Besides being one of the oldest fragrances known to man, sandal wood is of great religious significance and is a highly prized material for carving artefacts. As the sandal wood tree grows, the essential oil develops in the roots and heart wood, lubricating the tree’s core with its softly exotic perfume. Karnataka has a huge forest-belt and sandal wood carvers are found in Bangalore, Mysore, Shimoga, Sorab in the foothills to Sirsi, and Honavar and Kumta on the coast. Sandal wood is of two types: srigandha which is close grained and yellowish-brown in colour and used for carving; and nagagandha which is darkish-brown in colour and from which oil is extracted.
The sandal wood tree is never felled; it is, instead, uprooted during the rainy season when the roots are richer in oil. The wood is refined and used to make a plethora of products that range from idols of deities and finely wrought chariots to decorative pieces such as paper cutters, boxes, name cases, trays, photo frames, combs, walking-sticks, fans, cigarette cases, holders, and the ever popular elephant. Jali or fret work with patterns in high and low relief are also popular. The wood is refined, smoothened and cut into pieces of the desired shape. Then designs are carved out in it with chisels and the finished piece is polished with sandpaper.