"Smell is a word, Perfume is literature." Jean Claude Ellena
Ittar perfumes are concentrated natural fragrances derived from botanical sources in the form of base oil.
The Ancient Town in Uttar Pradesh, Kannauj is the perfume capital of India. For more than 400 years, the fragrance of roses from Kannauj near the banks of the river has gone into the creation of scent by using the world’s oldest process of making perfume.
Popularly known as Ittar ki Nagri (The town of Ittar) Kannauj was a pioneer for long history. The culture of Ittar was introduced in India through Queen Noor Jahan the wife of Jehangir, the famous Mughal King.
Ittar-making is a labor-intensive process that requires great talent, skills, and patience, a time-consuming hydro-distillation process, called ‘deg bhapka’ The process can take about two weeks to complete a minor amount of Attar. The perfumes were traditionally stored in camel-skin pouches but are now kept in bottles made up of buffalo skins.
The earliest known botanical perfumes traced back to ancient Egypt when flower petals were crushed into base oil. As Mughals marched into India in the 16th century, the era of perfumes began from there. But why Kannauj? The town is perfectly suited for cultivating jasmine, damask rose, vetiver, and a variety of flowers.
“Kannauj perfumes” received a geographical indication tag back in 2014, which formally gave Kannauj the identity of perfume capital.
Sadly, Alcohol-based perfumes are the biggest competitors of these traditional Ittar due to which the big units of Ittar making industries are closing down. Another reason for shutdowns is not getting proper resources at affordable costs, like sandalwood.
The popular Attar offered by Kannauj is Shamama, which is made up from the roots of henna. Shamama includes approximately 41 ingredients such as herbs, species, and essential oils. Mitti Attar is also very popular among scents. The essential oils from Kannauj can cost INR 25 for a small 1 gram bottle to INR 25 lakhs per kilogram.
The two most expensive products from Kannauj are Agarwood oil that costs up to INR 25 lakh and the absolute oil of rooh Gulab which can cost up to INR 8 lakh per kilogram. The dynamic culture of India has never failed to surprise me, whether it’s about making concentrated perfumes or extracting essential oils from flowers.
If you love travelling and exploring different cultures then Kannauj is one place you should definitely visit!