We all love the fragrance of the first rain which is called petrichor. We can’t get enough of the beautiful earthy smell, but can you turn this smell into a perfume?
Well, the perfume capital of India, Kanuaj in UP has mastered the art of recreating that loamy smell of the first shower, as an attar.
It is said that long ago, two Australian mineralogists, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Grenfell Thomas, discovered the chemistry behind the heady smell and named it ‘petrichor’.
The word is derived from the Greek “petra” (stone) and “ichor” which, in Greek mythology, is the ethereal blood of the gods.
Known as Mitti Attar, the perfume of petrichor is distilled into miniature glass vials at Kannauj, The city traces its antiquity to the days of the Mahabharata and which rose to its greatest height as the capital of Emperor Harsha (590 to 647 CE) when it was called Kanyakubja. Many families in the town are engaged, for generations, in the making of ‘attar’ which are widely used for making perfumes and essential oils for consumer products such as soap, shampoo.
Mughal Emperors were fond of the scented oils made in Kanauj. There is also a legend about how the city’s perfume industry started. Legend has it that a servant at Jahangir’s palace in Agra noticed some drops of rose oil floating on the surface of Noor Jehan’s bathing pool.
The servant was from Kannauj, and figured that the oil was accidentally produced when rose petals came in contact with warm water, and presumably devised the steam-and-condense process to extract it.
Process of Mitti Attar
Mitti Attar is extracted through a long process that involves cultivating the clay, baking it, distilling it and capturing the steam it lets off when contained in the deg bhapkas (copper cauldrons).
The procedure involves baking clay extracted from topsoil. Little clay shards are made in neighbouring villages before they are sun baked and placed in the degs. The clay used for the purpose is first made into a soft dough, then flattened into discs, which are baked at a fairly high temperature to prepare them for hydro-distillation.
The craftsmen put these shards of half-baked clay into the deg, cover them with water, hammer a lid down on top, and seal it with mud.
After which, they light a wood or cow-dung fire underneath, before filling the bhapka with sandalwood oil and sinking it into the water trough.
The deg and bhapka are connected with a hollow bamboo pipe that carries the heady vapours from the pot into the receiver, where it mixes with the sandalwood oil base. Every few hours, the receiver is switched and the deg is cooled down with wet cloths, to stop the condensation.
Earlier, the attars were stored in camel-skin pockets but are now kept in bottles made from buffalo skins. The bottles called kuppis are placed in the sun to allow the excess water to evaporate and to develop the true scent of attar.
After a long, time-consuming process, the fragrances are poured into crystal glass bottles and are ready for sale.
Kannauj produces six types of perfumes. The list includes rose, bela, mogra, mehndi, hina shamama and mitti. The price of a bottle can vary from Rs 40 to Rs 1,000 for 10 ml, depending on the base oil used.
The mitti attar is also now available on Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal, among other e-commerce sites.
This Attar is ready to go perfume oil that can be applied as a scent. Besides, it has various applications in natural perfume industry. It is often used for preparing sacred blends, incenses, and niche perfumes.