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Attar sold at the apex of Jabal ar-Rahmah (also Mount Arafat), Makkah.
See also Attar of roses:

Ittar (Hindi/Urdu), also known as Attar, is an essential oil derived from botanical sources. Most commonly these oils are extracted via hydro or steam distillation. They can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as ittars are distilled with water. The 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.

Ittars are highly concentrated and therefore are usually offered for sale in small quantities in decorated crystal cut 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. Ittars are affordable because they are so concentrated that a small bottle will last the regular user several weeks or even months.

Technically ittars are distillates of flowers, herbs,spices, and other natural materials such as baked soil over sandalwood oil/liquid paraffins using hydro distillation technique with Deg & Bhapka. Deg & Bhapka techniques is being use even today at Kannauj in India. This is one of the oldest natural fragrant materials, nearly 5000 years old. 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 the Islamic prophet, Muhammad has been compared to Ittar as one of the most beloved of gifts given to mankind.

Ittars are used by many Muslims on Friday, for the Jumma Namaz or on the occasion of Eid.

Spiritual Benefits of Ittar[edit]

For thousands of years ittars were used and understood to be something that attracted angels and warded off darkness or evil spirits. Saints and spiritual aspirants would adorn themselves with the finest scents to assist them in their journey towards enlightenment.[1]


The word 'attar', 'ittar' or 'othr' is essentially an Arabic word meaning 'scent'; 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.

The perfume references are part of a larger text called Brihat-Samhita written by Varahamihira, an Indian astronomer, mathematician and astrologer who lived in the historic city of Ujjain. He was one of the ‘nine jewels’ in the court of the Maharaja of Malwa. The perfume portion mainly deals with the manufacture of perfumes to benefit ‘royal personages and inmates of harems’. The text is written as Sanskrit slokas with commentary by a 10th Century Indian commentator Utpala.

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 oud (Agarwood), 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 Rosa × damascena Flower
2 Motia/Jasmine Jasminum sambac Flower
3 Mitti Baked earth Earth from river
4 Kewda Pandanus odorifer Flower
5 Kesar Saffron Stigma
6 Oud Aquilaria malaccensis Various parts
7 Gul Hina Henna Flower
8 Genda Tagetes minuta Flower
9 Champa Magnolia champaca Flower
10 Bakul Mimusops elengi Flower
11 Blue Lotus Nymphaea caerulea Flower
12 Pink Lotus Nelumbo nucifera Flower
13 White Lotus Nelumbo nucifera Flower
14 Rajniganda Polianthes tuberosa Flower
15 White Water Lily Nymphaea ampla Flower
16 Zafari Tagetes sp. Flower
17 Shamana compound of fragrant spices, herbs, woods Various parts
18 Amber Amber ----
19 Chameli Jasminum grandiflorum Flower
20 Gulmohar Delonix regia Flower
21 Juhi Jasminum auriculatum Flower
22 Bakhur Melaleuca alternifolia ----
23 Frangipani Plumeria rubra ----
24 Khus Chrysopogon zizanioides Roots
25 Mogra Abelmoschus moschatus Flower
26 Loban Styrax benzoin Various parts
27 Nakh Choya Bitter orange Flower
28 Davana Artemisia pallens Leaves
29 Kasturi Musk Musk gland

Types of Ittars[edit]

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

Herbal Ittars - Ittars manufactured from combination of floral, herbal & spices come under this category. Hina[disambiguation needed] and its various forms viz., Shamama, Shamam –tul – Amber, Musk Amber and Musk Hina.

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Due to increasing cost of Indian Sandalwood[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Attars in Hyderabad India

Hyderabad Old city is famous for Attars. There are so many Attar manufacturers in this area who are into this profession since last 200 to 300 years.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dumbing Down Perfume". Ittar Quarterly Journal. 
  • Chemical Industries in India by H. E. Watson Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Volume 18, Issue 7, Year 1926, Pages 748 - 752.
  • Buchanan's account of the manufacture of rose-water and other perfumes at Patna in A.D. 1811 and its bearing on the history of Indian perfumery industry, by P. K. Gode, New Indian Antiquary 7, 181–185; also in: SICH I (1961), 36–42, Year 1946.
  • Studies in the history of Indian cosmetics and perfumery: Notes on the history of the rose, rose-water and attar of roses—Between B.C. 500 and A.D. 1850 by P. K. Gode, New Indian Antiquary 8, 107–119; also in: SICH I (1961), 15–35 Year 1946.
  • Studies in Indian Cultural History, by P.K.Gode, Vol. I, Year 1961, Hoshiarpur.
  • A useful pathological condition of wood by M. Jalaluddin Economic Botany, Volume 31, Issue 2, April 1977, Pages 222–224.
  • Perfumery in ancient India by Krishnamurthy R Indian J Hist Sci., Volume 22, Issue 1, Jan 1987, Pages 71 – 79.
  • Attars of India - A Unique Aroma by J. N. Kapoor Perfumer & Flavorist Jan/Feb 1991, Pages 21–24.
  • Indian attars by Christopher Mcmohan International Journal of Aromatherapy, Volume 7, Issue 4, Year 1996, Pages 10–13.
  • India Where Attars Originated by Omprakash Yemul India Perspectives, March 2004 Page 40.
  • Traditional system for the production of kewda essential oil and attar by D K Mohapatra & S Sahoo Indian Journal of traditional Knowledge, Vol 6(3), July 2007 Pages 399 - 402.
  • Traditional method of Chuli oil extraction in Ladakh by Deepa H Dwivedi & Sanjai K Dwivedi Indian Journal of traditional Knowledge, Vol 6(3), July 2007, Pages 403 - 405.
  • Ecology and traditional technology of screw pine perfume industry in coastal Orissa by Deenabandhu Sahu & Malaya Kumar Misra Indian Journal of traditional Knowledge, Vol 6(3), July 2007.
  • Kewda Perfume Industry in India 1 by P. K. Dutta, H. O. Saxena and M. Brahmam Economic Botany, Vol 41(3), July 1987, Pages 403 - 410.
  • Rose cultivation for Attar production in Bulgaria [manufacturing of Scent] by Rai B. Indian Horticulture (India) Vol 29(4), Mar 1985, Pages 13– 18.
  • Material that is old and new (No.28). Present and past of perfumeby OE HIDEFUSA Expected Materials for the Future Volume 3, No 5, Year 2003, Pages 66 – 71.
  • Parisrut the earliest distilled liquor of Vedic times or of about 1500 B.C. by Mahdihassan S. Indian J Hist Sci. volume 16 Issue 2, Nov 1981, Pages 223 - 229.
  • A brief history of Indian alchemy covering pre-Vedic to Vedic and Ayurvedic period (circa 400 B.C.-800 A.D.). by Ali M. Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad Volume 23, Issue 2, Jul 1993, Pages 151 - 166.
  • Indian Alchemy: its Origin and Ramifications. In Chemistry and Chemical Techniques in India (Ed.) Subbarayappa, B.V., Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations Year 1999.
  • History of Chemistry and Alchemy in India from Pre-historic to Pre- Modern Times. In History of Indian Science and Technology an Culture AD 1000-1800 (Ed) A. Rahman. Year 1998. Oxford.
  • Preparation and Testing of Perfume as described in Brhatsamhita Sachin A Mandavgane, P P Holey and J Y Deopujari Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge Vol 8(2), April 2009 Page 275 - 277.