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What is Attar? - Attar Kannauj

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Attar Kannauj

What is Attar?

Attar (Arabic: عطر‎) also known as ittar is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources, such as flowers (jasmine, rose, sandalwood and more), herbs, spices, or barks. Oils can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as Attars are distilled naturally. Once obtained, these oils are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired. These all-natural perfumes are highly concentrated and therefore are usually offered for sale in small quantities and have traditionally been offered in decorated crystal cut type bottles or small jewelled decanters. Attars are popular throughout the Middle East, South Asia (Far East of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan) and parts of Africa. Attars have been used in Eastern world for thousands of years. These 100% pure and natural perfumes are free of alcohol and chemicals and so the problems faced in the West by perfume lovers are irrelevant to most Eastern perfume lovers. Natural perfumes are affordable because they are so concentrated that a small bottle will last the user several weeks, if not months. Due to the purity and the nature of oils, there is very little chance of spoilage unless a food based carrier oil is used to cut the concentrated pure oil. Traditionally in the Eastern world it was a customary practice of nobility to offer attar to their guests at the time of their departure. The attars are traditionally given in ornate tiny crystal cut bottles called as itardans. This tradition of giving a scent to one's guests continues to this day in many parts of the Eastern world. Most attars are alcohol-free and are used by many Muslim men and women. Attar has long been considered one of the most treasured of material possessions and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) has been compared to attar as one of the most beloved of gifts given to mankind. Attars are also used among Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh meditation practices. History The word 'attar', 'ittar' or 'othr' is basically an Arabic word which means 'scent'; this in turn is believed to have been derived from the Persian word Atr, meaning 'fragrance'. The story of South Asian perfumes is as old as the civilization itself. Archaeological evidence shows the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent held plants in great reverence. With the passage of time, scented oils were extracted by pressing, pulverizing or distilling aromatic vegetable and animal produce. Early indications of this activity are available from the perfume jars and terracotta containers of the Indus Valley civilization, where archaeological work has revealed round copper stills, used for the distillation process that are at least five-thousand years old (reference req.). These stills are called degs. Following the seasons of the flowers, traditional attar-makers, with their degs, travelled all over South Asia to make their fresh attars on-the-spot. Even now, a few traditional attar-makers still travel with their degs to be close to the harvest. Their equipment has changed little, if at all. A large number of references to cosmetics and perfumes in Sanskrit literature were found like in the Brhatsamhita is a 6th century Sanskrit encyclopaedia by Varahamihira (505 AD – 587 AD). Cosmetics and perfumes making were mainly practiced for the purpose of worship, sale and sensual enjoyment. Gandhayukti gave recipes for making scents. It gives a list of eight aromatic ingredients used for making scents. They were: Rodhara, Usira, Bignonia, Aguru, Musta, Vana, Priyangu, and Pathya. The Gandhayukti also gave recipes for mouth perfumes, bath powders, incense and talcum powder. The manufacture of rose water began perhaps in the nineteenth century AD. The earliest distillation of attar was mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. The Harshacharita, written in 7th century AD in northern India, mentions use of fragrant agarwood oil. In ancient India, attar was prepared by placing precious flowers and sacred plants into a water or vegetable oil. Slowly the plants and flowers would infuse the water/oil with their delicate fragrance. The plant and flower material would then be removed and a symphony of their aromatic beauty would be held in the attar. These attars were then worn as a sacred perfume or to anoint. Some of the first lovers of Attars were the Mughal nobles of India. Jasmine attar was the favourite perfume of the Nizams of the Hyderabad state. Attar figures into some of the romantic stories of a bygone era. Its patrons included great poets like the legendary Mirza Ghalib. When Ghalib met his beloved in the winter, he rubbed his hands and face with attar hina. In Ain-e-Akbari, Abul Fazal, has mentioned that Akbar used attar daily and burnt incense sticks (bakhoor) in gold and silver censers. A princess's bath was incomplete without incense and attar. Avery popular attar with the Mughal princes was ood, prepared in Assam. Types of Attars South Asian Attars may be broadly categorized into following types of flavour or ingredients used. Floral Attars – Attars manufactured from single species of flower are coming under this category. These are:-

  • Gulab ex Rosa damascena or Rosa Edword

  • Kewra ex Pandanus odoratissimus

  • Motia ex Jasminum sambac

  • Gulhina ex lawsonia inermis

  • Chameli ex Jasminum grandiflorum

  • Kadam ex Anthoephalus cadamba

Herbal Attars - Attars manufactured from combination of floral, herbal & spices come under this category. Hina and its various forms viz., Shamama, Shamam –tul – Amber, Musk Amber and Musk Hina. Attars which are neither floral nor herbal also come under this category. Attar Mitti falls under this category and is produced by distillation of baked earth over base material. Attars can also be classified based on their effect on human body such as Warm Attars' – Attars such as Musk, Amber, Kesar (Saffron), Oud, are used in winters, they increase the body temperature. Cool Attars' – like Rose, Jasmine, Khus, Kewda, Mogra, are used in summers and are cooling for the body. Uses The South Asian perfumes in the past were used by the elite, particularly kings and queens. Also it is used in Hindu temples. Today it is used in numerous ways:

  1. It is used by many people as a personal perfume, particularly by Muslims due to absence of alcohol.

  2. Perfumes have the application in pharmaceutical industry.

  3. Perfumes of Rose & Kewra are used in traditional Pakistani /Indian/ Bengali sweets, for imparting flavour.

  4. Pan Masala and Gutka is the largest consumer of Pakistani/Indian/ Bengali perfumes. The reason for using it is its extraordinary tenacity along with characteristic to withstand with tobacco note. The perfumes used are Rose, Kewra, Mehndi, Hina, Shamama, Mitti, Marigold etc.

  5. Tobacco is smaller segment for perfume consumption as compared to above industry. The perfumes used are mainly kewra & Rose. Along with Pan Masala & Gutkha it contributes to more the 75% of perfume consumption.

  6. Betel nut is smaller segment for perfume consumption as compared to above two industries. The perfumes used are mainly Kewra & Rose.

Storage & Shelf life Attar has a permanent shelf life and some attar become stronger and smells better when they are older and they become very aromatic

by -Attar Kannauj

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