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  • August 07, 2018 7 min read

    When the Aquilaria tree was wounded, its body creates oleoresin, a natural defence mechanism. This oleoresin forms in and around the wood. When heated, it is very aromatic. When pulverised and distilled, it becomes oil. This oil is known as agarwood oil or oud.

    This wood is known as Wood of God, Agarwood.


    Below are sections quoted from “History of Agarwood” written by Lopez-Sampson and Page (2018), for the full article, please click here


    Hindu Texts

    The Sanskrit epic narrative Mahābhārata (describing the period 1493–1443 B.C.E. of Indian history [Iyengar 2003]) contains the description of the use of fragrance in the context of human pleasure, luxury, and well-being (Rhind 2014). Agarwood was often identified in the text as a display of wealth, a tribute, and a greeting. In the first book of Mahābhārata, the people of the ancient city of Khandavaprastha received distant visitors (Madhava and other tribes) by filling every part of the town “with the sweet scent of burning aloes.” (Book 1, Section CCXXIII). Also in Book 1, the use of agarwood for displaying status and wealth was detailed in the description of an amphitheatre on the outskirts of King Drupada’s capital (Kamapilya), which was “enclosed on all sides with high walls and a moat (and) scented with black aloes and sprinkled all over with water mixed with sandal-paste and decorated with garlands of flowers” (Book 1, Section CLXXXVII). The mansions that surrounded this amphitheater were also “rendered fragrant with excellent aloes,” and the “exalted sovereigns” that inhabited the mansions were “possessed with the desire of excelling one another” and “all adorned with the fragrant paste of the black aloe” (Book 1, Section CLXXXVII). The second book contains a detailed description of the mansions of monarchs, which “hungover with garlands of flowers and perfumed with excellent aloes” (Book 2, Section XXXIII). It also details that after the Bharatas people conquered the Mlechchha tribes, the vanquished were made to pay tributes of a great many valuable items including fragrant goods of sandalwood and aloes (Book 2, Section XXIX). The refined use of agarwood and many other aromatics in this text indicates a long association with and veneration for fragrant products.


    Christian Scriptures

    Agarwood is referenced several times in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, firstly where Balaam describes God’s vision of Israel and likens their settlements as being “like aloes planted by the LORD” (Numbers 24:6). Also in the Old Testament, the noble and seductive importance of agarwood is presented in Psalm 45:8 where recounting a king’s preparation for marriage, it states that “All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.” The seductive power of aromatics including agarwood is further described in Song of Songs 4:14 rejoicing the sexual attraction between two lovers, where one praises the other “Your plants are an orchard of every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.” Similarly, in Proverbs 7:17, there is an invitation by a seductress to her lover: “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.” In the New Testament, the spiritual significance of agarwood is clearly outlined in the gospel of John (20:39–40), where Jesus’ body was anointed with a mixture of myrrh and aloes following his crucifixion. However, there are some scholars that have argued that the aloe mentioned in this passage referred to medicinal Aloe and not the aromatic agarwood (Crosswhite and Crosswhite 1984; see Greppin 1988 for etymological discussion and uses of the word to describe two different plants; Smith 1993; Smith and Steyn 2004). This may be based on the fact that both myrrh and bitter aloes were used in the embalming procedures of ancient Egyptians (Crosswhite and Crosswhite 1984; Gannal 1840; Grindlay and Reynolds 1986). It is possible that many of the fragrant products used in ancient embalming were applied to obscure the odor of decomposition (Nunnamaker and Dhonau 2015) and/or as a direct connection with worship in the afterlife (Driscoll 1953) and not for the preservation of the body (for which natron [sodium carbonate] performs the most significant role) (Papageorgopoulou et al. 2015; Sandison 1963). The reference to aloes in the New Testament does not describe a complex procedure of embalming, but a simple act of anointment, with Jesus’ body wrapped “with the spices in strips of linen.” While it is conceivable that agarwood could be described as a spice, a leaf extract from a species of Aloe may be considered an herb rather than a spice. Although there are some inconsistencies in the use of the word aloes, it is most likely that the term aloes in both Old and New Testaments refers to the “fragrant spice (not a bitter plant) used as a perfume” (Browning 2010; Zohary 1982). Therefore, the aromatic aloes as described in the Bible and which many authors recognise as from the East Indian tree agarwood (Balfour 1866; Greppin 1988; Harbaugh 1855; McKenna and Hughes 2014) should not be confounded with bitter aloes (Balfour 1866; Rimmel 1865; Schoff 1922; Tielel 1885).

    Buddhist Texts

    Source: Buddha Weekly

    In several Buddhists texts, there are references to the use of aromatics in religious rituals. For instance, in the Jātaka tales, which are extensive literary works about the Buddha Birth stories (~ 4th century B.C.E.) (Pierce 1969), agarwood is mentioned in Vol VI no. 542. Within the text, the use of fragrance by women is depicted in the story of a King’s attempt to enter the world of the gods through ritual sacrifice of his most treasured possessions, including his family. When the sacrifice was prepared, the sons were taken to the sacrificial pit, and there the royal ladies and other women of the town adorned “with aloes, sandalwood, valuable gems and silk robes” paid their respects to the son(s) Canda-Suriya, before going off to the King’s sacrifice (Cowell 1907).


    Both agarwood and sandalwood, in combination with other valuable items, were used as a mark of respect and were already being used as valuable fragrant products during ancient times. In the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (Nirvana Sutra), the use of aromatics is mentioned in the introductory chapter that describes a succession of events and teachings that occurred when Buddha was about to enter Nirvana. In one description, the use of fragrant wood in the cremation of Tathāgata’s (Buddha) body is mentioned, “people each held in their hands tens of thousands of bundles of such fragrant wood as sandalwood, aloes, goirsa sandalwood, and heavenly wood.” Aloe was also used as fuel in stoves to prepare meals for the Buddha and the Sangha (monks).


    In the Vimānavatthu text (“Stories of celestial mansions”), a collection of 85 poems on the happiness of persons reborn in heavenly realms and on the worthy deeds that led to this reward (Bansal 2006), there are several references to the use of fragrances/ointments. In poem 35 (7), The Seventh: Sesavati’s Mansion (Sesavatīvimāna), during the funeral ceremony of the venerable Captain of Dhamma (Sāriputta), aloe, sandalwood, and similar woods were used as a part of the pyre of a hundred cubits high (Ireland 2005). Bazin (2013) suggested that five natural incense products represented the speech of the five buddhas and included sandalwood, agarwood, pine resin or juniper, camphor, and vetiver root. Fragrant woods have been used as a symbolic relic or ritual deposit within the cavities of valuable sculptures, to transform them into a consecratory object. Leidy and Strahan (2010) report that agarwood was one of several ritual deposits (such as mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli, rock crystal and silk, and four fragrant woods including rosewood) found within the interior cavity of the 486 C.E. bronze sculpture of Buddha Maitreya. It is clear that the use of fragrant products was an integral part of Buddhist tradition with agarwood among those most valued.

    Islamic Texts

    In the Qur’an, there are references to aromatics but none specifically devoted to agarwood. In the Sūrah 55 (Ar-Rahman), the first section describes the abundance of gifts that Allah has bestowed on men including life itself (55:3), speech (55:4), fruits and dates (55:11), and grains, fodder, and fragrant plants (55:12). Inclusion of fragrant plants among this list of gifts so fundamental to life demonstrates the spiritual reverence for these resources. In Sūrah 83:26, it states that those who refrain from fraudulent temptations will be rewarded in Paradise and given access to a range of resources including fragrant musk. 

    In several Hadith (reports of the words, actions, or tacit approval of the prophet Muḥammad) (Lucas 2008), agarwood is referred to as a type of Indian incense (i.e., Ūd Al- Hindi or aloes). Allah’s Messenger was quoted (by Abu Huraira) describing Paradise where, among many wondrous things, agarwood would be used in their censers (incense burner) (Sahih al-Bukhari 3327, Book 60, Hadith 2; USC-MSA English reference Vol. 4, Book 55, Hadith 544).

    The use of agarwood as a medical treatment was recommended by the prophet Muhammad and was said to contain seven types of remedies, including one for a swollen uvula and another for pleurisy (Sahih al-Bukhari 5692, 5693, Book 76, Hadith 15; USC-MSA English reference Sahih al-Bukhari Vol. 7, Book 71, Hadith 596, 613; Sunan Abi Dawud 3877, Book 29, Hadith 23; English translation Book 28, Hadith 3868).

    Agarwood was also cited as relieving common ailments, and the Prophet said, concerning a Muhrim whose head or eyes hurt: “Let him smudge them with aloes” (Sunan an-Nasa’i 2711, Book 24, Hadith 0; English translation Vol. 3, Book 24, Hadith 2712). Agarwood was used in the important practice of fumigation/purification where Nafi’ reports on Ibn Umar fumigating with aloeswood either by itself or mixed with camphor (Sahih Muslim 2254 Book 40, Hadith 23; English translation Book 27, Hadith 5601).

    The prophet Muhammad counsels men and women in the use of fragrance: men should bath and perfume themselves for the Friday sermon at the mosque; women may use perfume at their homes but not at the mosque, and men and women can perfume themselves during sexual intimacy (Thurkill 2009).

    It is known that the prophet Muhammad preferred the scent of aloes or a combination of aloes and camphor (Book 27 no. 5601) (Sahih Muslim n.d.). The burning of incense in a mosque was practised by Umar the second caliph, which led to the practice becoming commonplace. There is no record of what was burnt, but it is believed that it was aloes by itself or combined with camphor (Ergin 2014).

    Australians, why you should try it?

    First of all, what oud (oudh) or agarwood smells like

    The wood is known for its sweet balsamic smokey woodiness. However, due to its various pathological reaction among the species, the region it was harvested, the smell is very different, to experience it, you could try several of their profiles in wood chips or oil forms.






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