Traditional Indian Attars

The word ‘Attar’ or ‘Ittar’ comes from an ancient Persian word ‘attar’, ‘otto’ or ‘ottar’, that means perfume, fragrance or scent. Manufacturing of Attar fragrance oils is the practice of extracting scent from flowers, herbs and other botanical sources. Some attar oils are extracted from wood species as well. It is commonly known as Ittar as well in India.

Traditional ways of making Attar & essential oils still thrive in Kannauj and are fondly preserved by craftsman and attar manufacturers/producers. This tradition has been passed on from generation to generation. The production of floral attar oils is usually performed in remote areas as flowers are required to be processed at the earliest after they are plucked away from plants.

Traditional distillation units in Kannauj

The apparatus and equipment used for producing various types of attar oils is light and efficient. The combination of equipment that is typically used for traditional attar making are:

Traditional deg or still: The process is carried out in copper stills, which are also referred as degs. For centuries degs have played a critical role in producing organic fragrance oils using traditional methods. Degs are made of copper and have an opening for connecting to one or two receivers.

A few Deegs with the bamboo pipe leading to the receiver placed in a cold water bath.

Bhapka or Receiver: The Bhapka, also called “receiver” is built of copper and has a round shape with a long neck. During the process of making attar the receiver is connected with the deg via a chonga. The Bhapka is submerged to keep it cool so it acts as a condenser as well.

In one of the factories, a worker is preparing for the next distillation, putting the bamboo pipe in the receiver.

Traditional Bhatti or Furnace: Traditional bhatti that are used by the attar craftsman is built of bricks and clay. Typically, wood or coal is used for heating during the process.

Under the Deeg, firewood is used to heat the water and the plant material.

Gachchi or cooling water tank: A cooling water tank is the place where the Bhapka, or receiver is kept and its purpose is to cool the distillate from the deg.

Several bhapkas are in the gachchi connected by their chongas to the degs which are not shown in the picture.

Kuppi or leather bottle: Kuppi are bottles that are made from leather. These bottles are used to remove moisture from the attar.

One of the leather bottles where residual water is dried from the final product.

The recommended way to experience the fragrance of attar is to apply it to the inside of each wrist and dab a little behind each earlobe with the inside of your wrists before it dries. The attar will dry down in a few minutes after which you will experience its charming scent.

For thousands of years, ittars were considered in some societies to be something that attracted angels and warded off evil spirits. Saints and spiritual aspirants would adorn themselves with these scents to assist them in their journey towards enlightenment. The different sects of Hinduism worship deities through household and temple offerings. Ittars are commonly used within the incense and food used as offerings.

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