Monday, July 8, 2019

Let's Talk About This Mysterious Qinan 奇楠

Let's talk about this mysterious Qinan 奇楠.

Let's start with what we commonly know about it.

1. It is a kind of agarwood.

2. Agarwood boosts direct wealth, benefactors, radiant health, and can convert obstacles into opportunities. Qinan being the most powerful form of agarwood, can achieve all these, and more.

3. Apparently, it's very difficult to buy.

All the above are correct. But let me elaborate on Qinan's INTENSITY.

 
1. Qinan is VERY rare. Not just in our times, but historically so. Let me share some boring academic/ancient texts to highlight the point:

棋楠香一山所产,酋长差人看守采取,民下不可得,如有私偷卖者,露犯则断其手。(费信,《星槎胜览》[明])

(Qinan was found only on one mountain. The chief sent people to guard and to harvest. Commoners were not allowed to own Qinan. If caught stealing or trading Qinan illegally, the punishment was to chop off the hand.)
Therefore, with rarity, comes preciousness, and therefore, super-high value: 

山租输海贝,市舶贱迦楠。(查慎行,《与陈漳浦莘学话旧》[清])

(Rent collected from leasing the mountains is less than the harvest from the seas; taxes [or revenue, or profits] from imported goods is nothing compared to Qinan.)
 

And a rather lengthy academic text for those who can comprehend: 

Kyara has been considered the worthiest type of agarwood to offer the finest fragrance notes. The category is special in comparison with the other five of the rikkoku gomi, as the term does not simply resemble a newly learned (vague) geographical denotation. Rather, it connected to the notion of qinan (various possibilities in Chinese writing, depending on the historical moment and the interpretation by contemporary scholars, e.g.〔茄蓝〕qie lan,〔棋楠〕qi nan,〔琪楠〕qi nan) by the Chinese that arouse around 1200 – the moment when the appreciation of exclusively agarwood came up, thus mirroring the growing aesthetical sensitivity for agarwood varieties. Possibly the term ‘qinan’ emerged from Sanksrit roots which were transmitted to China during the Song or Yuan period, and after its transmission to Japan, merged with expressions denoting other aesthetical concepts and ideals that came up during the heydays of Japanese trade with Southeast Asia and specifically the coast of today’s Vietnam. (Kyara may also allude to issues such as “beauty”.) Like kyara in Japan, the aesthetical notion of qinan was elaborated in China in the following centuries, i.e. the Ming dynasty, and further differentiated into subcategories.

["The Cultural Biography of Agarwood – Perfumery in Eastern Asia and the Asian Neighbourhood" -- DR. DINAH JUNG]

2. And so, with its ultimate rarity, it is nearly impossible to have Qinan beads. There are only Qinan pendants. And very limited.
 

3. And, because of the ultimate rarity of Qinan, its ultimate value, it has ultimate blessings:
Saṃskṛtam 梵语 (or, Sanskrit) gave us many concepts, and the pronunciations to call them by. Like "佛陀 Buddha", "菩萨 Bodhisattva", and even sounds and ideas more commonly used, like "刹那 ksaṇa".
And like "Qinan 奇楠", which came from 伽蓝 or 伽楠, or many other ways of writing it (we have to recognize that Sanskrit is pretty much a tonal language, the ancients were merely using words/script to record the pronunciations).
The issue about "伽蓝" is that other than being the predecessor of "奇楠", it bears another meaning -- "temple", or "garden for the monks". Which leads to a speculation: that it would be in the temples that the fragrance of Qinan was common.
Nothing less than the best for offering to Buddhas.

And so, there's a catch in buying Qinan: not all can be sold in one go.

Master Yun and his predecessors believe that Qinan is the highest order of blessings that can be given to another person. And it is inauspicious to let go of all of them, without keeping some highest blessings for oneself. So, the last piece of Qinan pendant would always be kept away, not to be sold. That makes the-already-very-limited-stock of Qinan pendants, even more limited.

-- Kan, Executive Director

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