Sandalwood in Sacred Tradition The olfactory characteristics of sandalwood are legendary. The warm, sweet, slightly spicy precious wood notes present a mellodic blend which is at once distinct yet not overpowering. The non-dominating fixative characteristics of the oil make it the ideal choice for creating attars and a wide range of other perfumes. It has the capacity to absorb the most ethereal notes of other plant materials, enrich and enliven them and give them back in a yet more beautiful form. Many substitutes have been tried for sandalwood but in the end one can only say that "sandalwood is sandalwood" and there is no real substitute for it.
In India the heartwood of sandalwood has divine status. One species, Hari-chandan, was said to grow only in the heavenly worlds, filling the celestial empire with its divine fragrance. The terrestial sandalwood is said to be its representative on earth. It is regularly used in the anointing of sacred idols. The fragrance of the sandalwood is said to be one of the most pleasing to the gods, hence its use in unguents, incense and fragrant oils. A paste is made from the wood for applying to the forehead in a variety of symbolic markings indicating to which religious sect a person belongs. Its cooling and soothing properties when applied in this manner are said to direct a person's attention towards contemplation of the mystery of life. In the last rites of devote Hindus, the wood is considered a most important ingredient of the funeral pyre. It is thought that the soul is carried back to its eternal abode with the scent of sandalwood. The fragrance of sandalwood and the religious life of India's people can hardly be separated. References to it appear in countless religious scriptures.