Thai A

What makes agarwood incense so valuable?

For centuries, Vietnamese mandarins and aristocrats burned agarwood incense when performing solemn rites. Agarwood incense was highly coveted, its smoke spreading serenity and elegance. Agarwood was the topic of legends, such as the tale “In Search of the Magic Incense”. Ancient texts from Vietnam and China such as A Collection of Tales of Vietnamese Holy Dominions, Restatements of the Laws of Qing Dynasty, Ritual Accounts and Brief Annals of Annam emphasized the value of agarwood. In his Miscellaneous Records of Borderline Territories, the scholar Le Quy Don wrote detailed accounts of agarwood being used to treat colds, vocal paralysis and stomachaches. Meanwhile, in his famous book Forests of Thuong People, the French author Henri Maitredescribed agarwood as follows: Ancient Arabian authors, historians and writers, Hindu, Persian and European missionaries all agree upon the scarcity and value of the rarest wood of all species ever known”.

Long ago, agarwood was considered as rare and precious as rhino horns, turtle shells, elephant ivory and other mythical specialties. Aqualaria Crassna trees (which supply agarwood) were depicted along with other treasures on the Nine Urns, nine royal treasures in Hue that represented absolute imperial power and the most sacred items of the nation.

When Aquilaria Crassna trees are damaged, for example in a storm or when attacked by insects, they can become infected with mould. This causes the trees to emit a fragrant resin in an effort to heal their trunks. This resin turns the wood into a dense and hard wood known as agarwood. Only Aquilaria Crassna trees growing in mountainous areas of Khanh Hoa, Quang Nam and Quy Nhon provinces yield high quality agarwood.  Agarwood is very dense and heavy. Vietnamese agarwood has long been considered the finest, far surpassing the types found in Indonesia or the Philippines.

Long ago, fortune-hunters set off into the forests in groups on missions that could last several months. Having entrusted their lives to the Forest God and faced numerous dangers, if they were lucky they might find some precious agarwood. Over the years, this species of tree became critically endangered. Nowadays, technological leaps allow large plantations of Aquilaria crassna trees. Agarwood is easier to produce and more affordable.

  Today, collectors prize old agarwood that’s been carved into statues, bracelets and Buddha figures. As well as being beautiful, these antique items have a pleasant aroma. Agarwood is also prized for use in incense. It may be burned in bronze urns or cauldrons, or made into fine powder. Using a mold, the powder is shaped into decorative patterns including the Chinese character for Longevity or lotus flowers.

When the end of the character is lit, the agarwood powder burns slowly, sending out green smoke and a sweet aroma that soothes the soul. Agarwood is prized not only for its magical scent but also for its religious significance. Vietnamese people have long believed that agarwood incense forms a bridge that brings humans closer to the deities. In a room swirling with agarwood incense, people can free their minds and hearts of worldly concerns. Sipping fine tea and inhaling this perfumed air, we feel cleansed and blessed.