Yesterday, I was longing for some ‘me’ time and so I made myself a large cup of ‘kadak adrak-ilaichi wali chai‘ and sat outside to read a book in my chilly yet sunny balcony. My perfect setting was soon disturbed with the chirpy sounds of what sounded like two young girls. I couldn’t see them, yet the ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ were enough to distract my attention from the book to their very loud yet interesting conversation. One of them was describing a wedding she attended at the ‘Faluknama Palace‘ in Hyderabad, I think!. Apparently, the bride had got a traditional ‘ittar maker’ to do a bespoke fragrance for the wedding that was also given out in beautiful bottles as a souvenir to all the guests. Ok, so even I said to myself ‘wow’, and ‘since when did ‘ittar’ become something that young girls would consider ‘çool’ ?’ Intrigued, I got reading a bit on the wonderful yet fading world of ‘Ittars’.
The word ‘Ittar‘ or ‘attar’ is basically an Arabic word which means ‘fragrance’. Ittar is a non-alcoholic perfume, which includes natural flowers and herb extract. The earliest distillation of Ittar was mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. The Harshacharita, written in 7th century A.D. in Northern India mentions use of fragrant agarwood oil. An esteemed possession in the Mughal era, it has a cultural heritage attached to it with kings and queens using it liberally.
While Ittar is manufactured in many cities across India, Kannauj has the honour of being called the perfume capital of India. Unfortunately, ‘ittar-making’ is a dwindling craft now due to a fierce competition with modern fragrance makers. Most of us prefer the subtle fragrance of the international brands than the strong one of an ittar, but let me tell you – a traditional ‘ittar-maker’ can make your very own, bespoke, signature fragrance for you – subtle or strong, just the way you like it and just right to go with your body type. Ittar carries an image of a quintessential strong and sweet smelling fragrance, which it may or may not be.
Some of the popular ‘ittars’ include Oud, Jannat-ul-firdaus, Ruh-e-gulab, Khus, Mogra, Hina and Sanober. Infact, different shops call the same fragrance by different names, so don’t just buy the fragrance by the name. Always, take a whiff of the fragrance if you’re not in a mood to try them out. We recommend you try them before you buy them since each ittar gives it’s signature fragrance once applied on your skin.
Traditionally, only a pure fragrance mixed with sandalwood oil was called ittar. But, now every Indian perfume without alcohol is passed off as ittar. Ittars are to be changed according to the season. While the emerald green Khus(Vetivert) and Gill (the smell of wet earth) cool the body in the summer, Hina (a mixture of herbs and spices) is a favourite in the winter.
As per Mohd Salman, the owner of Zam Zam Perfumers and a self-taught perfumer in Nizamuddin, ittars should be chosen on the basis of the temperature of a place and the temperament of the user, “mausam aur mizaaz,”
Getting married? Having a family function or a re-union? Get a traditional ‘ittar-maker‘ to come and make a signature fragrance or just get him to come over with his beautiful crystal bottles with fragrant ittars for you and your family and friends to choose from. Maybe have a signature family fragrance, just created for the occasion!. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and many more cities in India boast of a few ‘ittar’ shops that have been in existence through generations.
At this point, I want to ask you lovely people – have you tried an ‘ittar’ before? If you hear yourself saying no, do your bit and dab on a lovely, mysterious ittar. Here’s where to get them in your city:
Zam Zam, opposite Karim’s in Hazrat Nizamuddin. 4/1, Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin
Ph: 20087483, 24357368
Gulabsingh Johrimal 320, Dariba Kalan , Delhi. Ph: 23271345, 23281345
Mehboob Perfumery Works, 969, Jama Masjid, Chandani Chowk, Sita Ram Bazar Phone:011 2327 2042
17, MM, Janpath
R. Expo, F-30, Sector-11, Noida
Al-Madina Perfumes, 3/C, Commercial Chambers, Mohammad Ali Road Junction, Sheriff Devji Street, Masjid Bandar West, Masjid Bandar. Phone:098204 56679
Ajmal Perfumers, 99 CD, Nagdevi Street, Lohar Chawl, Kalbadevi. Phone:022 2342 7030
Imaad Perfumes 26/3, Opp. Sultan Shah Mosque, Bowring Hospital Road, Shivaji Nagar. Phone:080 4210 9109
Ajmal Perfumers Shop No 20, Safina Plaza Ground Floor, Infantry Road, Near-Medinova Hospital, Shivaji Nagar. Phone:080 4210 9449
Most of these stores also have a large selection of pure essential oils, and some may have natural massage oils and spice oils too. So, what are you waiting for? Go take a walk in the by-lanes of your city and explore the hidden treasures, the history and the wonderful world of Ittar.
PS: I came across this wonderful blog, ‘Of this and that’ that makes for a really interesting reading. Do give it a browse and I am sure you would be transported to the writer’s world. Absolutely delightful.
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