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Camel skin Perfume Bottles from Kannauj. The bottles are for aging the perfume (the skin breathes, allowing the water to evaporate while holding in the fragrance and oil, becoming a perfume, or attar.)

Ittar, 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. 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 and bhapka. These techniques are still in use today at Kannauj in India. This is one of the oldest natural fragrant materials, nearly 5000 years old. [1] 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.


The word 'attar', 'ittar' or 'itra' believed to have been derived from the Persian word itir, meaning 'perfume',[2] which is in turn derived from the Arabic word itr (عطر).[3][4]

The Egyptians were famous for producing perfumes throughout the ancient world. They were formulated from plants and flowers before they could be added to other oils. It was later refined and developed by al-Shaykh al-Rais[5]a great Muslim physician who made a distinctive type of aromatic product. He was referred to as Abi Ali al Sina, regarded as a noble Doctor who ever lived. He was among the first people to come with the technique of distillation of roses and other plant fragrances.[6]

Liquid perfumes used to be a mixture of oil and crushed herbs until his discovery where he first experimented with roses.[7]

The traditional Attar-makers also used petals which were ground into a strong blend. His popularity spread over other continents after he created Rosewater which was more delicate than the previous versions. He formulated at least 62 cardiac medicines out of which 40 were made from Attar. They include Attar of Oud, Attar of Roses, Attar of Saffron and Attar of Jasmine.

Attar is greatly promoted by Muslims to treat numerous health disorders largely used in Greek medicine. The most famous users of Attar include the natives of Indian Subcontinent and Arabia. It has been part of their cultural lifestyle for decades. More details are provided by the history of Yemen in which special variety of Attar was introduced by Arwa al-Sulayhi, the celebrated Yemeni Queen. This type of Attar was prepared from mountainous flowers and their popularity made the monarchs of Arabia to accept the gift from Syedah.[8]

Abul Fazal Faizee[9] gives another verdict of how Attar was used to making the Mabkhara-incense-burner. The barks that were used in Akbar's time according to Faizee were Aloe, Sandal, and Cinnamon. Animal substances such as Myrrh, Musk, and Anbar were used along with roots of special trees and a few other spices. The ruler of Awadh, Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar Shah used to prepare fountains of Attar around his bedroom. These fountains would create a very pleasant fragrant and romantic atmosphere by functioning continuously.[10]

Uses and Types[edit]

Ittars are believed to have special medical value and they are generally classified based on their effect on the body. 'Warm' ittars such as musk, amber and kesar (saffron) are used in winters, as they are believed to increase body temperature. Likewise 'cool' ittars such as rose, jasmine, khus, kewda and mogra are used in summers for their perceived cooling effect on the body.[11]

There were many varieties of Attar which could be used at different times of the year. Some of the popular fragrances used in the winters were warm notes of the Hina that were prepared from Saffron and Musk. A few examples of the warm Attar included Amber, Musk, Oud, and Saffron. They were used to increase the body temperature during cold seasons. Cool Attars were used in summer to bring some cooling effect on the body. A few examples that add to the flavorful notes of summer include Jasmine, Kewda, Rose, Khus, and Mogra. Unlike other types of fragrances, Chameli can be applied at any time round the year. Attar has been used as the main ingredient in medicines from the early days. True Attar is formulated from oil that is extracted by traditional Degs Steam Distillation or by cold rolling.

Types of Attar used as medicines Although Attar is mostly used as a perfume to provide a pleasant after effect, it can also be used for medicinal purposes as an aphrodisiac. A few examples include Musk, Oud, Sandalwood, Rose, Hina, Anbar, and Jasmine. [12]

Musk It is also referred to as Mushk, known to be the king of all perfumes with the best aroma. It is produced by "Moschus moschiferus", a rare species of the male deer found in the Himalayas. The substance used in creating Musk can only be produced by a mature male Moschus. It is commonly mixed with medicines and candies. It has numerous medicinal values such as;[13]

Re-balances the internal health disorder Strengthens the inner organs when inhaled It regularizes the heart palpitations It works as an antidote for particular poisons from a snake bite. It brings comfort and strength to the external organs.[14]

The Al Qust is one type of Indian Oud that is used for medicinal purposes while the Aluwwah is used as a perfume. Oud is highly traded and cherished among Greek, Chinese healers, alchemist and exotic oil traders. Some of the medicinal uses are; It enhances energy and nourishes strength as it is a stimulant tonic It eases body pains and Anti rheumatism It calms the heat and controls heart palpitations. The smoke of Oud is useful in strengthening the stomach It is also used as an aphrodisiac

Sandalwood Sandalwood is known to have a calming effect when meditating and is in much demand as incense. In the ancient Egypt, most of the temples were built from Sandalwood. It is a relaxing oil that can be used to ease depression, tension, and exhaustion of the nervous system. It improves the general health of a person if the resins and barks are inhaled. Other medicinal uses include; It helps to stop vomiting It cures a dry cough when applied on the chest It excites the senses It prevents travel sickness It has curative properties when used as skin ailments.

Rose/ Wurd/ Gulab There is a strong connection between lovely Rose and the Saints. Rosewater was developed by Al-Shaikh Ar-Raees, an Arab physician who gained popularity during the middle ages and Renaissance. He cultivated a refined quality of Attar of Roses. The Rose petals have the ability to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Rosewater can also be used for eyes that are inflamed and sore. The medicinal purposes include: antimicrobial, antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-depressant.[15]

Hina It is also known scientifically as Lawsonia Alba. Most individuals have benefited from its heat inducing qualities. The fragrance of Hina is used during the winter season to provide extra warmth. However, there are a few precautions of using Hina during summer. It can lead to nasal bleeding if inhaled in the warm seasons.

Anbar/Ambergris Anbar is secreted from whales and is known as the prince of scents. It is found on the beaches and resembles little dark attractive crude blocks. There are some countries that use Anbar in tea. A good example is Morocco where some communities use Ambergris in very small quantities inside the teapot. A few medicinal uses include; Restoring energy Diverts the senses and nerves towards relaxation Helps in the cure of heart and brain blocks when used as a drink. It is a powerful aphrodisiac It helps relieve flu symptoms.

The Jasmine[16]

Attar is mainly used to calm the nervous system because it has a soothing aphrodisiac essence and an anti-depressant. It is also used to control sleeplessness so that you can sleep normally. The oil extracted from Jasmine flowers is a potent aphrodisiac that can be used to attract the opposite sex. Other medicinal purposes include; It relieves stress and hypertension Helps in treating skin ailments It uplifts moods It is used to lessen depression.

Spirituality & Religion[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.[17]

The different sects of Hinduism worship deities through household and temple offerings. Food, flowers incense etc. are commonly used.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^",How Mumbai's oldest Ittar market is keeping its business alive,
  2. ^ Singh, Nagendra Kr; Mabud Khan, Abdul (2001). Encyclopaedia of the World Muslims: Tribes, Castes and Communities, Volume 1. Global Vision Pub House. p. 89.
  3. ^ Supriya Kumar, Bhattacharjee (2010). The complete book of roses. aavishkar publishers distributors. p. 294.
  4. ^ "Aramco World". Aramco. 48-49: 47. 1997.
  5. ^ "IBN SINA (AVICENNA)". muslimphilosophy. Retrieved June 2001. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  6. ^ William, Gohlman (1974). The life of Ibn Sina. New York: Institute of the History of Medicine Books. p. 163. ISBN 087395226X.
  7. ^ EL-SHIMY, Mohamed (2003). Preparation and Use of Perfumes and Perfumed Substances in Ancient Egypt. Cairo: Suprem Concil of Antiquity ZamalekCairo Egypte. p. 117. ISBN 978-94-010-0193-9.
  9. ^ Monideepa, Chatterjee (1983). "Chronicles Of The Chronicler : Abul Fazal And 'His' Akbarnama".
  10. ^ Qazi Dr, Shaikh Abbas Borhany (April 1, 2006). "The Medicinal uses of attar" (PDF).
  11. ^ Umanadh, J B S (Aug 19, 2012). "Adding fragrance to festival".
  12. ^ "Short History of Attar". Agarscents Bazaar. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  13. ^ Traffic, Europ (1999). THE USES OF MUSK AND EUROPE ROLE IN ITS TRADE. Brussels: WWF–World. p. 56.
  14. ^ Sommer, Cornelia (2004). The Role of Musk and Musk Compounds in the Fragrance Industry. Germany: The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry. p. 150. ISBN 978-3-540-47900-0.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "JASMINE OVERVIEW INFORMATION". webmd. Retrieved September 2005. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  17. ^ de Souza, Marian; Bone, Jane; Watson, Jacqueline (2016). Spirituality across Disciplines: Research and Practice:. Springer. p. 36. ISBN 9783319313801. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Why are puja articles arranged in specific five layers?". Hindu Jagruti. Retrieved 2 May 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Dragoco Report. Dr Paolo Rovesti. Year 1975.