This morning the wind carried the scent of sandalwood to my nose. I lit a stick of one of my favorite Japanese incenses, Fu-in sandalwood by Minorien. The smell is sweet and creamy.
I have a heightened interest in sandalwood having just finished an extraordinary book called Sandalwood and Carrion by James McHugh. It examines the role of smell in the culture and religions of medieval India as detailed in Sanskrit texts. The book is meticulously researched and elegantly written.
Sandalwood was and is revered in India for its cooling effect. This characteristic is illustrated in a Buddhist story I particularly liked. It is a type of story intended to describe the nature of karma and involves a man named Purna, the son of a slave girl. The great merits in his former lives afforded him the ability and chance to successfully meet the obstacles he encountered in his present life. When he was (quite unjustly) thrown out of his house, he came across a man carrying ox-head sandalwood, shivering from the cooling effects of the wood. Purna buys the wood from the shivering man and was later able to sell it for twice the price to the king of the town who was overtaken by fever. A paste made from the sandalwood was applied to the king which removed the heat and restored his health.
Purna later became a monk and constructed a sandalwood pavilion for the Buddha. When the Buddha visited the pavilion it became too crowded, prohibiting some from hearing his sermon. The Buddha solves this by transforming it into a transparent rock crystal palace.
I liked the way I was thinking about smell as I finished the book. I started thinking of scents as characters in stories, rich with personality and affecting the body not only via the nose but also by touch, temperature, emotion and thought...as carried by the wind.