Sandalwood has been used for 4000 years in India and Nepal as an aromatic incense, in essential oil and as a paste for various ritual purposes. There are a number of varieties but, for incense, 100% pure Ayurvedic grade sandalwood powder, “santalum album” from India is what you want. It is yellow and has a heavenly aromatic scent. Red Sandalwood powder is cheaper but it is not aromatic. It is used primarily combined with rosewater and other binders for skin care.
Sandalwood powder was said to have rained down upon the Buddha along with lotus blossoms when he obtained enlightenment. All schools of Buddhism, especially Zen and Tibetan traditions utilize this scent to aid in meditation. It is said to aid in mindfulness and focus. It can be very expensive. A pound of pure powder was $18.00 USD two years ago. It is now around $50.00 retail or $38.00 wholesale. (Yes, I have my connections). It can be purchased in smaller amounts for just a few dollars and you really don’t need much.
To use it you utilize a specially designed charcoal incense brazier or simply a thick ceramic bowl with a few inches of sand. The charcoal is also used in hookahs and can be purchased cheaply in tobacco shops. There are two types of charcoal available. The first is easy light and has salt peter embedded in the charcoal and can be lit quickly with a lighter or a match. It burns faster and has a slight smell similar to “sparklers”. Then there is Japanese charcoal which comes in densely packed bricks or bars. This charcoal must be lit on a stove but it burns purely and for a long time.