Legend has it that Mughal emperor Akbar had 100 bottles of 'itr'.
Jasmine, rose, kewda or mogra...the many splendoured potion of the
past, once edged out by international perfume brands, is
unleashing its heady scents in India once again.
Tagged as the purest non-alcoholic natural fragrance, itr is made
with flowers and takes five to seven years to reach maturity.
Packed into tiny colourful glass bottles, itr like wine gets
better with time, says its growing tribe of aficionados.
"I used to wear high-end perfumes till I visited a friend's place.
The moment I entered her room, the air was redolent with exotic
traditional natural perfume, which she had bought from Lucknow. I
was so fascinated by the smell that I started using itr,
especially the herbal fragrance," Bangalore-based model Dipannita
Sharma told IANS.
Deep Gupta, whose family has been in the business of making itr
for the last 30 years, participated in The Itra & Sugandhi Mela
organised by Delhi Tourism at Dilli Haat in the capital. He says
the first-of-its-kind fair attracted buyers from both India and
Aaruti Kongo from West Bengal said the fair provided an ideal
platform to take the business forward.
"Business-wise those three days were excellent. We sold itr worth
Rs.4,000 per day and the profit was of 40 to 50 percent. People
were curious to know about the making process and after-effects
and we were there to guide them. There were about 40 stalls with
opportunities for both trade and retail business," she said.
The most sought-after itrs were the Avadhi Scent Of Romance, the
Fragrance of Lucknawi Petals and Part of the Mughlai Perfume. One
has to shell out Rs.450 for 10 grams packed in exotic bottles.
"We say wines taste good when they get older, the same holds true
for itr. As they grow older, they go thicker, darker and develop
more pleasant aroma. These natural fragrances present the original
qualities of the plant. They have no side effects," said Gupta.
Until the 1960s, its making was restricted to a few family-run
perfumeries. But with the government promoting it, many
distilleries took the plunge.
"It is said that during ancient times, a princess' toiletry would
be incomplete without itr. It was also a customary practice among
the royals to offer itr to their guests while saying goodbye.
Mirza Ghalib and Mughal emperor Akbar used to have 100 bottles of
itr," the 85-year-old Naquib Husain from Lucknow told IANS.
Queen Noor Jehan too was known to use it.
The itr-making process requires deep concentration and hard work
and if not followed properly, it can have harmful effects.
There are different methods for making varieties like the Avadhi
Scent Of Romance, Mushke Amber, gulab and kevda, jasmine, khuskhus,
"For a simple itr, we put 50 percent charcoal and 30 percent babul
powder with jigat (wood bark glue), which helps in sticking things.
We mix all three and keep it in a steel utensil. Then we heat it
up on slow fire so that the mixing becomes easy," said Prem Saxena,
The containers are equally important, he added. "Half of the
beauty of the itr depends on its container known as the itradaans.
They are preserved in air tight bottles."
In the capital it's available in Chandni Chowk, Dilli Haat and
Palika Market. Villages near Aligarh and Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh
also sell them.
Khayan Tiwari from Bihar says itr is good for sensitive skin. "One
drop on cottonwool can last a couple of months if kept in a purse
or bag and itras are very good for sensitive skin. One can also
apply them to idols or deities," he said.
Tiwari agrees that the influx of international perfume brands
affected the itr market.
"That's true, but no brand can match the essence of itr. There are
many brands that ask us to make fragrances for them. And sometimes
these itrs go by different brand names," said Tiwari.
But some say working with brands is not a profitable venture.
"The money we get after making these bottles is very little, so we
participate in events where the government supports us. These big
brands give us Rs.60 to Rs.70 on daily wages and keep the profit
with themselves," he said.
Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)