A soap fit for the rich Maharajas of Mysore, but also affordable by ordinary folks is the Mysore Sandal soap. It is the only soap in the world that uses 100% natural sandalwood oil, not even derived scents. And not just any other sandalwood oil, but the world famous and perhaps the best sandalwood of all - Mysore sandal. The Karnataka Soaps & Detergents Limited owns a proprietary Geographical Indication (GI) tag on the Mysore sandal soap, to ensure quality and also prevent piracy and unauthorised use by other manufacturers.
Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the king of Mysore set up the Government Soap Factory in Bangalore in 1916. The principal motivation for setting up the factory was the excessive sandalwood reserves that the Mysore Kingdom had which could not be exported to Europe because of the First World War. The idea for making the soaps came when the Maharaja was gifted a pack of soaps made from Sandalwood oil. And the earliest indigenous sandal soap with sandal note as its base fragrance was produced and introduced in the market under Mysore Sandal Soap brand in 1918.
Below is how the factory looks like now. Though much of it is automated, it still employs a considerable number of people who handle the soaps, check for quality and individually pack it.
Now the factory is also producing the costliest soap in India. Namely the Mysore Sandal Millenium.
The soap does contain an unusually high concentration of real sandalwood oil - five times the amount used in the regular Mysore Sandal, ensuring the heady smell of sandal lingers on the body all day. Apart from this must-have ingredient, the soap also contains skin conditioners such as almond oil, vitamin E, milk protein and shea butter emulsion. It also has glicerine and traces of jojoba and mimosa oils.
About 85% of the sales of the standard Mysore sandal soap are from the South Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The majority of the users of this soap are above forty years of age and it is yet to gain more acceptance by the youth in India.
While we talk about the rich history and heritage surrounding this soap, we need to focus on some environmental issues as well. KSDL is facing issues like shortage of sandalwood which has resulted in the company using only 25% of the manufacturing capacity of its factory leading to a lesser production of soaps. The main reason for this is the depletion of sandalwood reserves in the state of Karnataka by smugglers. These sandalwood trees are the best in the world and they are being cut and smuggled out of the country. And the govt. Has restrictive policies on growing sandalwood privately too. All this is posing a serious threat to the rare and magnificent Mysore sandal.
To overcome this, KSDL has also started procuring sandalwood by bidding in the open market and is also considering importing the wood from other countries. The absence of a sustained sandalwood regeneration program has a taken a huge toll on sandalwood reserves in Karnataka. This is a great irony in a State that once set up factories to use up its excessive reserves and wears two GI (geographic indication) tags on its sleeve on account of its historic association with the precious wood.
Are you a user of Mysore Sandal Soaps? Have you tried the Millenium soap? Join our discussion about this beautiful indigenous soap by replying below. ICF is a community connecting freethinkers, polymaths, artists and activists promoting civilised free speech, science and creativity. Join us if you share these ideals.