Addendum to the Gandharnava ‘Perfume Ocean’

[edited to reduce the table’s size]

I said earlier, when I posted about the ‘Ocean of Perfume’ (Gandhārnava) that I’d provide a table of the sixteen plants with current taxonomic descriptions and the table by which were generated the thousands of scents by a process of mathematical calculations ~ as described in the Brihat Samhita.

I haven’t yet got around to making a table showing the plants in pictures with current taxonomic descriptions, but I thought I could at least provide the relevant passage about the math of it all. Because the Sanskrit text  is very concise, I’m quoting here the expanded version which Bhat also includes in his two-volume translation.

To recap: Indian perfumers made of  certain sets of ingredient a great variety of scents using systematic divisions.

The one I gave as example used sixteen ingredients, and from these more than 1800 different scents. The recipe is known as  Gandhārnava, ‘Perfume ocean’ .  As Bhat gives them, the sixteen  ingredients  were given in a previous post. So here the maths:

The numbers 1 to 16 in the first column represent in order the 16 substances.. First take the first three substances as constant and the fourth as variable. Then you can get 13 perfumes.

Next, take substances 1,3 and 4 as constant and one of the rest as variable. Then you will get 12 perfumes. Proceeding further in the same manner you will get 11, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 varieties or 91 in all.

Next let us take 1,2, and 4 as constant and one of the remaining as variable. Then we get 12 perfumes. By taking 1,3, and 5 as constant, the number will be 11 and so on. The total will then be 78.

Similarly making 1,2,5;  1,3,6;  1,4,7 etc. as constant, we shall get 11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 or a total of 66 varieties.

In this manner we shall get 91, 78, 66, 55, 36, 28, 21, 15, 10, 6, 3, 1 or a grand total of 1820.

(I can’t help wondering how this might work as a basis for encoding text – but I’m off red herrings this April).

Perfumes Table BSmhita Pt2 p713


The header picture is a detail from folio 85v-ii.

The figure is equipped with a stupa-style vessel and asperging barsom or peacock feathers.

The first (the barsom) is characteristic of Zoroastrianism, the second (bunch of peacock feathers) of Buddhism. Interaction between the two within the Indo-Greek region is amply documented and evidenced in other imagery from the Achaemenid period through the Hellenistic and into he early centuries AD.

In the figure from this detail in f.85v-ii the figure has a curling horn, or lock of hair curving about the right ear, something characteristic of early Hellenism but also attested later such as in the portrait of Mithridates I(Kushan, c. 171 – 138 B.C.) illustrated in an earlier post. Similar costume is also attested throughout this region and into inner Asia.


3 thoughts on “Addendum to the Gandharnava ‘Perfume Ocean’

  1. Diane, A good read on perfumes is “The Emperor of Scent” by Chandler Burr. Also “The Perfume Guide” by Luca Turin. A parallel universe of royal smart educated noses. A background in infrared spectroscopy helps. Cheers, Tom


  2. Diane, Just an aside. The connection with perfumery and the VM was made by you. I think it is an excellent explanation for encrypting the VM and maybe disguising some or all of the botanicals. For sure, the mechanism by which the human nose detects aromas is irrelevant to this discussion and has nothing at all to do with the VM. Is is only relevant to the life’s work of Turin.


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