KANNAUJ, A WORLD PERFUME HERITAGE
By Creezy Courtoy, World Perfume History Expert and Teacher
Located in Uttar Pradesh, Kannauj is a small, dusty town spreading along the banks of river Ganga.
It is one such amazing place that has a centuries - old legacy of producing long-lasting perfumes and is often compared to Grasse, France. The perfumes that made Grasse popular are Jasmine, Centifolia Rose, Lavender, Orange blossom and wild Mimosa, a very different palette compared to the Sandalwood, Cedar, Heena, Jasmine, Attar Mitti, Kewda Marigold and Damascena Rose of Kannauj.
The process of making perfume has been mentioned in the scriptures of Ayurveda since ancient times.
In some Vedas, prescriptions of 3500 years old, mention fumigation of aromatic woods. It is written in the Vedas that when Yajnas were performed a lot of things went into it as a sacrifice. A foul smell used to emulate when meat was sacrificed, so in order to eliminate the smell aromatic ingredients were offered into the fire. Thus, the art of extracting scents from different substances began. Legend ascribes the invention of distillation to an Indian Princess named Nùr Djihân. In 1568, on the morning of her wedding with Akbar, the Mongol Emperor, Nur noticed foam vapors floating to the surface of a rosewater fountain. From then on, she understood the process of distillation, the most common way to extract essential oil from a plant.
In Kannauj perfumes are prepared with the help of the hydro-distillation process. Nickel plated copper vessels are used as they do not rust.
1. Flowers are soaked in water and heated in containers
2. Condensers are filled with oil.
3. On boiling, the vapour of the flowers passes through the hollow bamboo pipes into a condenser.
4. The oil present in the condenser absorbs the vapour’s fragrance.
5. This process continues for around five hours and excess water is separated from oil after the condenser completely cools down.
6. As per the quality of perfume, the process is continued on the same oil for 30 days.
Can you ever think of using the smell of rain to make perfume?
When you set your foot into the perfume capital of India and try amazing perfumes there, it feels ‘time just stops’. Kannauj will sweep you away in an era of attars. From ancient emperors like Shah Jahan to modern Kings of the Middle East, attar, the Indian perfume is largely preferred to most high-end branded fragrances.
How many fragrances can you think of when talking about attars and perfumes?
Just the basic ones like a rose, sandalwood, jasmine oil and other common fragrance. Can you ever think of using the smell of rain to make perfume? Villagers at Kannauj can make this possible by reproducing the aromatic fragrance of rain.
Have you ever heard of Attar Mitti ?
Attar Mitti, also known as itr–e–khaki is one of the unique attars found in Kannauj The redolence of this attar has a sweet blend of woody note of the Sandalwood and an earthy smell of clay.
Attar Mitti is a co distillation of earthen clay pots with the steam bearing the scent of the soil, the clay is infused over sandalwood oil. Over several rounds of distillation / infusion the base oil is imbibed with the smell of the clay till it starts smelling of petrichor. The attar known as Attar Mitti is fancied by end consumers trying to get as close to the olfactory sense of the rain. It also is used by the perfumers to inculcate an earthy note in their perfume compositions.
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