James McHugh offers the first comprehensive examination of the concepts and practices related to smell in pre-modern India. Drawing on a wide range of textual sources, from poetry to medical texts, he shows the deeply significant religious and cultural role of smell in India throughout the first millennium CE. McHugh describes sophisticated arts of perfumery, developed in temples, monasteries, and courts, which resulted in worldwide ocean trade. He shows that various religious discourses on the purpose of life emphasized the pleasures of the senses, including olfactory experience, as a valid end in themselves. Fragrances and stenches were analogous to certain values, aesthetic or ethical, and in a system where karmic results often had a sensory impact-where evil literally stank-the ethical and aesthetic became difficult to distinguish. Sandalwood and Carrion explores smell in pre-modern India from many perspectives, covering such topics as philosophical accounts of smell perception, odors in literature, the history of perfumery in India, the significance of sandalwood in Buddhism, and the divine offering of perfume to the gods.
James McHugh is Assistant Professor of Religion, University of Southern California.
Winner of Shortlisted for the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) Book Prize for Humanities.