- See also Attar of roses:
Ittar (Hindi/Urdu) also known as Attar (Arabic: عطر) 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. Technically Itra/attar are distillates of flowers, /herbs,spices,/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 also used among Hindu, Buddhist meditation practices.
Spiritual Benefits of Ittar
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.
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|
|3||Mitti||Baked earth||Earth from river|
|6||Oud||Aquilaria malaccensis||Various parts|
|11||Blue Lotus||Nymphaea caerulea||Flower|
|12||Pink Lotus||Nelumbo nucifera||Flower|
|13||White Lotus||Nelumbo nucifera||Flower|
|15||White Water Lily||Nymphaea ampla||Flower|
|17||Shamana||compound of fragrant spices, herbs, woods||Various parts|
|26||Loban||Styrax benzoin||Various parts|
|27||Nakh Choya||Bitter orange||Flower|
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
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
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
- Kannauj Perfume
- List of essential oils List of Essential oils
- Essential oil Essential oil
- Charaka Samhita Charaka Samhita
- Bṛhat Saṃhitā Brihatsanhita
- Varahamihira Varahamihira
- "Dumbing Down Perfume". Ittar Quarterly Journal.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2015)|
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