At one point of time Mysore Sandal soap was found in every home in Karnataka. Although it has now been sidelined by other brands,the soap is as popular today as it was a century ago. The rich and woody, scent of the soap has been deeply interwoven with the nation’s history and heritage. This is one of the many reasons why the Mysore Sandal Soap has held a special place in the hearts of Indians for more than a century.
Here is the fascinating story behind the most loved vintage soap:
Mysore was once the largest producer of sandalwood in the world. When the World War I broke out, export of this wood to Europe was halted.
Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wodiyar IV and the Diwan of Mysore, Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya set up a Government Sandalwood Oil factory at Mysore. The factory was established to extract oil from sandalwood and utilize the logs of wood that were waiting to be exported.
Two years later, the Maharaja was gifted a rare set of sandalwood oil soaps. This gave him the idea of producing similar soaps for the masses which he immediately shared with others.
Visveswaraya wanted to produce a good quality soap that would also be affordable for the public. He invited technical experts from Bombay and identified a bright, young industrial chemist called Sosale Garalapuri Shastry and sent him to England to fine tune his knowledge about making soap.
When he returned, he standardized the process of using sandalwood oil in soap.This led to the establishment of the government soap factory in Bengaluru. At the same time, a second oil extraction unit was set up in Mysore to ensure a steady supply of oil to the soap factory.
Shastry decided to give the Mysore Sandal Soap a unique shape and innovative packaging. In those days, soaps would normally be rectangular in shape and packed in thin, glossy and brightly coloured paper. To help it stand out from the rest, he gave the soap an oval shape before working on a culturally significant packaging.
He also designed a rectangular box resembling a jewellery case, with floral prints and carefully chosen colours. At the centre of the design was the unusual logo, Sharaba (a mythical creature from local folklore with the head of an elephant and the body of a lion. It is a symbol of courage as well as wisdom.
The message ‘Srigandhada Tavarininda’ which means ‘from the maternal home of sandalwood’was printed on every Mysore Sandal Soapbox.
In 2006, the Mysore Sandalwood soap was a Geographical Indicator or GI tag. This tag ensures that no one else anywhere in the world can make and market soap as a Mysore Sandalwood soap.
Over the years, the brand and the company had to face several hurdles including competition from bigger MNCs and reduced cultivation of sandalwood trees. Sandalwood is a limited resource, the KSDL (Karnataka Soaps And Detergent Limited) has been encouraging farmers to grow sandalwood through its ‘Grow More Sandalwood’ program.
This program gives farmers sandalwood saplings at affordable rates and offers a buy-back guarantee and it also partnered with the forest department to ensure that a sandalwood sapling is planted for every sandalwood tree cut down.