Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ranjatai: King of Agarwood

The famous piece of Agarwood called Ranjatai was presented by Komyo Emperor for Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in the year 756 A.D. Ranjatai was kept in the Shosoin warehouse of Todaiji Temple. Today, Ranjatai belongs to the Royal family of Japan. Every autumn, many treasures of Shosoin are exhibited in National Museum in Nara, titled Shosoin Ten (Exhibition). Because they change the object of exhibition. Ranjatai can be seen there every 10 or 15 years. The paper on Ranjatai mentions three parts were cut; one by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, one by the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, and one by the Meiji Emperor. The cut parcels were often given as gifts in important political processes. These cuts however were insignificant in size (less than one square inch at a time) and the piece of wood today has dimensions of approximatley 152 cm in length, with a width of 122cm at one end and 13cm at the other. Ranjatai has been now been identified as coming from Laos or Vietnam by Japan's leading expert on Aloeswood, Dr. Yoneda from Osaka University.

There are many stories about aloeswood being buried under the ground or under river beds for hundreds of years, of which the story of the source of Ranjatai is sometimes reported to be. This legend comes from an old Chinese book on incense, but today most aloeswood comes from infected trees that, although in the process of decaying and dying, are indeed still standing. However, sometimes the roots become infected with the fungus and these can be found underground.

I have been interested in this piece of wood for a very long time, and I hope that next time it is viewable in the museum that I will have the chance to go and see it in person. An interesting excercise that I have done was to try and estimate a street price for Ranjatai. Since we know Ranjatai is sinking-grade kyara, we must say that its density is over 1.0 gram per cubic cm (the density of water), since all aloeswood can have a different densities due to the difference in formation of resin, let us approximate the density of Ranjatai to be equal to Lignum Vitae, another very dense sinking wood - this is 1.4g per cubic cm. Therefore based on the measurements above, and an assumption of the average depth of Ranjatai to be 30cm (based on the image) we can assume Ranjatai to weigh appx 315.9kg. At a cost of 395$ per gram for the highest grade Green Kyara ( ), let us assume this to be our street price for the gram-fragmented Ranjatai. Not counting the obvious price premium that would be created in the market due to the fact that the pieces sold would be from one of the most famous pieces of wood in the world, the street price of Ranjatai is about $124,780,500. I suppose this is what people mean when they call something "priceless" ;)

*historical information fragments and photo written by David Oller of Esoterics, LLC and edited by Par-Fum

*dimension information sourced from The Trail of Time: Time Measurement by Silvio A. Badini

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1 comment:

kenko1 said...

thank you for your interesting account.
actually I attended this exhibition and saw the Ranjatai.
Its actual weight is calculated at 11.6 kg, not your 300+ kgs which would greatly reduce its street value in today's terms.

I can send you photos of it.
please contact me.