- See also Attar of roses
Attar (Arabic: عطر) also known as ittar is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources. Most commonly these oils are taken from the botanical material through hydro or steam distillation. Oils can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as Ittar/Attars are distilled naturally. The oils obtained from the herbs flowers and wood 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 jeweled decanters. Ittars are popular throughout the Middle East and the Far East of India as well as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Ittars have been used in the entire 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.
Some of the first lovers of Ittars were the Mughal nobles of India. Jasmine ittar was the favorite perfume of the Nizams of the Hyderabad state. Traditionally in the Eastern world it was a customary practice of nobility to offer ittar to their guests at the time of their departure. The ittars 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. Among Sufi worshipers the use of Ittars during meditation circles and dances is quite common.
Most ittars are alcohol-free and are used by many Muslim men and women. Ittar has long been considered one of the most treasured of material possessions and Prophet Muhammad has been compared to Ittar as one of the most beloved of gifts given to mankind.
Ittars are also used among Hindu, Buddhist meditation practices.
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 Indian 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 archeological 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 ittar-makers, with their degs, traveled all over India to make their fresh ittars on-the-spot. Even now, a few traditional ittar-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 encyclopedia 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 ittar 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, ittar 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 ittar. These ittars were then worn as a sacred perfume or to anoint.
Ittar 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 ittar hina.
In Ain-e-Akbari, Abul Fazal, has mentioned that Akbar used ittar daily and burnt incense sticks in gold and silver censers. A princess's bath was incomplete without incense and ittar. A very popular ittar with the Mughal princes was ood, prepared in Assam.
Situated on the banks of the sacred River Ganges, 80 km from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is the now almost forgotten ancient city of Kannauj, once the capital of the famed Emperor Harshavardhana. Today it prides itself as the 'Attar City' or the perfume city of India. Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh India is a major producing city of ittar. Here, there is a legend on how the first ittars were made in the area. The forest dwelling Faqirs and Sadhus (ascetics) used certain perfumed jungle herbs and roots in their bonfires during the winters. The shepherds who grazed their sheep in that region found the perfume lingering in the burnt wood long after the ascetics left the place. Word spread about this and some enterprising people searched and found the fragrant herbs and roots. Then the experiments on ittar began and the first ittars to be made were Rose and Hina.
|No||Name||Scientific Name||Part Distilled|
|1,||Rose ittar||Rosa damascena||Flower|
|2,||Motia/Jasmin ittar||Jasmine sambac||Flower|
|3,||Mitti ittar||Baked earth||Earth from river|
|4,||Kewda ittar||Pandanus odoritissimus||Flower|
|5,||Saffron ittar||Crocus sativa||Stigma|
|6,||Agarwood/Oud ittar||Aquilaria agallocha||Various parts|
|7,||Gul Hina ittar||Lawsonia alba||Flower|
|8,||Genda/Merigold ittar||Tagetes minuta||Flower|
|9,||Champa ittar||Michelia champaca||Flower|
|10,||Bakul ittar||Mimusops elengi||Flower|
|11,||Blue Lotus ittar||Nymphaea caerulea||Flower|
|12,||Pink Lotus ittar||Nelumbo nucifera||Flower|
|13,||White Lotus ittar||Nelumbo nucifera||Flower|
|14,||Tuberose/Rajniganda ittar||Polianthes tuberosa||Flower|
|15,||White Water Lily ittar||Nymphaea ampla||Flower|
|16,||Zafari ittar||Tagetes sp||Flower|
|17,||Shamana ittar||compound of fragrant spices, herbs, woods||Various parts|
|18,||Amber ittar||Pinus Succinifera||----|
|19,||Chameli ittar||Jasminum Grandiflorum||Flower|
|20,||Gulmohar ittar||Painciana Regia||Flower|
|21,||Juhi ittar||Jasmine Auriculatum||Flower|
|22,||Islamic Bakhur ittar||Melaleuca Alternifolia||----|
|23,||Frangipani ittar||Plumeria Ruera||----|
|24,||Khus ittar||Vetiveria Zizanoides||Roots|
|25,||Mogra ittar||Abelmoschus Moschus||Flower|
|26,||Loban ittar||Styrax Benzoin||Various parts|
|27,||Nakh Choya ittar||Citrus Bigardia||Flower|
|28,||Davana ittar||Artemesia Pallens||Leaves|
Types of Ittars
Indian Ittars may be broadly categorized into following types of flavour or ingredients used.
Floral Ittars – Ittars 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
Ittars which are neither floral nor herbal also come under this category. Ittar Mitti falls under this category and is produced by distillation of baked earth over base material.
Ittars can also be classified based on their effect on human body such as
Warm Ittars' – Ittars such as Musk, Amber, Kesar (Saffron), Oud, are used in winters, they increase the body temperature.
Cool Ittars' – like Rose, Jasmine, Khus, Kewda, Mogra, are used in summers and are cooling for the body.
The Indian perfumes in the past was used by the elite, particularly kings and queens. Also it is used in Hindu temples. Today it is used in numerous ways:
1. Pan Masala and Gutka is the largest consumer of Indian 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.
2. 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.
3. Betel nut is smaller segment for perfume consumption as compared to above two industry. The perfumes used are mainly Kewra & Rose.
4. It is used by many people as a personal perfume, particularly by Muslims due to absence of alcohol.
5. Perfumes have the application in pharmaceutical industry.
6. Perfumes of Rose & Kewra are used in traditional Indian sweets, for imparting flavour.
Safety & Application of Attar
Alcohol (common solvent for most perfumes) causes the perfume to evaporate much faster sometimes up to as much as 10 - 15 times faster. This causes the first impression of the perfume to be overwhelming to human senses, but it soon evaporates and loses power. Given its natural derivation, Attar lasts a long time. Body heat only intensifies its smell.
A major difference between synthetic perfumes and attar is that the oil-based ittar is worn directly on your body. The inside of the wrist, behind the ears, the inside of elbow joints, back of the neck and a few other parts of your anatomy are directly dabbed with attar.
A small drop is enough to be used as a fragrance on the body. A few drops can be added to water and used with aromatic vapour lamps. A few drops of some attar are used with cold drinks, such as milk, to give fragrance.
Storage & Shelf life
Ittar has a permanent shelf life and some ittars become stronger and smell better when they are older and they become very aromatic.
Future of Ittars
Due to increasing cost of Indian Sandalwood and high cost of production of ittars has had an ill effect on existence of this industry. Competition comes in the form of chemical based perfume products, which are cheaper compared to natural ittars.
- Attar of roses Rose Oil
- List of essential oils List of Essential oils
- Essential oil Essential oil
- Charaka Samhita Charaka Samhita
- Bṛhat Saṃhitā Brihatsanhita
- Varahamihira Varahamihira
- Gandhayukti Gandhayukti
For more information
Fragrance and Flavor Development Center Kannuj UP India 
Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Lucknow India 
Essential Oil Association of India 
Flavors & Fragrance Association of India 
Natural Attar Industries Association of India; All India Agarbathi Manufacturers Association 
International Congress of Essential Oils, Fragrances & Flavours (ICEOFF); Aromatic Merchants & Manufacturer' s Association (AMMA); International Federation of the Essential Oil and Aroma Traders(IFEAT) 
Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) 
Sense of Smell Institute 
International Fragrance Association (IFRA, Belgium) 
International Organization of the Flavor Industry (IOFI) 
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 
The American Society of Perfumers 
The British Society of Perfumers 
The Fragrance Foundation 
Grasse Institute of Perfumery 
Women in Flavor & Fragrance Commerce 
Cosmetic Toiletry & Fragrance Association 
American Oil Chemists' Society 
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