Among all the fragrances used in India since ancient times, agaru or aguru or agar wood is one of the most famous ones. Sandal and agaru have been used as aromatic cosmetics since time immemorial. In Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) and Purāṇas (Puranas), sandal and agaru have almost always been mentioned together as perfumes.
People of yore, irrespective of their sex, used to bedeck their bodies with a fragrant paste of sandal and agaru. While describing the adornments and appearance of the warriors participating in the Kurukṣetra (Kurukshetra) battle, their bodies , embellished with sandal-agaru paste, come up in reference more than once.
- In Strīparva of Mahābhārata, agar wood was used along with sandal wood to assemble the funeral pyres for cremating deceased soldiers of both [Pāṇdava (Pandava) and Kaurava] camps.
It is chronicled that when the Kuru patriarch Bhīṣma’s (Bhishma’s) soul had passed on, before his funeral rites could be performed, his body was decked in exquisite clothing and jewellery, adorned with a paste of sandal and agaru.
- Ayodhyākāṇḍa (Ayodhyakanda) of Rāmāyaṇa (Ramayana) describes how the city of Ayodhyā (Ayodhya) was decorated on the occasion of Rāma’s (Rama’s) coronation. Therein, it is said that the high streets were adorned with aromatic elements like sandal and agaru, and various kinds of precious jewels. Thus, it can be concluded that agar wood was not only used for cosmetic purposes, but also as fragrant incense for decoration of cities.
- It appears that a fair amount of sandal and agar wood was produced in both northern and southern parts of India. In Sabhāparva (Sabhaparva) of Mahābhārata (Mahabharata), in relation to Bhīma’s (Bhima’s) conquest of the eastern part of the country, it is said that he acquired vast amounts of sandal and agaru as tax after vanquishing the kingdoms that lay along the east coast. The second reference is to Sahadeva’s conquest of the south. He triumphed over the entire southern region, and finally reached the coastline across which lay the city of Laṅka (Lanka). The ruler of Laṅka at that time was Rāvaṇa’s (Ravana’s) brother Vibhīṣaṇa (Vibhishana). Vibhīṣaṇa presented to Sahadeva many precious items as contribution for Yudhiṣthira’s (Yudhisthira’s) Rājasūya (Rajasuya) yajña (yajna). These included copious quantities of agaru and sandalwood. Moreover, from Duryodhana’s description in Upāyanaparva (Upayanaparva), a subsection of Sabhāparva, , it is known that the kings of various tribes of the mountainous terrains of the Himālayas (Himalayas), who attended Yudhiṣthira’s Rājasūya yajña (yajna), also brought sandal and agar wood as gifts.
- Though in epics and Purāṇas agaru has been chiefly mentioned as a fragrance, it is known that agaru has been used as a medicinal product as well since ancient times. Agar wood tree (scientific name Aquilaria agallocha) is still one of the most conventional components used in Ayurvedic medicine. Caraka Saṃhitā (Charaka Samhita), while speaking about preparation of medicines, has referred to sandal and agaru being blended with other medicinal plants such as balā (bala) [country mallow] and atibalā (atibala) [Indian mallow]. Cikitsāsthāna (Chikitsasthana), a volume of Suśruta Saṃhitā (Sushruta Samhita), prescribes ingestion of a concoction of pātha (patha) [velvet leaf], agaru, and turmeric as a medicine for labvṇameha (lavanameha) (a disease of the urinary tract). Thus, it may be indubitably concluded that since the olden days, besides its use as an essence, agaru has also been used as a medicine.