Odor that: The rise of India’s ittar business | Enterprise and Economic system


Kannauj, India — Gopal Kumar pulled aside the bulb of a flower and pointed to the place the roots of the petals had turned a bit of black inside. That is when the marigolds odor the very best and are prepared for choosing, he mentioned. He picked a pink rose subsequent and sniffed. “You may solely discover this odor in Kannauj,” he mentioned.

Kumar has been rising flowers exterior Kannauj – a sleepy city nestled on the fertile plains of the Ganges in northern India – for 50 years. His flowers are used within the making of ittars, pure perfumes produced by distilling flowers, herbs, crops or spices over a base oil, which takes on the scent of the uncooked materials.

As soon as a complicated kingdom in northern India, Kannauj is famed for its manufacturing of ittars utilizing an historic technique known as deg-bhakpa. It is a gradual, laborious strategy of hydrodistillation devoid of all trendy tools that has survived in a whole bunch of small-scale distilleries throughout Kannauj and in surrounding cities.

Regardless of an extended heritage of perfume and scent, financial liberalisation of the late Nineteen Eighties led to a interval of decline in India’s ittar business as low-cost, alcohol-based perfumes have been launched from the West. Till the Nineteen Nineties, there have been 700 distilleries in Kannauj, however their numbers dropped to 150 to 200 by the mid-2000s. Attempting to compete on value, some producers began utilizing alcohol as the bottom quite than costlier sandalwood oil, degrading the standard and purity of the merchandise.

Publish-liberalisation, quite than promoting on to customers, the overwhelming majority of ittars and important oils produced in India have been exported to different companies – both as an enter into perfumery and beauty industries within the West or to the tobacco business. Rosewater is an ingredient in chewing tobacco.

However prior to now few years, a number of younger, predominantly feminine Indian entrepreneurs have noticed a niche available in the market between these indigenous artisanal expertise and India’s thriving client tradition, and a brand new set of homegrown manufacturers has emerged.

A brand new wave of perfume

Boond Fragrances is one such firm, established in Could 2021 throughout the pandemic by a sister and brother, Krati and Varun Tandon, to assist protect and lift consciousness of the perfume-making traditions of Kannuaj and to help native artisans.

“Our father was a fragrance dealer and at-home perfumer,” Krati Tandon defined at her household residence in Kannuaj. ”We grew up round perfumers and perfumeries in Kannauj, and you actually take up what’s taking place. However we additionally noticed through the years how some perfumeries began shutting down, and a few are anxious about their futures.”

The duo wished to make ittars accessible. “The thought was actually for us to convey it to clients – individuals like us who, if we knew one thing like this existed, would recognize it,” Krati mentioned.

Divrina Dhingra, creator of The Fragrance Venture: Journeys By means of Indian Perfume, agrees. “Ittars have a advertising and marketing drawback really. In some ways they’re caught prior to now,” she mentioned. “However it is usually an consciousness drawback. I don’t know if many individuals know this business nonetheless exists, the best way by which it exists, what it does, what is definitely obtainable.”

Gopal Kumar Kannauj
Gopal Kumar grows flowers in Kannauj which might be used to make ittars [Eileen McDougall/Al Jazeera]

The preliminary response to Boond, Krati mentioned, has been overwhelming with greater than 10,000 orders dispatched within the 12 months as much as October, a sizeable quantity for the younger enterprise.

Gross sales rise in winter, the Indian marriage ceremony season and the time when Christmas orders come from overseas. The corporate mentioned it expects gross sales to double within the subsequent two years however declined to share its income numbers.

“Just lately, individuals have once more began realising what artificial fragrance is and what actual fragrance is,” Krati mentioned. “Notably post-COVID, there was a metamorphosis again in direction of the true factor.”

As per market analysis agency Technavio, the Indian perfumery business will enhance by about 15 p.c compounded yearly for the following 5 years. Whereas market tendencies are presently dominated by commerce between companies, the variety of Indian corporations promoting their very own fragrances on to customers is growing.

Indian magnificence author Aparna Gupta mentioned there’s been “a discernible shift, a renaissance if you’ll, within the home market’s perspective in direction of these conventional fragrances”, that are predominantly marketed on Instagram, and demand for them has gained “appreciable momentum”.

She credited manufacturers like Boond which might be concentrating on conventional, time-tested ittar scents for enjoying “a pivotal position” on this resurgence. “They don’t seem to be simply promoting ittars; they’re reintroducing a forgotten artwork type to a era that’s desirous to reconnect with its heritage,” she mentioned.

Then there are different new manufacturers like Kastoor and Naso Profumi which might be concentrating on “youthful customers by mixing conventional components with trendy nuances” – as an illustration, Kastoor’s Mahal with its distinctive mix of patchouli and lotus, Gupta mentioned.

A practice of scent

Distillery Assam Trading and Fragrances Kannauj
The flowers used used to make ittar are put in water and sealed inside a big copper vat known as a deg [Eileen McDougall/Al Jazeera]

It’s unclear precisely how lengthy ittars and important oils – made when vapours of substances are extracted however no base oil is used – have been produced by way of hydrodistillation in India. Nevertheless, just lately distillation stills excavated from the cities of the Indus Valley point out a tradition of scent in some type relationship again to about 3,000 BC.

Round Kannuaj, many locals attribute the invention of ittars to the Mughal queen Nur Jahan, who lived within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries CE. Nevertheless, Sanskrit texts point out that the world was already a centre of perfume earlier than Mughal instances. Historians imagine the follow was invigorated with new substances and distillation strategies additional developed by the Mughal court docket.

Manufacturing is extremely seasonal, and February in Kannuaj is the season of Damask rose. The warming winter solar was excessive within the sky by the point a motorcycle arrived on the distillery of Prem and Firm, a jute sack tied to its rear. Dinesh, the distiller, instantly weighed, inspected and emptied the dusky pink flowers into water inside a big copper vat known as a deg.

Inside minutes, the rim of the deg has been sealed with a metallic lid and an hermetic layer of water and clay, and a bamboo pipe has been linked from the deg to a second, smaller vessel, the bhakpa, which sits in a concrete sink of water.

Every deg is fastened over a furnace fired with wooden or dung, and the distilled vapours go by way of the pipes, amassing and condensing within the bhakpa. This bhakpa holds the bottom oil, which over time is imbued with the scent of the distilled materials.

Boond Fragrances use native artisans, comparable to Dinesh, to distil each new scents and extra conventional favourites, together with Mitti, the odor of recent rain, and Khus, identified for its cooling notes. Only a dab suffices with 6ml (0.2oz) promoting for $20.

Dinesh fixing bhakpa Kannauj
A bamboo pipe connects the deg to the bhakpa, which sits in a concrete sink of water and holds the bottom oil that will get imbued with the scent [Eileen McDougall/Al Jazeera]

The fashionable ittar

Kastoor’s founder, Esha Tiwari, desires to alter present perceptions. “Ittars are thought-about heavy,” she mentioned. “Within the earlier instances, the ittars have been so distinct. They have been utilized by kings and queens as a mode of announcement. However I don’t wish to drag you to the 14th century. I’ll convey this artwork type to your twenty first century.”

Kastoor was arrange in 2021. Throughout analysis and growth, 30-year-old Tiwari, who has a background in advertising and marketing, ran workshops to facilitate information alternate between ittar artisans and trendy fragrance consultants. The end result was a set of seven “trendy ittars”, by which trusted substances are mixed in new, distinctive proportions with 8ml (0.3oz) promoting for $22 to $36. The goal market is middle-class, city customers searching for a very pure fragrance.

Development has been speedy. Kastoor has one other assortment of ittars within the pipeline, and the variety of artisans it employs has elevated from three initially to 12 to fifteen households throughout Kannauj, Hyderabad and Uttarakhand.

Tiwari discovered the youthful generations of artisanal households have been leaving the business because of lack of prospects. “They didn’t see the demand,” Tiwari mentioned. “That’s the place we got here in. This isn’t a one-time hike we’re giving to their enterprise. It’s a fixed change of their livelihoods.”

In accordance with Tiwari, Kastoor’s turnover is anticipated to rise from $120,000 and enhance by 5 to six instances over the following two to 3 years.

Made in India

weighing. rose Kannauj
The flowers used to make ittars are offered by weight [Eileen McDougall/Al Jazeera]

Along with the home market, these new manufacturers are additionally exporting throughout the globe – to Europe, america, Japan, Australia and the Center East. The absence of alcohol makes ittars non-haram and appropriate for the non secular functions of each Hindus and Muslims.

The rising curiosity in sustainability and natural merchandise worldwide can also be bringing these producers new purchasers.

“Within the magnificence business, there was this complete motion in direction of pure and what’s native, and so in that sense, ittars slot in actually properly,” Dhingra mentioned.

Worldwide perfumer Yosh Han mentioned that globally, there may be an “growing want to decolonise scent” and an “curiosity in POC [people of colour] manufacturers” due to which a few of these new Indian corporations are getting curiosity from overseas.

Again in Kannauj, generations of data and expertise imply the native artisans are completely positioned to take advantage of and modify to those new tendencies whereas selling Indian merchandise.

The title Kastoor comes from the phrase kasturi, which is also called musk, a scent of a deer’s navel. In accordance with folklore, the deer was enchanted by this scent and looked for it, not understanding that it was coming from itself, Tiwari defined.

“So we’ve used it as a metaphor,” she smiled. “We’re nonetheless frantically wanting exterior, not realising that we’re the creators of the world’s most magnanimous scents.”


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