Short History of Attar
Attar is a symbolic word in Arabi language that means fragrance. The art of making the pleasant and sweet smelling perfumes spread gradually over time. The Indus valley civilization shows indications of this art in form of mud containers and perfume jars. Round copper stills were used to make Attar and the archaeological excavation dates them to be at least 5000 years old. The traditional attar-makers used to refer them as Degs. They would travel all over India with the flowers in full bloom to make their fresh Attars. The Degs has made a big difference in making the Attar since more makers are moving closer to the flower harvest.
References of perfumes are still available in ‘Brhatsamhita', the Sanskrit encyclopedia. The fragrances were used for sale, physical enjoyment and religious services. The recipes of different perfumes such as incense, talcum powder, bath powders, and mouth perfumes were given by Gandhayukti. Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita mentioned the earliest distillation of Attar while Harshacharita highlights the use of Agarwood.
The process of making Attar in ancient India required the expertise of the traditional makers. Sacred plants and precious flowers were placed into vegetable oil or water. The plants and flowers would slowly infuse the oil or water with their delicate fragrance. Afterwards, they would be eliminated leaving the Attar with a symphony of their aromatic beauty. People would then use the by-product as perfumes. Egyptians have been famous throughout the ancient world for their unique perfumes.
They used to extract the fragrances from plants and would obtain essential oil through splinters of fragrant wood in oil or the flowers. They were later combined with other oils which had a wide variety of choices. The most popular were linseed, safflower, balanos, moringa, sesame and castor oil. Almond and Olive were also used to some extent. The most famous Egyptian fragrances consisted of resin, balanos oil, and myrrh. It was formulated in the city of Mendes in the Delta before it could be exported to Rome. The perfume that had the first preference was that which was obtained from the island of Cyprus and later from Egypt.
Throughout the ages, cedars of Lebanon have been popular and was used by Nabi Sulaeyman during the construction of al Haykal as Suleymani. In the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus, cedar oil was used in coating papyrus manuscripts and would protect them from insects. Nowadays, cedar is used to keep moths away by being sprayed in wardrobes. Kannauj, a city in India takes pride as the major producers of Attar.
During the winters, the Sadhus would use particular jungle-herbs and roots to cast bonfires. Even after the Sadhus had left the place, the shepherd who herded cattle in that area would find a lasting fragrance in the burnt wood. After a few inventive individuals found this information, they decided to carry out a thorough search for the fragrant herbs and roots. This led to a few experiments on Attar and the first Attars used Hina and Rose as the primary ingredients.
Various ways of using Attar
There is a significant difference between Attar and synthetic perfumes. Attar is oil-based and one can apply it directly on the body. A few parts of anatomy where Attar can be applied directly are behind the ears, the inside of the wrist, and back of the neck. It has a strong scent and a single drop is enough to provide fragrance to the body.
There are different ways on how you can use Attar. A few drops of attar can be used with cold drinks to give fragrance. It can also be added to water and then used with an aromatic steam lamp. There are numerous brands of Attar that can be used all year round. Some of the popular perfumes in winters are the warm notes of the Hina that is prepared from Saffron and Musk. Other warm Attar that increases body temperature in winters includes Amber, Musk, Oud, and Saffron.
Attars that are used in summer include Jasmine, Rose, Khus, Mogra, and Kewda. They are cool attars that provide a cooling effect to the body and also makes an addition to the flavorful notes of summer. One of the ideal perfumes that can be used any time of the year is Chameli. The alcoholic perfumes and compound are known to leave an ill-effect on the nervous system. However, pure Attar cannot cause harm to your nerves.
It goes with no single doubt that natural perfumes tend to be the most expensive. This primary reason is that they are so concentrated and a small bottle can last for several weeks or months before you can make a replacement. The good thing with these perfumes is that they don't have any side effects on an individual. Offering Attar to guests at the time of departure is known to be a customary practice of the elites especially among Muslims in the Eastern world. They were traditionally given in pure silver made of Attar-Daan or in crystal bottles. It is a lovely tradition that is still seen in most parts of the Eastern world in the recent times.
Using Attar as medicines
Attar has always been used from the early days as a primary ingredient in formulating different medicines. True Attar can only be found when oil is extracted by traditional Degs Steam Distillation or by cold rolling. According to the historical records, there is a particular floral group that was used in manufacturing Attar. It comprised of Molesari, Champa, Rose, Bela, Myrrh, Tuberose, Khus, Anbar, and Jasmine.
Their oriental fragrance is so magnificent that it takes the user to the world of delight and fulfillment. The overall oriental feel not only lasts longer but also has a mesmerizing effect. It leaves a pleasant effect with its diffusive nature. Besides being used as a fragrance, there are some floral groups that provide medicinal uses as well. This includes Oud, Sandalwood, Anbar, Musk, Rose, Jasmine, Hina, Kewda, and Saffron.
Saffron (Crocus sativa Stigma)
It is also known as Zaf'an Attar which comprises of Sandalwood and Zafr'an. Most of the internationally renowned medicines use Saffron as an ingredient as well as in the culinary preparations. It is used in easing stomach pain, regulating menstrual disorders, prolonging vitality, and used in weakness for rejuvenation. It provides a calming effect on infants during teething fits.
The use of Sandalwood dates back to the ancient caravans from India to Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The Egyptians used it in embalming and most temples were built from Sandalwood. It is a relaxing oil that can be used during tension, nervous exhaustion or depression. It has a calming effect during meditation and can cure a dry cough if applied on the chest.
Rose/Gulab/wurd (Rosa damascene flower)
There is an endearing correlation between lovely Rose and the Saints in Muslim traditions. During the middle ages and renaissance, Al-Shaikh Ar-Raees, an Arab physician is famous for coming up with Rosewater. The Rose Attar is known to work directly on the heart and it was esteemed as a remedy for various ailments. Al-Shaikh Ar-Raees also cultivated a refined quality of Attar of roses that were used in controlling health disorders.
Anbar/Ambergris (Pinus Succinifera)
Anbar is an excretion from the whale that is found floating in the oceans. It is formed in the intestines of a whale and is a pathological secretion of the widespread sperm whale. It has a nauseating odor and soft consistency with a dark color. Anbar has been used for fine perfumes as a fixative and for medicinal purposes as an aphrodisiac. Ambergris is also used as herbal and homeopathic remedies.
It has the best aroma, known as ‘the king of all perfumes'. It is produced by "Moschus moschiferus", a rare species of the male deer. Musk and its Attar has numerous medicinal values. It works as an antidote for some poisons and can help against snake bite. It also helps in controlling dizziness, regulating heart applications, and re-balancing of the internal health disorder.
Oud/Agar/ Aloes-wood (Aquilaria agallocha)
The Indian Oud is available in two distinctive types; Al Qust, used for medicinal purposes and Aluwwah, used as perfume. When burnt, the smoke from Oud is known to purify air and strengthen the stomach once inhaled. You can also sharpen your senses and relieve enuresis since the fragrance of Oud helps the mind. It can be used to calm the heart and ease body pains.
How Attar is evaluated
It is essential to make a wide decision when determining the best Attar and other oils. The three significant measures include quality and purity, depth and elegance, and safety in application and use. The natural essences of Attar are not only precious but also rare and expensive. They can also be absorbed quickly by the skin. A good perfume is always prepared with some quantity of naturals. It is also possible to obtain very good perfumes without using synthetics such as alcohol, chemical additives, and other preservatives. Some of the superior products in the world of perfumery that are referred to as ‘noble' include Sandalwood, Rose, and Jasmine.