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The Perfumed Heritage: Kannauj Perfume - Timeless Aroma - Origins of Attar

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

From Dargah’s to Navagraha Pooja the usage of attars are there from ages. Attars or perfumes and essential oils are one of most oldest commonly used product of household or worship. It was even used for healing the wounds, hurts and soothe minds. From warm attars to cool attars there are even personal preferences to enjoy the aromatic pleasure.

In ancient Egypt the art of perfumery was famous and oldest, dated 3000B.C . They used attars to make sacrificial offerings aromatic and even used to entomb pharaohs and other dignitaries with fragrances. Egyptian men would put solid cone of perfume on the head and let it melt.

Horstical image of womens applying perfume
Horstical image of womens applying perfume

In this mural painting it can be seen Egyptian men wearing perfume cone over the head and in the middle of the fresco the man is smelling a bunch of fragrant plant. Other one in the background holding a pointed round object most likely to be an attar-dan and another man is taking his hand and smelling the attar-dan.

Myrrh , a yellow, aromatic, sap-like resin is when they are cut was used in ancient times along with burnt herbs and wines raisins to make perfume in Egypt. In fact, Nefertem, the god of perfume, is mentioned in Egyptian mythology often shown carrying Water lilies, which were frequently used as a component in ancient perfume.

Queen Cleopatra and Hatsheput were also used attars. Hatshepsut was obsessed with frankincense and on her temple wall , a large-scale task to the ancient Punt region in search of frankincense was painted. Woody and fruity smell were also favourite of Egyptians. Later it was refined by al-Shaykh al-Rais

In this picture islamic workers are working in attar factory and making attar in traditional way.
Perfume making from ancient time , Rhazes,_Islamic_scholar

In this picture islamic workers are working in attar factory and making attar in traditional way.

In Yemen, Arwa al-Sulayhi, the Yemeni Queen, introduced a unique form of attar. The Arabian kings received this kind of attar as a gift. It was made from mountain flowers.

In ancient Greece various fragrances were used for different body parts, I.e there was different scents for hair and different for skin. Smells were was available for public bathrooms. Plan the Elder records about perfume in his book “Naturalis Historia” MinRoman also followed the footsteps of Greeks and used scented oil in daily lives apart from worship such in bodies , beddings, clothes, houses. Marjoram, Thyme, Mint, Frankincense were some of popular scents in Greco- Roman culture.

Women suing perfume in ancient time
paint woman perfume roma villa farnesina

In this fresco painting from Rome a woman is seen to hold a small pouring pot in right hand and a flask in left hand, in which she is pouring the perfume.

After the fall of Roman Empire the rise of Christianity ended the usage of perfumes astray wanted to erase every possible sign of Pagan culture and meanwhile In the Eastern region Such as China, India the consumption of attars stared. Noble Chinese started using personal fragrances during the Sui and Song dynasties, obtaining the components via the Silk Road. The people had started using fragrances by the Yuan, Ming, and Qing eras. Many of the plants and spices used in oriental scents were also employed in food and medicine. Both in China and Japan incense was used as clock.

Chinese Qing Dynasty art of making perfumery
Chinese Qing Dynasty art of making perfumery

Qing Dynasty art.

Source: pinterest

In above painting, A Chinese woman is shown sitting in traditional attire before a table on which various green herbs and white flowers are seen . There are attar container on table as well as the whole room is surrounded by attar containers of various sizes and shapes. Oudh attars were famous in China.

In India , first texts to mention attar was Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. The earliest record of Attar making can be founded in 6th century text “Brihat Samhita” composed by Varahamihira. The art of perfumery is approximately 60000 years old in our country. According to the "Agni Purana," the Kings and royals would bathe in more than 150 different perfumes to start their day. In the harems of monarchs, there was a massive intake of scents. As many men and women as possible were working on creating scents, women made up the majority of those. The names of these women were Gandhkarika or Gandhhadika. These scents were referred to as Itra.

In the Mughal time period the consumption of attar was at its peak because of their country of Origin Persia . They used to apply attar on their bodies and in the surroundings to keep the mind calm in such unbearable warm continental weather. Emperor Akbar( 15th -16th century) was fond of using attars on daily basis, mentioned by Abul Fazal in Ain-e-Akbari (Constitution of Akbar) . Later, his succsessor Emperor Jahangir’s begum Noorjehan showed a tremendous affection towards attar and some research says she discovered the method to make attar from rose petals. However, according to historians, it was really her Persian mother Asmat Begum who made the discovery.

Mughal miniature showing Noorjehan holding Ittar dan
Mughal miniature showing Noorjehan holding Ittar dan

Mughal miniature showing Noorjehan holding Ittar dan

The love for itra during the Mughal era peaked when the Mughals settled the Gandhies (experts in producing itras), granted them Zamindaries, and allowed them to produce the various itra kinds.Sandal, Musk, Rose, Camphor, Saffron were very popular attires in this era because of their natural scent.

When he setting sun of Mughal empire struck India the dying art of attar making procured its place in hands of Nawabs of Awadh. kathak Dancer, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. During the Nawab era, Lucknow, the capital of India's Awadh province, had a thriving arts and crafts scene. He allegedly perspired a lot while practicing his dance, which is why he wore the henna attar. And Awadh encouraged Itar craftsmanship and agriculture, which have persisted to this day.

Kannauj is one of the oldest cities in India still producing attars. The history of Kannauj perfume is extensive, and the city has long been a center for the trade of this product. It is said the princess of also known as Sanyogita or Sanjukta, was the daughter of Jaichandra the King of Kannauj, and one of three wives of Prithviraj Chauhan used worship lord Shiva with the attar of Motia . It is thought to be related to the scent of the lower Himalayan region's dense forests, where Lord Shiva and his followers would travel. Kannauj holds the legacy of making attars over 100 yers. Kannauj is referred to as "the perfume capital of India" and "Kannauj is to India what Grasse is to France" due to the significant importance that perfume manufacture plays in the city.

Craftsmen and attar manufacturers/producers in Kannauj are proudly preserving the traditional traditions of creating attar and essential oils.

kannauj The perfume capital of India
kannauj The perfume capital of India

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