Attar is believed to ward off evil spirits and summon angels, making its significance next to holy in Lucknow.
The Awadh of yore, the City of Nawabs, Lucknow has gracefully managed to keep alive the token of its rich culture and heritage, through the trials of time, westernisation and contemporary growth. It is, to date, a buzzing centre of cuisine, craft and courtesy, with just the right balance of homely warmth and imperial sophistication.
And this concoction is not the only fragrance that fumes the city- it has a well-designated perfumery legacy for that department, folks! Yes, we are talking about the age-old practice of crafting scents that are popularly known as attar or ittar.
The golden past of Attar
India has been recognised as the prime producer of natural fragrances and holding the leading flag here were the Mughal emperors, who last found home in Lucknow. The city, by this virtue, has been the most avid propagator of attar scents, which are basically oil-based perfumes. A symbol of aristocracy, earlier the flourish of attar was limited to the harams of Mughal Kings like Jahangir and the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. However, today the perfume is available for all, as a token of legacy that blends in the hallmark of great craftsmanship.
The earliest mentions of attar have been traced to Akbar the Great, in the chronicles of the court historian Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak. Mubarak has penned how Akbar had a whole unit dedicated to perfumery, so that he and his successive generations could exalt in the scented whiffs while in the hot terrain of the country. Another story suggests the Empress Noor Jahan, the wife of Mughal ruler Jahangir, was a connoisseur of itra and used to bathe in water perfumed with rose petals. This theory has divided believers as some historians strongly credit the Queen's mother, Asmat Begum, as the one who perfected this perfumery skill in Persia.
As far as Lucknow's connection to this perfumery is concerned, it is believed that Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh was a kathak dancer, who sweated a lot during his dance practice. As such, he would wear the henna attar and thus, the popularity of this perfume variant and related skills grew by leaps and bounds.
Another story says that Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar Shah had fountains of attar around his bedroom. Historians say that he arranged for this extravagance to ensure a pleasant and romantically fragrant atmosphere around him at all times.
Attar in the contemporary world
Even today, there are several shops that create a whole range of new and old blends of attar in Lucknow. From flowery to musky and even spicy tones of the perfume can be found in small glass bottles, that lock in a tradition of imperialism and a pleasant fragrance. By faith, it is believed to summon angels and ward off evil, making its significance next to holy in Lucknow.