Agarwood: The Favorite Aromatic of Tang

Agaru is the Sanskrit name for the favorite aromatic substance of the Tang. This and other terms like Gahru (Malay), Ahaloth (Hebrew), Aguila (Portuguese), to name only a few, stand for the product of various trees of the genus Aquilaria. The Chinese name for the best of this precious wood was ‘sinking aromatic,” because it was heavier than water.

Agarwood had a strong place in Chinese medicine, employed to alleviate internal pains, to drive out evil spirits and to purify the soul. Agarwood was prevalent in Tang incenses and fumigants. Like in India it was considered to be benficial for ulcerations and wounds. The importance of Agarwood for ritual and private purposes was enormous.

It was during Tang that refinement in many different aspects reached a pinnacle. For the interested reader there is always the classic on Tang exotics: “The Golden Peaches of Samarkand” by Edward H. Schafer, University of California Press. 1963. Following is a short excerpt on the Agarwood in the Tang Dynasty:

Buddhism and immigrant Indian culturehad brought a number of new odors to the Chinese temples, and with them a rich store of customs and beliefs about incense and perfumes…………………….

Pan Asian thought has been entertained by different minds in the late 19th and early 20th century (Sun Yat-Sen, Okakura, Sukarno). A common Pan Asian argument is .

At the beginning 21st century Pan Asianism may not be popular in the political arena. However, putting geopolitics aside, it is obvious that in the world of medicinal and aromatic plants there are strong Pan Asian phenomena.

Okakura on Tang

This was an age of toleration when in China Confucians, Taoists and Buddhists were equally honored, when the Nestorian fathers were allowed to spread their cult and when Zoroastrians were permitted to establish their fire-worship in the important cities of the empire, leaving traces of Byzantine and Persian influence in Chinese decorative art. Thus the three streams of Chinese thought flow side by side expressing the grand harmony of the Tang period.

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