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Importance of sandal wood has been ingrained deeply in many religions in the world, with special significance for Hinduism and Buddhism. Nonetheless, this wood is used for various other purposes, throughout the world, but more frequently in the pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Sandal wood is considered to be a derivative of a group of trees belonging to the Santalum genus. Plenty of species are there, which give out the essence of sandal but are not actually in use for their aroma. Instead, most of these are used as simple woods for furniture. Those with the real fragrance are essentially used for making of ornaments, sacred items and for the sandal incense sticks.
Sandalwood has been known to mankind since the ancient times, probably more than 4000 years ago, especially in India. during those days, the tree providing this particular wood was considered to be sacred, especially marked out for devotional occasions. More often than not, these were used for the making of sacred idols or objects which could be used in rituals of prayers. Gradually, as people discovered its stability and resistance to being destroyed by white ants, it went on to be used in buildings and furniture. But, such usage was possible only by people who could afford the high cost. In Chinese and Tibetan civilisations, sandalwood trees were more often used for medicines with embalming formulae and in death rituals. Also, the use of sandalwood oil, extracted from these trees, was well known. Perfume of sandal was used in making joss sticks or incense sticks. Till the modern day also, the scent of sandal has been utilised in many places, although furniture and building use has reduced significantly due to the escalating costs. Still, some people are going for carvings and devotional articles made out of sandal wood, if they are able to afford them.
In India presently, the sandalwood is mainly derived from the sandal tree, which is botanically classified as Santalum Album. Commonly, these trees are found in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Also, these are found in Indonesian islands. For these trees to mature perfectly, when the oil extract is suitable for fragrance, there is a need of about 60 years of maturity. A peculiar methodology involved in the extraction of oil or wood is that the tree is not felled but it is uprooted during the rains. Mysore and other forested regions of Karnataka are considered to be the highest producers of these trees in India. some foreign countries such as Australia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and those included in the Pacific Islands group are found to be having a good growth of sandalwood trees.
Among the various uses for which the sandal wood tree is utilised, the most common nowadays is that of the fragrance. The oil derived from the tree is having a large scale use in perfume industry. Due to the high demand for such fragrant oils, there is a supply from other species of the sandalwood genus Santalum. These are marketed mostly as the fragrant oil, although the aroma might last for a few months only.
In Hinduism and other cultures, the wood from Santalum genus is utilised in rituals and ceremonies. Decoration of idols is usually done with wood paste and small pieces of the wood. There is a paste which is formed by rubbing the wood over an uneven rough surface and this paste is marked on the forehead as a respect to god. Some forms of alternative medicines also make use of sandal oil and paste. In Buddhism, sandal is related to Lord Buddha and incense made of sandal is used as means of prayers. In Chinese and Japanese cultures also, incense made from sandal paste is frequently utilised. Some cultures are known to burn holy fire by putting cut pieces of sandalwood.
There are certain other uses of sandalwood tree, with its oil being used in microscopy, in medicines and even eaten in some form by Australian aboriginals.
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