Itr: Ancient Indian Knowledge of Perfumery

Ancient Indians achieved great technical understanding and technological progress in perfumery.

By National Council of Science Museums

National Science Centre, New Delhi

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

The popular word 'Itr' may have its origins in the Persian word 'Itir', which means perfume or scent, but Indian knowledge was no less. Ancient Indian text, Brihatsamhita (500 AD) of Varahamihira, describes thirty seven verses dealing with the term 'gandhayukti', meaning blending of perfumes. 

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

The word sugandhi, meaning well perfumed, is also mentioned in Rig Veda. Expressions involving the term 'gandha' are found in Taitriya Samhita, Maitrayani Samhita, Satapata Brahman and Taitriya Aranyaka.

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

Ancient Indian perfume technologists have prescribed six chemical processes for the production of cosmetic substance namely bhavanam, pacanam or paka, bodhah, vedhah, dhupanam, and vasanam.

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

Itr is made from the essential oils of natural ingredients such as Lavender, Amber, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Gurjum Balsam, Rosewood, Patchouli, Lime etc.

Pouring of Ittar (Perfume) into a Vial (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

Cosmetics and Perfumes are now made from natural materials or artificial materials by extracting the aromatic molecules using different chemical processes, like distillation. The different essences may then be mixed in various proportions to get a particular kind of scent.

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

Cosmetic substances made from alchemical processes were also used in medicine.

Incence Sticks and a Vial of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

Susruta Samhita mentions the use of oil bath, scented oil, anjanam (for eyes), sandal paste, smearing face with scented powder etc. for maintaining proper health.

Vials of Ittar (Perfume) (2019-02)National Council of Science Museums

The city of Kannauj is now on the international map for its unique attars/perfumes. The attars of Kannauj are produced on industrial scale using the traditional process of hydro distillation. 

Diorama of a Traditional PerfumeryNational Council of Science Museums

Some traditional alchemical instruments, used by the Kannauj perfume makers, are on display in the gallery "Our Science and Technology Heritage of India' at the National Science Centre, Delhi.

Credits: Story

This online exhibition is created by National Science Centre, New Delhi, a unit of National Council of Science Museums, India

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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