Nestled in the Western Ghat region, forests in Mysore are haven of sandalwood trees which are used for extracting oil and henceforth converted into the exotic Mysore Sandal soap which retains the misty aroma till date, even 100 years since it was invented. Dubbed as the largest producer and exporter of sandalwood in the world and Europe in the 20th century, Mysore’s sandal export received a setback due to the impact of World War 1 as the sandalwood production was stalled by ban on exports. As a remarkable strategy to utilize the huge reserves of sandalwood lying waste, Maharaja Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar of Mysore established the Government Soap factory in the city of Bangalore and started manufacturing Mysore Sandal soaps since 1916.
Sandalwood oil was extracted from the wood and distilled from which the soap is manufactured in the factory and later in 1944; another factory was established in Shimoga. Hence Mysore Sandal soap and the city have become synonymous as the brand’s image has not been tarnished till date since they use 100% sandalwood oil to manufacture the soap. The company after unification of Karnataka in 1980s came to be known as Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited and is now owned by the Government of Karnataka.
The icon on the soap’s packet is known as Sharabha, a mythical creature with body of a lion and head of an elephant. The soap itself is an enigma with the packet emanating a heavenly smell of sandalwood and is sold in gift pack and loose packets in Cauvery Emporium in Karnataka and inside Mysore Palace as well. It is also sold loose in the market as well. As of now, the company also manufactures talcum powders, incense sticks, fragrances, detergents but the essence of the company lies in the Mysore Sandal soap.
So don’t forget to grab a packet of Mysore Sandal soap or a piece of sandalwood on a trip to Mysore which can be obtained in state emporiums of Karnataka. Kukkarahalli Lake and Karainji Lake in Mysore are also ideal places to spot sandalwood trees. A gentle reminder, beware of fake sandalwood souvenirs as they are very costly and only buy souvenirs like carvings and wood pieces from state emporiums in Mysore.