• Sandalwood Dreams, Part 2: The Perfumed Chamber

      This is the second in a series of posts by Jordan River (of The Fragrant Man website) about the myths and legends of sandalwood as well as day by day coverage of the 2013 Santalum album sandalwood harvest currently taking place in Australia.

      Buddha lived in the forest, in Jeta Grove. He resided in the gandhakuti, the perfumed chamber. When his followers came to hear him speak they would bring fragrant flowers and sandalwood incense to burn. This gave rise to the name Perfumed Chamber or Fragrant Hut as an olfactive reference to not just where the Buddha lived but also the places where he is revered – the Buddhist temples and household shrines of the 21st century. Gandhakuti can also be translated as incense room; a repository for floral and incense offerings.

      The Perfumed Chamber today – The Gandakuti in Jeta Grove near Sravasti.

      Let’s continue our adventure with Purna. When he meets the Buddha he becomes a disciple and commences a meditative lifestyle. Meanwhile his brothers embark on another voyage over many seas to a sandalwood forest which is guarded by a Yaksa. A Yaksa is a guardian of the forest similar to a wood nymph in Greek mythology. Although the brothers manage to cut and load the logs onto their ships the Yaksa causes a windstorm to prevent them from sailing. Purna in his meditative state is able to discern the problem. He levitates himself to his brothers’ side and confronts the Yaksa. He claims the sandalwood on behalf of Buddha and the Yaksa agrees to allow the wood to leave his realm.

      Back in the city Purna proposes that a sandalwood pavilion be built and an invitation be extended to the Buddha to visit the city and reside in this purpose-built fragrant home. The builders, when offered a choice of wages, choose daily payment with a cat’s paw amount of sandalwood dust rather than 500 coins. On completion of the sandalwood pavillion, the Candanamala, Purna performs devotions on the roof with incense and flowers. The incense takes the shape of the pavillion and flies to the Buddha who recognizes this to be an invitation to visit this new perfumed chamber, a gandhakuti on a grand scale. As he preaches his way across the country fragrant huts are built to welcome him and these become the future temples where sandalwood incense is burnt to honour him. The Buddha eventually arrives in the city and takes up residence in the Sandalwood Pavillion. As the crowds gather to hear his words he realizes that the pavillion will be crushed by those wishing to see him. In a mighty puff of smoke he transmutes the sandalwood pavillion through incense (through smoke, Latin: per fumus) to crystal so that he can be seen and heard by the people.

      Tomorrow we will look at the demise of Mysore sandalwood and the current harvest of Mysore root-stock grown in Australia. We will be following this harvest over the next 7 days from soil to oil.


      "The identifying mark of a hut as the Buddha’s dwelling is not only visual but also olfactory."
      The Buddha’s House
      Kazi K. Ashraf
      RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics
      No. 53/54 (Spring – Autumn, 2008), pp. 225-243
      Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College
      Article Stable

      “Gandhakuṭī”: The Perfumed Chamber of the Buddha
      John S. Strong
      History of Religions
      Vol. 16, No. 4, The Mythic Imagination (May, 1977), pp. 390-406
      Published by: The University of Chicago Press
      Article Stable

      Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture
      James McHugh
      Oxford University Press
      Published: September 18, 2012

      Divine Stories: Divyavadana, Part 1: Divyavadana v. 1 (Classics of Indian Buddhism)
      Andy Rotman
      Wisdom Publications
      Published: February 8, 2013

      The Glorious Deeds of Pūrṇa: A Translation and Study of the Pūrṇāvadāna
      Joel Tatelman
      Motilal Banarsidass Publisher
      Published: January 01, 2001

      Top image: TFS

      Sandalwood Dreams Series - by Jordan River

      1. Myths & Dreams
      2. The Perfumed Chamber
      3. Planting Santalum album Sandalwood in Australia
      4. Harvesting
      5. Grading, processing and shipping to the distillery
      6. Distillation
      7. What does it smell like?
      8. Uses and Markets

      About the author Jordan River
      Author AvatarJordan River is the host of The Fragrant Man and also writes for Olfactoria's Travels and Australian Perfume Junkies. Jordan has been been reading Basenotes and other fragrance websites for the past few years and enjoys the confluence of subjectivity, knowledge and opinion. He is not a Perfume Pontiff and is always happy to be enlightened by your own knowledge and challenged by differing opinions.