For more than 400 years, Kannauj, a city in India has been known to produce perfumes from flowers. Just 20 years ago, the city was buzzing with 700 distilleries that produced high-quality perfume. Today, remnants of the industry remain scattered in Kannauj with the Chewing Tobacco industry as its primary clients. Exactly how did 700 distilleries now dwindle to more or less 100?

The industry's decline

Not long ago, distilleries found in Kannauj, India flourished from the sheer popularity of the Attar. Attars are perfumes made by distilling flowers such as rose, jasmine, and henna.

The industry used copper pots called Dhegs to heat the handpicked flowers to a specific temperature. The steam releases the essential oils of the flowers which flow down a receiving pot. The oils that were collected from steam distillation were mixed with sandalwood oil in the previous years. However, deforestation of sandalwood prompted the government to ban logging. This made sandalwood practically too expensive to use in Attars.

With the use of sandalwood out of the question, distilleries turned to a paraffin base as an alternative. However, for those who knew and loved the original Attar, the difference in the scent is distinct. Aside from the change of ingredients, it is the change of times that led to the demise of Attars.

According to Vev Bhav Pathak, manager of the Muna Lal and Sons distillery, "Attars are not cost-effective products. They are expensive to make and few people understand this. Even fewer appreciate their value.”

The cultural value of Attars

In the Middle East, Attars are highly valued for how it was used by their ancestors. Attars are said to be fragrant, natural, and not overpowering to the senses.

This made it popular among both men and women. It has a subtle scent that leaves a refreshing feeling. It was often used in important ceremonies, as heirlooms, or as wedding gifts. Another exclusive product from the distilleries of Kannauj was the ruh al gulab or the soul of the rose. At a price of $18,000 for 1 kg, it is a luxury perfume that only a few can afford.

The ruh al gulab is expensive, and most of the clients that buy it are from Kuwait. It is a popular gift for the bride in weddings, and usually, it is passed down from mothers to their daughters. It is a perfume made of nothing but pure and concentrated rose oil. It can be stored for decades and still retain its fragrance and even smell better.

Although some distilleries still thrive within Kannauj, it is unknown when these distilleries will stop operating. As modernization is spreading far and wide, more and more people have forgotten the soul of the rose.