About Attars, Sacred Attars, Pure Essential Attars, Attar Oils ~ The distillation methods and spiritual uses of Sacred Indian Attar Oils and Pure Essential Precious Oils is such a vast and complex topic; to be fluent in this ancient method of distillation and precious perfumery would require a lifetime of study and training. This academic article on the precious Attars Oils used in all of our Spiritual Perfume and Anointing Oils is courtesy of the precious oil masters, Chris & Susan McCann for Erzulie’s Voodoo of New Orleans.
WHAT ARE ATTARS OILS & WHY ARE THEY SO SACRED? Attars are traditional Indian perfumes which are created by hydro-distilling various flowers, roots, herb and spices into pure sandalwood oil. The word, “sandalwood” in English, or “chandan” in Hindi, evokes a world of ancient mystery, sanctity, and devotion making sandalwood is one of the most revered and sacred elements in ancient spiritual traditions. Since sandalwood is central to this type of unique perfume, several distilleries are located in Kannauj, India that specializes in sandalwood production.
Sandalwood in Sacred Tradition
In ancient times the countries perfumers discovered the technique of distilling the flowers into sandalwood to capture the essence of these botanical treasures for those who might not live in the proximity of the living trees, shrubs and vines. These precious perfumes were given the name of attars and the method of their distillation is still maintained amongst a few dedicated artisans who appreciate the art and craft of distillation using copper stills and the amazing fixative qualities of sandalwood the base of all pure attars.
The simple but labor intensive means of capturing the vibrant ethereal aromatic galaxy of molecules concealed within the
flowers via hydro-distilling has in recent years been declining so one of the first works that Ramakant and I took up was to employ a master distiller to prepare small amounts of pure attars for us in the time honored ways. Very few people today are willing to spend a 15-20 days distilling one attar but we felt that this beautiful art and craft should not be lost and in the last three years many people have come to enjoy the subtle and precious essences produced by this technique.
One of the most notable things about this process is that a genuine attar created by distilling aromatic plants into sandalwood, get better and better with the passing years. This is one of the many wonders of the natural fixative value of sandalwood. There is some quality in this precious and rare oil that permits the aromatic molecules of the plants distilled into it to in some way become perfectly mingled with it. The two essences do not seemly coexist but enter into a special bond where both of the oils become the more beautiful for it but of equal if not greater importance is that sandalwood preserves the precious essence for many years to come and the total composition becomes more smooth, round and delicious. The first attars we had distilled 3 years ago are more rich and beautiful than when they first arrived.
The attars then become one way that people living in other countries can connect with the spirit of the land because the odors of plants have such a fine way of carrying our hearts to the places where they are growing. Traveling without feet on the gentle aroma of a pure attar we can come very near to ancient places and the plants and people who dwell there. Aroma is one very incredible way to study the beauty and mystery of the world.
The olfactory characteristics of sandalwood are legendary. The warm, sweet, slightly spicy precious wood notes present a melodic blend which is at once distinct yet not over powering. The non-dominating fixative characteristics of the oil make it the ideal choice for creating attars and a wide range of other perfumes. It has the capacity to absorb the most ethereal notes of other plant materials, enrich and enliven them and give them back in a yet more beautiful form. Many substitutes have been tried for sandalwood but in the end one can only say that “sandalwood is sandalwood” and there is no real substitute for it.
In India the heartwood of sandalwood has divine status. One species, Hari-chandan was said to grow only in the heaven worlds filling the Celestial Empire with its divine fragrance. The terrestrial sandalwood is said to be its representative on earth. It is regularly used in the anointing of sacred idols. The fragrance of the sandalwood is said to be one of the most pleasing to the gods, hence its use in unguents, incense and fragrant oils. A paste is made from the wood for applying to the forehead in a variety of symbolic markings indicating to which religious sect a person belongs. Its cooling and soothing properties when applied in this manner are said to direct a person’s attention towards contemplation of the mystery of life. In the last rites of devote Hindus, the wood is considered a most important ingredient of the funeral pyre. It is thought that the soul is carried back to its eternal abode with the scent of sandalwood. The fragrance of sandalwood and the religious life of India’s people can hardly be separated. References to it appear in countless religious scriptures.
“When smelted again and again gold acquires purer hue, when cut into pieces repeatedly the sugarcane continues to be sweeter, when rubbed repeatedly sandal continues to diffuse its fragrance. The virtuous ones acquire no imperfection in their nature even in the face of adversities.”-Sanskrit Shloka
The connection between fragrant plants and spirituality as practiced in India is profound. Sandalwood holds the per-eminent place amongst them. It was the material of transformation and elevation. The alchemical property of the oil was to capture the pure essence of the flower, allowing its ethereal essence to spread in the environment in which it was kept for many hours. It is no mistake that it is the heart and soul of all attars. Perfumery was once practiced as a divine art and craft and each and every material used had some special meaning and significance connected with the spiritual lives of the people. Unfortunately, with the passage of time this subtle language has been forgotten and only the commercial aspect of perfume production remains. Still, it is possible, with patient effort to learn to decipher this language once again. If the inner meaning of the old arts and crafts can be revived it will not only enrich the lives of the people engaged in them, but will also benefit the people using the creations produced with this heightened awareness.
In the ancient way, all parts of life were interconnected. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions of a persons being were viewed as one complete unit. People possessing inner knowledge of the perfume sciences used attars to treat disease in their patients according to the level it was manifesting on. The physical application of the oil could initiate a process of re-balancing that would positively affect the more subtle dimensions of a person’s life. It could, in essence, work from the outer to the inner. Similarly the fragrance itself could stimulate beneficial changes in the mind so that the process of inner healing would be stimulated simultaneously. In this case the process of transformation would originate from within and move towards the physical existence of the person. Attars were highly esteemed because they were one of the only therapeutic agents which could act simultaneously on every level of a person’s existence.
India is a country with vast botanical resources that have been used since ancient times to enhance the lives of her people in multifarious ways. Aromatic plants, in particular have revered place in the hearts of India’s people as the sublime beauty of the fragrances contained in them symbolize the mystery of life that cannot be seen with the eye yet pervades the entire creation.
Incense, cosmetics, medicines, perfumes, mouth refreshers, unguents and many other products have evolved over the centuries that have been used to enhance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of the people.
“Attars and other precious pure essential oils possess the very essence, soul and life force (ache) of these sacred plants, flowers, woods, spices, roots and herbs, connecting you to the divine energies of the universe.” Anna, Founder, Owner and Perfumer of Erzulie’s Voodoo in New Orleans
MORE ABOUT THE SPECIFIC ATTARS AVAILABLE AT ERZULIE’S
Since Erzulie’s offers the finest selection of Sacred Attar Oils in the Western Hemisphere, we wanted to provide additional information on several of the specific Attar oils used in our formulary including Gulab Attar, Gulhina Attar, Saffron Attar, Bakul Attar and Sona Champaka (Champa) Attar!
MORE ABOUT GULAB ATTAR
Information Courtesy of Chris & Susan
The Rose, the Divine Flower of Love! India is a land redolent with aromatic plants. In each nook and corner of the country one finds various herbs, spices, woods, flowers, roots and grasses being grown for aromatic or medicinal purposes. Many of the plants that have a longer history in India also factor strongly into the cultural and religious lives of the country people. It is certain that this deep inner connection with the plants plays an important role in the emotional and spiritual well-being of the people and this in turn benefits their physical health. One of the flowers that has a relatively long history in the countries rich aromatic traditions is the Rose.
The rose or Gulab Attar of North India is mainly distilled from Rosa Damascena. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are the main areas where the Rosa Damascena is grown for distillation of both attar (bulk of the flowers) and Ruh. Now in the Kangra and Kullu Valleys there are a number of small distillation units set up for preparing the Ruh.
The process is fairly simple (at least in writing); the roses which are mainly harvested in the late April and May are placed in larger copper distilling vessels which are connected to the receiving vessel by a bamboo pipe that is wrapped with a special grass rope for insulation. The flowers sit in water which is heated and then the vapors pass over into the copper receiving vessel via the bamboo pipe. The receiving vessel contains sandalwood oil and the rose essence gets absorbed in the sandalwood over a period of 15-20 days with new flowers being distilled each day. The more in depth explanation of Gulab Attar production can be seen on the Fragrant Harvest Web Site.
Up until recently the majority of rose production has been for the production of attars (traditional Indian perfumes produced by the hydro-distillation of the flowers into sandalwood), garlands, and preparation of Gulkand (a special jam which is renowned for its cooling and digestive qualities) Small amounts of Ruh or Pure Essence of Rose have been prepared each year for many centuries but it has been a very rare item until quite recently.
Due to the fact that India uses a lot of rose essence in their indigenous fragrance industry there has been a concerted effort to produce it on a larger scale. It is being heavily promoted by government research institutions like Institute of Himalayan Bio-resource Technology which, I have visited a couple of times. They are engaged in both the cultivation of the plants and developing better and affordable distilling technology for production of the oil.
This beautiful Gulab Attar made with Rosa Damascena has graced our path with its simple and elegant flower, its beautifully, rich, fragrant and intoxicating aroma and often used as an aphrodisiac in ancient perfume aromatics and anointing oils.
MORE ABOUT GULHINA (HENNA) ATTAR
Gulhina – The Flower of Paradise and India’s Sacred Henna flower. In the past few years the ancient Indian and Middle Eastern tradition of
applying the vibrant red paste created from henna or Hina leaves (Lawsonia inermis) to the hair, hands and feet has spread into the western world. People have fallen in love with this custom of drawing elaborate patterns on the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet. Far more than a simple or elaborate means of decorating the
body, the henna leaves are said to contain medicinal compounds which are good for allaying various skin problems.
In the Garden of Life by Naveen Patnaik it is written: “Medically, henna is considered an anti irritant, a deodorant, and an antiseptic. It is used by Ayurvedic physicians for skin irritations such as heat rashes and skin allergies and to cool the body during the intense heat of summer. Because of this cooling property, henna leaves and flowers and made into lotions and ointments to be used externally for boils, bruises, and skin inflammations, including sores from leprosy.”
There is a growing body of knowledge on henna paste, its aesthetic and practical applications
but up to this point little has been discussed on the perfume of the flowers and its current use in making the traditional attar, known as Gulhina.
The odor of the attar, if it is indeed pure, is a balanced combination of tea-like aroma of the leaves and the soft sweetness of the flowers. In the living flower the predominating first note is a bit lighter and sweeter but in the attar the two aromas coexistent in a balanced form. I think that it is virtually impossible to capture many of the most ethereal notes of any living flower as the whole life force of the plant is directly connected to the earth at that time. A well distilled oil can approach this domain but never completely capture it.(at least in my opinion) Perhaps there is the ambiance of the environment itself which helps create a mood which cannot exactly be replicated when one leaves that place.
When one is standing in the presence of a plant in its natural environment, all of the five senses are gathering in the impressions of that place and it penetrates very deeply into the heart. In saying this I am not downplaying the importance of the ethereal essences to be distilled from these gems of the botanical world. There can be no doubt that the distilled oil of that plant can bring a world we have visited back into focus. It is one of the most powerful means of doing so. And the same oil can produce very positive effects on a person who has never encountered that plant in its own habitat. One of the great gifts of aromatic botanical treasures is their oil.
There are many, many people who cannot leave their work to explore the world in which they (the plants) live. So in the grand dispensation of nature arrangements have been made to transport those precious essences from the world in which the plants live and breathe into cities and towns where people can inhale them and at least for a brief period of time be transported into a world of great beauty and sublimity. Precious essences like Henna play an important part in keeping our sense of wonder and innocence alive. They are in their own silent way, agents of transformation.
MORE ABOUT SAFFRON (ZAFFRON) ATTAR
The vermillion (bright, rich, gold) color of saffron forms a prominent part of India culture as at least traditionally has been used to make special “tilak” marks on the forehead which have a rich symbolism of their own. And of course the delectable dishes of India often incorporate this wonderful and costly spice into their making. A few precious threads of Saffron can transform a nicely spiced dish into one of fine sublimity. One particular encounters it in special sweet dishes to which it imparts both color and fragrance.
Mysore State, which is now known as Karnatika, saffron played an important role in the making of special incense for the royalty of that area. In the mid 1800’s a new industry arose in the cities of Mysore and Bangalore where special blends of spices, herbs, roots, woods, etc were ground, made into a paste and rolled onto thin bamboo sticks for the enjoyment of the wealthier classes of Indian society. Prior to that time incense was not made in that way. It was generally a combination of raw aromatic ingredients ground and mixed together and then burned on hot charcoals. This was in fact the method employed for thousands of years in the great religious traditions of the East. Stick incense was a new and innovative idea that came to the mind of a member of a Muslim family of high standing and he and his heirs evolved this into a high art and craft which was recognized by the Kings and Queens of Mysore.
There position of the incense makers was so high and special both within their community and the society at large that they had immense respect and appreciation where ever they traveled. I have even seen old pictures of special ceremonies in the courts of the Mysore Palace where the most gifted incense blenders presented their treasures to the Kings and Queens.
Amongst the many special formulas that came into existence at the time was the Kesar Chandan or Saffron/Sandalwood one. The odor of this incense somehow captures and elegance, beauty and romance of the royalty of that wonderful state. Those who have visited the city of Mysore and visited the beautiful palace can well imagine the spell this fragrance casts upon the mind. From the far regions of Kashmir came the precious saffron spice and it was mixed with the finest aromatic gift of Mysore, pure sandalwood powder and oil. The combination of these precious ingredients is rich and wonderful containing the precious woods notes of the sacred tree with the sweet, spicy pungent notes of saffron. A wonderful and sacred aroma!
In recent years few perfumers have maintained the tradition of making this special incense because it is so costly. But I felt that every effort should be made to keep this most precious aroma with us and commissioned one of India’s finest incense makers to make the incense in the old way with strict instructions to use the finest sandalwood oil and heartwood and the best saffron. That incense has now come into being as the Vale of Kashmir.
This fragrance of Saffron was, of course prized long before this incense was created in South India. When Saffron was introduced into cultivation in Kashmir is hard to say but it is certain that it is a centuries old industry. The rich aroma of this spice was loved dearly by the people in the north as well and it was not long till the perfumers of Kannauj, the Grasse of the East became involved with making special attars from saffron. Even today this regal attar is made on a very limited scale and this has recently been introduced into the line of traditional attars offered by Suzanne and I. It is truly a lovely creation of the traditional perfumers’ art and craft. It is a lovely site to see the rich color of the saffron as moisture is added to it and it is kneaded into moist dough. This dough is place in a special cotton cloth sack and suspended just above where the warm steam passes from the distilling vessel into the bamboo pipe which carries it down into the sandalwood oil where the aroma is captured and fixed.
SPIRITUAL USES OF SAFFRON
When Buddha gave up his mortal body, he was covered with a special robe dyed in saffron. Ever since then, Buddhist monks have adopted saffron as the color that can help them achieve their goal of ‘moksha’ or deliverance.
Saffron is omnipresent in all the religions that have branched out from Hinduism. You see saffron in the garb of monks living on alms. It is the color of the religious standard that flutters over Sikh gurudwaras and Hindu temples. For the Sikhs it represents fight against injustice and for Hindus a religious fundamentalism. Truly blessed is saffron! Truly beloved is saffron of the Hindu gods. Saffron paste is used to anoint virtually all deities of the Hindu pantheon. The worshiper, in a mark of piety, also dots his/her own forehead with a small portion of saffron paste. This ’tilak’ mark or ‘bindu’ is ubiquitous in India. Of course much of the use of this ‘bindu’ is purely ceremony or cosmetic, but in concept, the red mark has its genesis in very profound tantric thought.
The power of saffron; this precious spice brings piety and power to religious practice. Certain practices for the awakening of the kundalini require saffron as one of the essentials in performing the rituals. The color of saffron also plays a major role in the ‘ yantra’, a graphic that symbolically represents aspects of tantric philosophy.
Saffron is also one of Lakshmi’s favorite colors: pure gold, and often is used to invoke her assistance with wealth, prosperity and financial opportunities.
MORE ABOUT BAKUL (GARLAND) ATTAR
Bakul, India’s intoxicating Garland Flower! The lovely evergreen Bakula tree of the Indian subcontinent, with its small shiny, thick, narrow, pointed leaves, straight trunk and spreading branches is a prized ornamental specimen because it provides a dense shade and during the months from March to July fills the night air with the delicious heady aroma of its tiny cream colored flowers. In the morning the ethereal flowers which so graciously scented their surroundings with their deep, rich, honey notes during the evening hours, fall to the ground. People living in their proximity love to collect them as they retain their odor for many days after they fall.
They are offered in temples and shrines throughout the country. Because of their ability to hold their fragrance for many days the flower has a special symbolic meaning when offered to the gods and goddesses. An offering of Bakula flowers signifies the unwavering devotion of the aspirant for the object of their devotion just as the bakul flower maintains its wonderful perfume long after it has fallen from the tree. The flowers have also inspired a popular saying, “true friendship lasts like the scent of maulsari (bakul).”
They are equally prized for making into tiny garlands which can be woven into the hair emitting a perfume that is a delight to the wearer and to those who come in their company.
Not much is known of the flower and its fragrance outside of India but Stephen Arctander an acknowledged master of odor description sung its praises in his classic work, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. “The essential oil of Mimusops Elengi (Bakul) is a pale yellow, mobile liquid of very delicate, sweet and extremely tenacious floral odor, somewhat reminiscent of orange flower and tuberose, or the more well known stephanotisits floribunda (gardenia undertone). A honey-like, heavy-sweet undertone is quite persistent, and this essential oil could, if it were made regularly available, certainly find uses as a modifier of countless floral fragrances.”
There can be no doubt that the fragrance of the flower itself is healing in that every lovely essence tends to make us aware of the finer things of life. In a moment they take us from the mundane into the sublime and help us orient ourselves to creative aspirations. Almost every human being is positively affected by truly natural fragrances. But if we need to determine specific uses for the flower and its volatile constituents we need to turn to the traditional indigenous medical literature concerning the flower and its uses and then see if modern science has done anything to reinforce these sacred uses.
A surprising amount of research has been done already and with the current interest in holistic medicine it is possible much more will be done. It may be that many extraordinary discoveries remain to be uncovered regarding the healing virtues of flowers and their fragrance resulting from a coupling of modern science with ancient medicine.
MORE ABOUT CHAMPAKA (CHAMPA) ATTAR
Sona Champa, the sacred Flower of India and revered as the Flower of Paradise! Several years ago, while studying about the exotic flowers of the East I came across a reference to one called golden Champa. The name itself had a strong appeal for me and I became interested in uncovering whatever information I could on the plant. Further, research revealed that the delicate flower possessed a rich, ethereal odor that was much prized by the people of India. The tree upon which it grew had glossy green leaves and towered to height of 100 feet in a pyramidical shape. When the tree was in bloom, covered with thousands of golden fragrant blossoms, it was said to be a sight of rare and exquisite beauty.
Legendary ethnobotany resources have this to say about the tree, “One of the world’s most fragrant flowers.” Buddhist History holds that the Buddha was born under the blooms of this fragrant flower, as his mother Maya gave birth. Used in incense production, and is one of the most valued. Also used in perfumery and in medicine.
The flower has a number of other cosmetic, medicinal and economic uses. Hair oils are prepared using a special technique of layering the fresh flowers between husked sesame seeds and allowing the fragrance to become absorbed into them over the course of a day. The flowers are then changed and new ones placed and this process continues for a number of days until the seeds have been properly charged with the fragrance of the flowers. Then the seeds are cold pressed and the resulting oil is used for perfuming the hair. The flowers are also used for producing a yellow dye for dyeing textiles. An infusion or decoction of flowers is recommended in cases of dyspepsia, nausea and fevers; and these liquid elixirs have also been found useful in treating gonorrhea and renal diseases; flowers beaten up or macerated in sweet oil form excellent external applications for diseases of the head, eyes and nose. This oil has also been found useful in treating sub-acute rheumatism, vertigo, and gout and is valued in relieving common headache.
Young leaves of the tree are crushed in water to make a cooling antiseptic lotion used as eye-drops. The juice of the leaves is used for treating colic. Various medicinal preparations are derived from the bark of the tree. It is considered efficacious as a stimulant, antispasmodic, and febrifuge. In the form of a powder and also as a decoction the bark is useful in intermittent fevers and in mild cases of gastritis. The bark has slightly aromatic qualities and is used as an adulterant for cinnamon. It adds flavor to betel nut which is chewed for its digestive and stimulant properties. The dried root and root bark are used as purgatives and to promote menstrual flow. Seed and fruit of the tree also have various uses. In some areas the fruits are eaten. Fruit and seed are both used in a preparation for healing the cracks on the feet. An oil is extracted from the seeds which when rubbed on the abdomen is useful in relieving flatulence. The seeds are ingested for removing intestinal worms. These are but a few of the beneficial properties ascribed to the Michelia Champaca tree.
Champaka occurs both in Tamil and Sanskrit literatures mostly in the connection with the beautiful golden color of its flowers. Its strong fragrance attracts bees. This image certainly has at least in the Tamil poetry clear erotic connotations. The hypothesis that Champaka is used for ending love-messages still needs more detailed investigation, but ancient spiritualists certainly exalt it’s love drawing properties. Faded flowers of Champaka occur in the Tamil poetry in the images of devastation, destruction or danger and many believe it removes unforeseen problems and obstacles spiritually.
When one holds a lovely Champa flower in their hand they can easily understand what a powerful bridge of communication this is between the seen and unseen world. The perfect form, color and fragrance of the flower so beautifully expresses the high aspirations that are concealed within the human heart. The delicate flower with its fine shape and color are like the human body in which the spirit dwells. When the first gentle rays of the sun alight upon the delicate blossom it gives up its perfume so that the environment in which it dwells is bathed with its delectable fragrance. In the same way when the sun of spirituality awakens in a persons heart the good qualities flow out as a natural blessing upon the world in which they live.
In the Indian mind, this world of metaphor, symbolism, and simile is vibrantly alive as a living power and that is why these ancient aromatic traditions have so much meaning. I felt very grateful that Mr. Samuel had introduced me to that place where I could once again imbibe a little of the precious gift of spirituality which has been part of India’s heritage for many millennia.
As the owner of Erzulie’s, I wanted to share the source of my pure essential precious oils, sacred attar oils and alchemical knowledge, which is largely due to our master distillers Chris and Susan, to whom I am eternally grateful for their devotion and mastery of producing the finest Indian Attars and most precious oils available, his incredible patience in educating and correcting me, and generosity for sharing his superb knowledge with the world.
And, my sister Aimee, master alchemist and ancient Egyptian expert at Erzulie’s, for her incomparable standards of crafting exquisite perfume aromatic anointing oils, her tireless efforts in perfecting the ancient spiritual formulary at Erzulie’s and her devotion to studying, mastering and educating everyone on the ancient art of perfumery!
I personally take a bow to these irreplaceable and unparalleled resources we are so fortunate to have within the Erzulie’s family.
Given these incredible influences that have shaped, evolved and enhanced Erzulie’s, I felt compelled to share their vast wisdom by selecting some of their material to help educate our clients around the world on the exquisite Attars and precious oils we offer you and use exclusively in every magical product at Erzulie’s.
We sincerely hope these brief overviews of our selected Sacred Attars was beneficial to those who are interested in connecting to the spiritual world through the use of pure essential oils, rare and precious oils and ancient aromatic perfume oils. As you know, Erzulie’s strives to provide you the finest, most precious spiritual anointing oils, sacred perfume oils and handcrafted spiritual wares from many ancient traditions and strongly feel education and accurate resources are another way to serve our customers worldwide.