Hyderabad: Apart from glittering bangles, pearls, biryani and kebabs, what makes Hyderabad stand out is its exotic ittar, also known as attar, the oil-based perfumes prepared with flowers and natural ingredients. The word ‘attar’ comes from the Persian word ‘atr’, which means fragrance.
Stroll around the streets of Charminar, the heart of the old city, and your sense of smell will catch the strong yet refreshing fragrances of attar, which are organic and free of alcohol. Rows of glitzy bottles in varied shades and scents, and hues and shapes adorn the walls of shops.
The traditional fragrances of gulab, oud, chamelee, soorajamukhee, chandan, mehendi and so on filled in petite bottles that can effortlessly fit in one’s palm are timeless. It is usually worn on the neck, wrist, hand and behind the ear. Its long-lasting effect is streets ahead of any other international fragrances.
According to a legend, attar is customarily prepared by placing flower petals and plants in vegetable oil or water. Over a week, the petals and plants infuse the oil/water with their fragrance. Subsequently, they are removed and the fragrance stays in the attar.
The origin of attar in the city dates back to the Nizam era. It was a part of every auspicious ceremony that took place. Jasmine attar was said to have been the favourite of the Nizams. In the long run, the organic scents started flaunting virtually every Hyderabadi’s dressing table. No traditional wedding ceremony in Telangana was complete without welcoming guests by sprinkling this scented water.
Dozens of attar makers served Nizam of Hyderabad. However, today, only a handful of families belonging to the attar-making clan are running the business. The demand is shrinking gradually with scores of fancy perfumes and deodorants setting foot in the market steadily.
Many once-famous attar stalls have put a stop to their traditional line of work considering losses. And, some of the existing makers too started bringing into play the chemical oils which are comparatively low-priced than organic oils, for the survival.
“The preparation of attar is a long process. It takes months and at times, it may take years depending on the fragrance. For most of the attars, the base is sandalwood oil and the prices of raw materials have been going up,” says a perfumer.
Visit these multi-generation shops
Hyderabad: Chunilal Dayal Das Perfumers, one of the oldest attar-selling stores in the city, was established in 1885, the year when then Hyderabad State got its sixth ruler Mir Mahboob Ali Khan and is presently run by the fifth generation of the family.
“Attars have huge demand during Ramzan season. Primarily, people from the Muslim community use them to a large extent. Sales have come down drastically compared to earlier years. Since today’s youngsters are inclined towards fancy deodorants and perfumes, they often overlook the pure traditional attar,” says Anand Sugandhi of the store pointing at some of the antique bottles of attar which were used during Nizam period. The stall has wide varieties of attar fragrances ranging from as cheap as Rs 30 to Rs 30,000 depending on the ingredients used. He believes that transferring attar into a small glass bottle is a technique that everyone can’t possess.
Purandas Ranchoddas & Sons at Patharghatti has been selling attar for more than 100 years now. Apart from the Charminar area, Moazzam Jahi Market houses a slew of attar stalls. Hameed & Co. Perfumers at MJ Market is established in 1946 and currently run by the fourth generation of the family.
Another store Gulnar Co. Perfumers at MJ Market Clock Tower is one of the oldest which sells authentic fragrances at affordable prices. Name your favourite attar fragrance here and seldom it is unobtainable.