Cosmetics, Costumes and Ornaments in Ancient India

by Remadevi. O. | 2009 | 54,177 words

This page relates ‘Use of Candana (Sandal)’ of the study on cosmetics, costumes and ornaments of ancient India based on Sanskrit sources. Chapter one deals with cosmetics and methods of enhancing beauty; Chapter two deals with costumes, garments and dresses; Chapter three deals with ornaments for humans and animals. Each chapter deals with their respective materials, types, preparation and trade, as prevalent in ancient Indian society.

1.1. Use of Candana (Sandal)

Sandal (Candana), a tree of genus Santalum album is found in Indian forests since ancient times. Besides its use as cosmetic, sandal has plenty of medicinal properties and it is necessary in certain religious practices. Sandal is employed in the manufacturing of furniture also. It is interesting to note that we have no reference to sandal in ancient Vedas. But we come across sandal in the later Vedic texts, other literary works and medical treatises.

Amarakośa refers to four synonyms of sandal—

  1. Gandhasāra,
  2. Malayaja,
  3. Bhadraśrī and
  4. Candana.

A sandal wood is known as Gandhāḍhya, while powdered sandal is called Gandha. Since sandal is a valuable object, Kauṭilya recommends it as one among the articles, which are to be entered into the treasury.

a) Varieties of Sandal

Sandal is varied according to its colour, smell and other characteristics. Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra[1] gives an account of different varieties of sandal as shown in the following table.

Sandal Colour Other Characteristics
Sātana Red Having smell similar to watery earth
Gośīrṣaka Dark red Resembles fish in smell
Haricandana Looks like the feathers of parrot Smell of mango fruit
Tārṇasa Looks like the feathers of parrot Smell of mango fruit
Grāmeruka Red or dark red Smells like goat’s urine
Daivasabhey a Red Smells like lotus flower
Aupaka (Jāpaka) Red Smells like lotus flower
Jāṅgaka Red or dark red Soft
Taurūpa Red or dark red Soft
Māleyaka Reddish white Soft
Kucandana Red, dark red or black similar to Aguru Rough
Kālaparvatak a Red, dark red or black similar to Obtained from the mountain Kālaparvata
Kośakāra Parvataka Black This has its origin in the mountain Kośakāra
Śītodakīya Black Soft, smells like a lotus flower
Nāgaparvata ka Looks like Śaivala (Vallisneria) Rough, found in Nāga mountain
Śākala Brown  

With the exception of Śākala, we have reference to all the above mentioned varieties in Subhāṣitaratnabhaṇḍāgāra[2]. Amarakośa[3] records three varieties -Tailaparṇika, Gośīrṣaka and Haricandana. According to the commentator Bhānujidīkṣita[4], Tailaparṇika is originated in the tree Tailaparṇa. It is red in colour and Amarakośa[5] mentions four synonyms of it: Raktacandana, Kucandana, Patrāṅga and Rañjana. In Dhanvantarīnighaṇṭu[6], five varieties of sandals are mentioned: Śvetacandana, Raktacandana (Petrocarpus Santalinus), Kālīyaka and Barbiraka. Of these Kālīyaka is yellow and the text records Haricandana as one of its synonyms. Barbiraka is white and devoid of smell. It is originated in the country Barbara.

Of the above listed varieties of sandal, Haricandana, Malayaja and Kālīyaka were most popular and were mostly used by royal personages. Use of Haricandana is recorded even in Purāṇas. In Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa (Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa)[7], the demon Vidyudrūpa is described in one context as decorating his body with Haricandana. Kālidāsa[8] often refers to Kālīyaka and Haricandana in his works.

b) Properties of Sandal

In general, sandal is cool, light and hence it is beneficial in alleviating heat. Unguents made of sandal were besmeared on the body of kings during their royal bath. In Mahābhārata[9], we come across, Yudhiṣṭhira, anointing his body with red sandal paste before bath. Water for bath also was perfumed with sandal. In Kālidāsa’s[10] works, we often read of love sick persons besmearing sandal on their body. Regarding its medicinal properties, medical texts describe a lot. In Dhanvantarī-nighaṇṭu[11] and Rājavallabhanighaṇṭu (Rājavallabha-nighaṇṭu)[12] properties of different varieties of sandal are described. As per these texts, sandal is a pacifier of thirst and it is used as a medicine for Raktapitta. In addition to its use as cosmetics and medicines, sandal was employed in building houses and making furniture. Bṛhatsaṃhitā[13] suggests sandalwood for making beds, seats, idols and even houses.

Sandal was prepared artificially also. Rasaratnākara[14] refers to a recipe for such a sandal preparation.

Footnotes and references:


II. XI. 78




II. VI. 131


p. 383






Ṛtusaṃhāra, VI.60


Epic India (EI)






LXXIX.2,12; LIX.5



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