September 29, 2006

Indian Aromatic Mysteries

The 700 million people of India are vitally connected to a long history of fragrance making and the use of aromatic materials in everyday life in a way with which we are not that familiar. Even to the degree of weaving fresh aromatic grasses for screens in windows, which when moistened with water, emit a fragrant and cooling breeze into the home. I have read of a number of fragrances based on materials that I have never tried or seen available commerically here, such as Hina (a blend of spices and aromatics still produced in an ancient process with many steps and special apparatus created over use of thousands of years; Mitti (the smell of earth after the rain, using an attar blended with earth itself) Kewda, and a number of others as well as those with which we are all familiar, such as attar of sandalwood, vetiver and jasmine (at least forty types of jasmine). There is still an intimate connection to nature among the vast majority of people and the seasonal changes that come are anticipated by them as much as by the animals, plants and the organisms of the earth among which they live. Christopher McMahon became fascinated by descriptions of the unique and rich botanical life of India through books and was fortunate to be able travel there and find mentors to guide him to the natural perfume producers in a number of different regions. His writing is very evocative and I highly recommend your taking some time to enjoy his fragrant travels via the following link:
The Fragrant Harvest - Indian Aromatic Traditions
Here is a link to an interesting company that exports Indian blended fragrances, their website gives an hint of the different aesthetic and packaging of the modern Indian perfume industry.
Above is the Kewda plant, used in many different ways, one of which is the fragrant woven window screens.

4 comments:

chaya ruchama said...

Oh, L...
What an amazing website- thank you ! [I'm such a subcontinental wannabe, always have been]

I'm hoping that one day, I'll get to visit and/or live there; I have lots of friends with relatives there...

So grateful for this post!

Hope you are well, and enjoying this glorious weather.

Lucy said...

Thanks Chaya -
Yes it would be very good to get there before it changes beyond recognition, and with relatives there that speak the language(s) you have better odds of getting some "real" perfume. McMahon, writing in the 90s was saying that in the of old perfume merchant districts in the regional capitals the products are all chemical simulations of the old fragrances, so you have to get to the people and places where the stuff is harvested and made. Sounds like a great adventure.

Anya said...

I've read several newspaper articles from India in the past few years about how the attars and traditional scents are out of favor with the young, the major purchasers of fragrances. They want the Calvin Klein knockoffs. Sad.

If it's any consolation, I believe the upsurge in aromatherapy and natural perfumery has contributed to the increased sales of the traditional essences and attars, and that new plantings are being made to meet the need.

Lucy said...

Anya - yes, it would be a terrible thing if all that knowledge was lost. Once it turns around and goes the other way there will be no stopping it...