The Indian town that bottles the smell of rain into perfumes

In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a few hours drive from the Taj Mahal, is a town that is known for its flourishing perfume industry. Kannauj has been the centre of perfume – making for centuries, and was famed for perfumes like rose, jasmine . Known as ‘attars’, these perfumes from Kannauj were also used by the Mughal emperors.

Among the most unique attars, made by the legendary perfumers from Kannauj, is the Mitti-Attar also known as itr-e-khaki, which is essentially the smell of rain on earth. ‘Petrichor’, is how we know this intoxicating smell when fresh drops of rain, touch the earth.

The smell of rain, is transformed into a perfume in a slow and painstaking distillation process, called deg bhapka. A large quantity of mud is first baked as cakes in a closed copper vessel to vaporise any residual moisture. Steam is then passed over this by a process called hydro-distillation. The distillation is carried out slowly for around 45 days. The residue from the distillation is collected in sandalwood oil which acts as the base for the perfume.

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Kannauj is today, a hub of a historic perfumery, with most of the town associated with perfumes. Attars from Kannauj have been protected under the Geographical Indication (GI) tag of Kannauj Perfumes under the GI Act 1999 of the Government of India. With over 250 perfumeries scattered around this small north Indian town, Kannauj is the perfume capital of India.

Further Reading- How the perfumes are made