and to prepare soaps. Due to this antimicrobial activity, it can be used to clear skin from blackheads and spots, but it must always be properly diluted with a carrier oil. Because of its strength, sandalwood oil should never be applied to the skin without being diluted in a carrier oil.


Due to its low fluorescence and optimal refractive index, sandalwood oil is often employed as an immersion oil within ultraviolet and fluorescence microscopy.


Sandalwood is distilled in a four-step process, incorporating boiling, steaming, condensation and separation.


Australian Aborigines ate the seed kernels, nuts, and fruit of local sandalwoods, such as quandong (Santalum acuminatum).


  1. Wagner, W. L., D. R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer (1990). Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  2. Rock, J. F. (1913). The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu.
  • Mandy Aftel, Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, Gibbs Smith, 2001, ISBN 1-58685-702-9

External links

ar:صندل (شجر) bg:Сандалово дърво fa:چوب صندل io:Santalo id:Cendana kn:ಶ್ರೀಗಂಧ ja:白檀 no:Sandeltre pt:Sândalo sv:Sandelträ th:ไม้จันทน์ zh:檀香木