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Attar dies a slow death as people become brand conscious
The wonder in a small bottle used as expensive gift earlier is dying a slow death in India. As taste of people shifts to branded deodorants and perfumes, attar struggles to stay alive.

ESSENTIALLY FARMERS in this part of northern India have been plucking petals and harvesting fragrant plants. They supply local distilleries making natural oil based perfumes called attar. Perfumers rely on the best quality ingredients to make their fine fragrances, the town is famous for.

Gopal Krishna Saini, aromatic horticulturist said, “The roses of Kanauj are very popular because soil conditions are just right and the environment and weather conditions here are perfect.” Once picked the petals and leaves undergo a thousand year old steamed distillation process. They are heated with water and copper pots. The scented steam then mixes with oil, which acts as a base for the attar.

It is a painstaking process lasting months and is increasingly rare. The number of traditional distillery in India has plummeted from 700 to 150 over the past decade. Many perfumers have switched to cheaper chemical alternatives to cut production costs. Sunil Kumar Singh, manager at a distillery said, “They cannot compete with the traditional methods. People who have knowledge of the perfume can tell the difference in the quality of the scent. They will never use the new methods no matter how much you invest in modern machines the product will be chemicalised, not natural.”

Today just one in three bottles of perfumes are sold in India as people are increasingly becoming brand conscious and opt for international fragrances. But here in one of Delhi's Muslim quarters home produced fragrances are as popular as ever. Islam forbids the use of alcohol based perfumes and customers are willing to pay from 200 to 250 for a small bottle of their favourite scent.

A customer told AFP, “Attar is something that my grandfather and and my father have been using for a very long time. Its fragrance is very unusual and alluring. Its very evocative and touches the heart and that's why I use it a lot, especially to mark the end of Ramadan. Outside India, the biggest attar market is in Middle East. With sales dwindling, attars are being promoted as a part of aromatherapy.

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