Perfumes in Ancient India

Sudheer By Sudheer, 18th Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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Many present day perfumes had existed India since ancient times and perhaps had originated in ancient India

Perfumes in Ancient India

The distillation of scents, perfumes and fragrant liquids and ointments was one area where the knowledge of chemistry was applied in India since ancient times. In fact the very word 'scent' which is of unexplained origin according to the Oxford Dictionary, is possibly derived from the Sanskrit term Sugandha which literally means 'good or aromatic paste'.

This word could have been transmitted to European languages through the Greek langua which has borrowed (and lent) many wor from Sanskrit. Other instances of such transmission are the English words li 'cotton' which is derived from the Sanskrit Karpasa or the word 'sugar' derived from the Sanskrit Sharkara, etc. Many present day perfumes had existed India since ancient times and perhaps had originated here.

In ancient times perfumes and fragrant ointments were of two type viz., Teertha (liquids) and Gandha (slurries or ointments). During the coronation Kings or during any auspicious occasion person was sprinkled with aromatic oils. Fragrant ointments based on sandalwood were applied during ceremonial bathing. Even today during some festivals like Diwali aromatic slurries and pastes are prepared out of a powder called Sugandhi. Utne and are used during the ceremonial bath which is taken during that festival. Even in other religious rites, Sandalwood, Ochre and Camphor are traditionally used by Hindus.

Sandalwood: Since very early times Sandalwood and Sandalwood oil were items of export. The Greek text of the 1st century A.D., Periplus mentions sandalwood as one of the items being imported from India. The word Sandal (wood) is derived from the Latin terms Santalum Album or Santalacae. These terms used by the Romans to describe sandalwood were, according to the Oxford Dictionary, derived from the Sanskrit term Chandana, for sandalwood.

The Sandalwood tree is native to India and is found mainly in South-western India in t he state of Karnataka. Sandalwood has been a known item of export from India since ancient times. Authors of Sanskrit texts on botany which in Sanskrit is called Vanaspati-Shastra had classified Sandalwood into three types viz. white sandalwood Shrikanda (which perhaps is an abbreviation of the term Shewta-Chandana ), the second is yellow sandalwood or Pitta-Chandana and the last is red sandalwood or RaktaChandana

The reference to Sandalwood in the Periplus is perhaps the earliest available western reference to Sandalwood. It has been mentioned in later times by Comas Indiwpleustes in the 6th century A.D. as Tzandana and thereafter it is frequently referred to by Arab traders. Oil was also extracted from Sandalwood. This oil which was a thick but refined liquid was extracted in specially constructed oil mills called Teyl-Peshani and Teylena-Lip. The oil extracted from these mills was a thick, dark yellow liquid. Alongwith Sandalwood, the Sandalwood oil was also an item of export from India during ancient times. Sandalwood oil was mainly bought by the Romans between the 1st and 3rd centuries A.D.*

*The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea - Travels and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant in the First Century, Translated from the Greek and Annoted by Wilfred H. Schoff, Longmans Green and Co. New York, 1912.



Ancient India, Perfumes

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I am a freelance writer and write on a variety of subjects.

- Sudheer Birodkar

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author avatar vpaulose
4th Nov 2010 (#)

Nice article Sudheer

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author avatar Denise O
26th Dec 2011 (#)

Very interesting read. Thank you for sharing.:)

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