Mysore Sandal Soap — a fragrant tale of self-reliance

Anil Urs Updated on June 25, 2020
Karnataka : Bengaluru : 09/09/2017: Handwash brought on the occasion of hundered years celebrations by Mysore Sandal. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

When the Modi government announced its Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) policy, the old Mysore region in Karnataka did not find anything new. For over a century, the region had been producing a diverse range of products including textiles and soap.

Particularly, Mysore Sandal Soap — sandalwood oil-based soap popular for its fragrance for over a century, stands out.

The idea for making soap was born out of efforts to commercialise sandal wood and its oil, after a sandalwood oil extraction factory was set up in 1916 by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the then Maharaja of Mysore, and Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the then Dewan of Mysore.

This thinking led to an industry-academia partnership with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). And an industrial chemist from IISc, Sosale Garalapuri Shastry, was sent to England to study soap manufacturing. On his return, the process of using sandalwood oil in soap was developed to create the famous Mysore Sandal Soap in 1918. Since its inception, the company has not changed the packaging design, especially the words Srigandhada Tavarininda, meaning ‘from the maternal home of sandalwood’.

A new avatar

What started as Government Soap Factory in Bengaluru, over a period of time, especially after Independence, got converted into a public sector enterprise and the company was incorporated on July 9, 1980, and renamed as Karnataka Soaps & Detergent Ltd (KS&DL).

Recalls an old-time employee, MB Rao, “The company, after the glorious days of the Wadiyars, was on subsistence functioning till it got a Geographical Indicator or GI tag in 2006. From then on, the products, especially Mysore Sandalwood Soap, got a boost and revenues have been going up steadily.”

After the GI tag, the soap has been seeing a steady increase in sales, along with agarbathis (incense sticks). “The real growth for the company came after it took back its marketing rights from MSIL,” says M B Rao.

Post Independence, the company has seen many ups and downs. But it was in 2003, with State government help, that it wiped out its losses and also came out from BIFR (Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction). The company then launched a slew of products catering to modern needs, such as hand-wash liquids under the herbal category — with rose, strawberry and mango fragrances. It also introduced liquid detergent under the brand name Kleenol, with variants for floor, dish and automobile wash.

As revenues started ticking, in 2009 it ventured into making Mysore Sandal Talc and Mysore Sandal Baby Powder as well.

And it has been clocking good revenues. It posted a turnover of ₹583 crore in 2017-18 and saw it increase to ₹672 crore in 2018-19. It is likely to close 2019-20 at around ₹800 crore.

Published on June 25, 2020