History & Culture

Mysore Sandal Soap turns 100

(clockwise from above) The Mysore Sandal factory in 1930s; as one of the Members of the parliamentary delegation, the late prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee taking a look at the Sandalwood and Sandal Oil Production at the Mysore Sandal Oil Factory; ads promoting the soap, and S.G. Shastrigalu  

Sir M. Visvesvaraya was known for his dictum, Industrialize or perish. He was instrumental in starting several industrial, trade and commerce units which laid a very strong foundation for Bangalore to become one of the few top industrial hubs of India.

Manufacturing Mysore Sandal Soap in 1916 is one such attempt of farsightedness and the aroma of the soap still lingers strong far and wide, even after a century.

Mysore Sandal Soap is one of the great contributions to the motherland by Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV and Dewan Sir M. Visvesvaraya. The person who made their dream a reality was Sosale Garalapuri Shastry who was popularly known as Soap Shastry.

The interesting saga of this soap began with the first world war. Mysore Kingdom was the largest producer of sandalwood in the world, most of which was exported to Europe. But during the first world war, a large resource of sandalwood was left over as they could not be sent out due to war.

Mysore Sandal Soap turns 100
 

Meanwhile, Dewan Sir M.V. gave more emphasis on industrial development in Bangalore. He wanted to produce a soap of good quality to be within the reach of the general public. A technical person from Bombay was also invited and arrangements were made for him to do the experiments in the premises of Indian Institute of Science. At the same time Sir M.V. also identified a young and bright scientist, S.G. Shastry involved in research at IIsc. The Government deputed him to England to learn the technical know-how of making soap. Though, there was an initial set back in England in knowing the process, he could succeed in getting the required knowledge. Both the Maharaja and the Dewan were waiting anxiously for the return of the scientist.

The Mysore Government started a unit near KR Circle in 1916 to manufacture Sandal Soap in Bangalore using pure sandalwood oil. After the initial experiments, the technology of manufacturing the soap using pure sandal wood oil was standardized in 1918. To procure the oil, a factory for distilling oil from sandal wood was also set up in Mysore in the same year. In the later decades another distilling unit was started in Shimoga also.

S.G. Shastry devised a new method to present the soap to market in a unique manner. In those days, soaps of other companies used to be rectangular in shape, and were wrapped in thin shiny colourful papers. But Mysore Sandal soap was given an oval shape. Sharaba, a mythological creature, having the body of a lion and the head of an elephant chosen as the logo of the factory found a place in the centre. The creature stood for the combined virtue of wisdom, courage and strength and represented the State’s philosophy.

Mysore Sandal Soap turns 100

S.G. Shastry felt that the soap with so much of culture behind should be given to the customers as valuable a material as a jewel. So, a rectangular box resembling jewellery boxes was made. The floral designs and their colours were carefully chosen and printed on the box. The soap was wrapped in tissue paper as jewel shops deliver the jewels in the same manner.

Arrangements were also made for proper and systematic advertisement. Major cities of our country and a few other countries carried neon sign boards of the soap. Leading News papers like The Hindu used to give half a page to promote the brand. Even match boxes and tram tickets carried the pictures of the soap box. Once a procession to advertise the soap was done on camel back in Karachi. When an exhibition was arranged to promote the product in London it was presented in a befitting manner to the Queen Victoria. She liked the aroma so much that she got some more soaps for the Royal Family. The popularity and systematic publicity left British soap manufactures envious. It is said that they tried to chide it as MY-SORE soap. But nothing stopped Mysore Sandal Soap of Bangalore from becoming a household name.

Mysore Sandal Soap turns 100

As the popularity and the demand increased, there was a need to increase the production. So, Soap Factory was shifted to a bigger space at Rajajinagar Industrial suburb in 1957. In 1980, the Government merged the sandalwood oil unit in Mysore and Shimoga and incorporated them under the company name Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited ((KSDL). The company since then has been manufacturing incense sticks, talcum powder and detergents apart from Sandal Soaps in different shapes and sizes. To meet the increasing demand for the raw material in 2000, the ‘Grow More Sandal’ project was initiated.

Today, there are many brands of soaps, but Mysore Sandal Soap has a distinctive place among all of them. It has been an iconic symbol of our rich culture and heritage.

The Father of Mysore Sandal soap, S.G. Shastry, is credited to be the first Kannadiga to have secured post graduation in Industrial Chemistry in England. The credit should go to Sir M.V. for choosing the right person for making a great contribution to the city.

DVG writes that S.G. Shastry was one of the prominent luminaries of Kannada literary and cultural realm. His father Sosale Ayya Shastry, a great scholar, was the one who had written the famous poem, “Swami Devane Lokapaalane Te namostu Namostute”. It was adopted as a film song and later the song had become a school prayer a few decades ago.

S.G. Shastry has a few popular books to his credit. He has translated the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s works to Kannada.

Mysore Sandal Soap turns 100

S.G. Shastry lived in his own house near Lalbagh West gate on M.N. Krishna Rao Road. Even now the lovely structure exists as a testimony to his aromatic contribution which made Bangalore globally known several decades ago.

sureshmoona@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 9:06:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/aroma-lingers-even-after-100-years/article29341810.ece

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