Fading scent of attar

Hit by rising raw material costs and GST, heritage perfumeries are diluting tradition to get their distinctive fragrances to travel far in the modern market


Muhammad Ayaz plans to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca with his family next year. “I will take bottles and bottles of my best oudh and gulab attar to smear on the ghilaf (the cloth covering of the Kaaba),” he says, seated behind his marble desk at Md Daud Md Yaqub, a perfumery in Kannauj that Ayaz runs with his three brothers.

For generations, his family has been producing attar — oil-based perfumes prepared with flowers and other natural ingredients. For Ayaz, attar is not just a business, but a way of life — and one that he has been modifying to battle rising prices and shrinking markets.

At Ayaz’s factory nearby, workers stack logs of wood under a line of copper cauldrons mounted on mud ovens. Dried, musky smelling roots and flowers of Mantri, Jatamansi, Charila, Kapur Kachri, Barmi, Nagarmotha, Bala and others make their way into one, even as a smoky fire rises under it. These have been sourced from Uttarakhand, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Nepal. After 12 hours of boiling in water, their distinct vapours pass through a long pipe and distil into a round vessel submerged in a tank of water. By the end of the day the oil will separate from the water, which is drained away. After a month of repeating this process over and over again, the fragrance will grow in strength to become what is known as shamama attar. Stored in a large leather cask, or kuppi, to retain its aroma, shamama is prized for its spicy, musky notes, which have come to be associated with the distinctive smell of winter in Kannauj. Ayaz swears by its potency to cure colds too....Read more


Source web page: Business Line

Located 220 km from Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the small town of Kannauj is often called the perfume capital of India.

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