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Chandan In Hinduism – Importance Of Sandalwood In Hindu Religion

Chandan, the fragrant wood (chandanam), is sacred in Hinduism. Chandan word is derived from the Sanskrit root Cadi, meaning ‘to delight’ or ‘that which delights.’ Importance of sandalwood in Hindu religion can be gauged from the fact that it is also known as Bhadra Shri – auspicious and delightfully great.

The chandan tree is believed to have its origin in the historically and mythologically famous southern Indian mountain called Malaya. It is on this account that chandana is called malayaja (born in the Malaya). The breeze blowing from the Malaya mountains (Malayamarutham) is believed to be cool and fragrant.

As per Puranas, Chandana used by the gods in heaven is called Harichandana and that used by humans in the service of gods is called Srichandana.

Devout Hindus worship murtis of gods and goddesses with five offerings daily which consists of anointing the murti with gandha (fragrant) substances, waving dhoopa (incense), offering pushpa (flowers) or flower garlands, lighting of deepa (lamp), and offering naivedya (food).

The offering of gandha is made with chandan in several ways.

Chandan wood is also used to carved murtis of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. 

When sandalwood paste is smeared on images of deities (vigraha) in temples, it is called Chandana kappu.

In Kerala, sandal paste is used to anoint the deities in most temples. Dasavatharam is made on the same murti using sandalwood paste in many Sri Krishna temples. In some temples, the deity worshipped appears in three forms in the morning, noon and evening. The three forms are created on the same murti using sandalwood paste.

Sandalwood has its uses in all Hindu rites, from the birth of a child to the lighting of funeral pyres.

The practice of using sandalwood in the funeral pyres of Hindus was known from ancient times and it continues even today. Kalidasa, in his Sanskrit poem, Raghuvamsa, mentions sandalwood being used in the funeral pyre of the Ikshvaku queen, Indumati.

Owing to its quality of auspiciousness, sandalwood paste is offered to guests at ceremonial functions such as weddings, along with the auspicious kumkum (vermilion powder) and flowers.

Kautilya in his Sanskrit work, Arthashastra (Chapter 2.11 pp 43-72) has referred to many varieties of Sandal from different places, identifying them as being of various colours such as red, blackish-red, whitish-red, black, green and saffron, and also of differing fragrances.

Sandalwood paste was earlier used extensively in households as a refreshing unguent against humidity and heat, especially during the hot summer months. The ancient Tami world, Narrinai (V.S. 168, 250, 314) mentions that sweet-smelling sandalwood paste was smeared on the chests of women.

The Ramayana of Valmiki (Ayodhya Kanda 15th Sarga, verse 35), describing Rama in his palace, says that his body was smeared with Sandalwood paste.

Bhagavata Purana (10th Skanda, chapter 42, verse 5) mentions that the upper part of Lord Krishna’s body was anointed with sandalwood paste.

The red sandalwood paste, especially rakta chandana (the red variety) is known for its curative properties.

The perfume extracted from sandalwood was popular in ancient India and continues to be even today. This extract is widely used in the preparation of incense sticks, toilet soaps and powders. Sandal wood carvings of gods and goddesses form part of the artistic skills of south Indian craftsmen and these are now important items of export.

SourceEncyclopedia of Hinduism Volume III page 47 – 48 published by IHRF