Perfumery: The art of capturing scents




Gulab Singh would wake up early- way before dawn, every single day, to supervise the plucking of jasmines and roses. Jasmine smells the strongest in the dead of the night. It is distilled before dawn and rose is distilled just after dawn, to preserve the respective scents for long, as the fragrance wanes with the rise of the sun. 


Gulab Singh has for years dealt with this job, and his traditional factory is a riot of scents- musk, camphor, lotus, sandalwood, saffron, etc. indulging the olfactory senses of his customers for ages.


In Purani Delhi, this oldest Indian perfumery, has been practicing this 15th century art for about 200 years, making pure and natural ittars devoid of alcohol. The place has seen great days when tourists and foreigners flocked here to buy scents in intricately designed crystal bottles called ittar-dans


Refined connoisseurs bought several as parting gifts to their guests. Like a sommelier and a part-physician, the ittar-saz would suggest the prefect ittar for an individual, as per the weather and the season, depending on the person's mood, temperament and health. 


A quality ittar heals the body and calms the mind. But today, it has lost it's market and industry to the advent of perfumes and modernism. Ittars are no more a craze, or a luxury.


Perfumery started in Persia and Arabia. It has been used by nobles, kings and merchants. Essential oils derived from botanical sources, herbs and spices were prescribed by physicians. The Mughals loved their ittars. The Jasmine ittar was the favourite of the Nizams of Hyderabad. Sufi masters used them during meditations and dances.


Another town that shares the history of perfume making is Kannauj. It has been known for it's ittars for centuries together. And it made headlines around the world for it's famousmitti attar - the scent of wet earth. 


Nobody could fathom that capturing the petrichor- the stormy earthly smell of the first rain shower- in a bottle was even possible.


Today you can get ittars in exhibitions, fairs, near Charminar, in Purani Delhi and Kannauj. So next time you buy your mother a gift, consider buying an ittar of her favourite flower. The varieties are boundless. Ginger lily, frangipani, lavendar, rosemary, amber, geranium, winter green, etc.



I am participating in the #AToZChallenge with #BlogchatterA2Z and I am sharing posts themed around Art for this entire month of April. Share and connect with me on social media.
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Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

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  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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