Do you know why Kannauj is called the perfume capital of India?

Before India had liberalised its import market, one of the hottest buys for Indians travelling overseas was perfumes. Today, the market has a glut of overseas and Indian manufacturers and is anticipated to develop additional, in keeping with trade reviews. But not many know that one of India’s oldest perfume enterprise centre, with its conventional methods and natural substances, are preventing a dropping battle in opposition to the branded way of life merchandise.

Around three to 4 hours’ drive – relying on the site visitors – from Agra, Kannauj seems like some other dusty north Indian city. Little stays of this as soon as superb city-state, now half of Uttar Pradesh, which traces its antiquity to the days of the Mahabharata and which rose to its best top as the capital of Emperor Harsha (590 to 647 CE) when it was called Kanyakubja.

But at the same time as you stroll by way of the streets of the outdated city, you can not miss the aromatic word in the air; even the sludge flowing by way of the roadside drains typically remind you of a floral word. That is as a result of a big quantity of households in the city are engaged, for generations, in the making of ‘attar’ or pure aromatic oils and extracts, that are extensively used from making perfumes to important oils for shopper merchandise equivalent to cleaning soap, shampoo, and so on. to flavouring brokers for meals, and so on., and even for medication.  Even the distillate should not wasted however used for making agarbatti or incense sticks.

Although it is not identified when Kannauj began manufacturing attar (also called ‘itar’, ‘itra’ or ‘itr’) however seventh century biography Harsha-Charit, written by the emperor’s court docket poet Banabhatta, incorporates references to the use of agar wooden oil. It is additionally believed that the manufacturing of attar attained nice heights throughout the Mughal interval.

Ittar makers of Kannauj can draw out the perfume from a big quantity of pure substances, equivalent to totally different varieties of flowers (rose, kewra, chameli, bela, marigold, jasmine lavender, and so on.), from pure merchandise equivalent to vetiver, and herbs and spices (cardamom, cloves, saffron, juniper berry, jatamansi, and so on.). Usually, the flowers are plucked at daybreak in order that they keep the finest perfume. 

It is stated that the perfume-makers of Kannauj had mastered the artwork of distilling the delicate perfume of the contemporary rain on dry soil right into a perfume lengthy earlier than Australian mineralogists, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Grenfell Thomas, found the chemistry behind the heady odor and named it ‘petrichor’. Known as ‘mitti-attar’, it is one of the most wanted perfumes of Kannauj. Another well-known attar from Kannauj is the ‘shamama’, created from a co-distillation of totally different herbs and spices. There are a number of households who make the shamama however every has their very own strongly guarded secret recipe.

But what makes Kannauj’s attar-making trade much more fascinating is that regardless of the passage of time, they nonetheless comply with the conventional methodology, a extremely labour intensive and time consuming hydro-distillation course of, called ‘deg bhapka’. 

The ‘deg’ is a copper nonetheless into which the pure substances, equivalent to flower petals, are put in together with water. The pots are lined with lids and sealed with a particular clay combine. These pots are positioned on clay furnace (‘bhatti’) fired with wooden and cow-dung truffles. The deg is linked to the long-necked ‘bhapka’ or the receiver, which is additionally made of copper, by way of the ‘chonga’ or a twine-wrapped bamboo pipe, which acts as a condenser too. The bhapka whose mouth has been lined with material sits in a cooling chamber full of water (‘gachhi’). A base oil, normally sandalwood oil, is poured in the bhapka. As the deg is fired, the vapour from the ingredient collects in the bhapka, will get condensed and the oil collects the perfume. But it is simpler stated than achieved. 

The hearth for the deg needs to be excellent and managed by including or eradicating the gasoline. The water in the cooling tank needs to be modified in order that the water maintains the required temperature. One has to take away the bhapka after the desired quantity of perfume is collected. Before eradicating the bhapka, the deg needs to be cooled with moist material to cease the vapourisation.  All these steps require years of expertise to know learn how to run the course of to perfection.  Just because it is necessary to know the proper method of mixing the substances to supply varied notes in the perfume. Collecting the aromatic oil at the proper time additionally requires experience. Some attar, equivalent to the shamama, requires a second spherical of extraction in the ‘patila’ (a distinct sort of copper pot). Even at the moment, the most delicate attar are saved in camel-skin baggage (‘kuppi’); these baggage additionally assist in removing of moisture and permits storage for a protracted interval with out lowering the high quality of the perfume. However, producers are being compelled to search for cheaper alternate options, stated one. The attar, as important oils and perfumes, are offered in the retailers in bottles of varied sizes, some of that are works of artwork by themselves. Some of the attars or important oils are additionally exported. 

However, many conventional producers really feel it is troublesome to proceed with the eco-friendly conventional course of resulting from competitors from alcohol-based and mass manufactured perfumes, in addition to rising price of uncooked materials. Even procurement of sandalwood oil is troublesome after most native factories closed down. Several producers at the moment are compelled to make use of liquid paraffin or DOP (dioctyl phthalate). It is necessary to handle the points to permit the conventional trade to keep up its authenticity. Several allied sectors additionally depend upon this conventional perfume trade – equivalent to brick kilns, supplying of uncooked materials, bottle manufacturing, and so on. 

Although Kannauj Perfumes received the Geographical Indication tag in 2014, and its fragrances are exported to many nations, it is unhappy that Kannauj has not been in a position to flip right into a vacationer attraction like Grasse, the French city referred to as the ‘perfume capital of the world’. A sprucing up of the city and the amenities, coaching just a few native individuals to behave as guides, and a well-laid out drive/stroll encompassing flower nurseries, manufacturing models, and the emporiums, can go a great distance in preserving a ‘made in India’ enterprise that had been launched right here lengthy earlier than the phrase was coined. 

Information: Kannauj is about 80km by street from Kanpur and about 125km from Lucknow. It is lies on the foremost broad gauge route of the Indian Railways between Kanpur and Mathura. The finest time to go to Kannauj is in winter. There are just a few lodges in Kannauj however they’re primary in nature. For a tour of the perfumeries, it is finest to take assist from the native individuals. Also search permission earlier than coming into the manufacturing models or photographing the place. Lucknow based mostly travel-company Tornos holds customised excursions of Kannauj.

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About the Author: Jessica