Rainy day scent-iments: A treasure house of traditional Indian monsoon fragrances
From India’s seasonal diversity is born a treasure house of traditional scents. Krishnaraj Iyengar sniffs-up the ideal Monsoon scent.
An Urdu passage from an old classical ‘Khayaal’ in the monsoon Raga Gaud Malhar was my perfect formula for the ideal monsoon revelry, “Mey bhi ho mina bhi ho, aur mausam e barsaat ho. Uska kya kehna yaaron, jiska dilbar saath ho.” ( If there be goblet and wine on a rainyday, how enviable is he whose beloved also be present)! As a teetotaler, I would translate ‘mey’ ( wine) as fragrance, my ultimate‘aha’, letting my nose lead me through the discovery of the ideal
200 MONSOONS OLD
“We have been around for more than 200 monsoons!” chuckled Mukul Gundhi, the jovial seventh generation nose of old Delhi’s legendary Gulab Singh Johrimal house of fragrance established in
1816. Meticulously retrieving exquisitely designed vintage fragrance jars from old wooden shelves, Gundhi offered me on the back of my hand as per tradition, dabs of the legendary ‘Mitti ka Attar’, the moist fragrance of the otherwise parched earth after the first showers of the season! “Indian fragrance tradition boasts of natural seasonal scents. While Mitti Attar, Kewda and Khus are age-old summer scents for their cooling effect and the warm and spicy Hina, Shamama and Musk Amber for winter, monsoons are when the rich and deep red ‘Motia’ (Jasmine Sambac) and Chameli are harvested” he explains.
Both members of the jasmine family, ‘Ruh Motia’ and ‘Ruh Chameli’ are pure distillate extracts known as ‘God’s own perfume’ by connoisseurs. These were instant meditation. While many customers prefer Gundhi’s sophisticated repertoire of innumerable aqua-based fragrances to compliment the rains, I decided to go in for two bespoke monsoon scents. Retaining common opening and base notes, I chose two different heart notes . With deftness and a keen sense of aesthetics, Gundhi made magic with my formula; saffron, rose, sandalwood, patchouli, aged Indian oud and a touch of roasted coffee that gave the blend smoky, rich overtones providing the necessary warmth and energy on a grey, rainy day! A magnificent opening of saffron and cardamom unfolded into rugged mid notes, finally drying-down with juicy, woody, rosy softness.
Back home in Mumbai, dogging the slush and grime brought me to Nandita Fragrances in the suburb of Matunga, an abode of intoxicating incense and a memoir of the temple towns of Tamil Nadu. Proprietor Guru Acharya is one of India’s leading upholders of the age-old south Indian incense tradition. With his fine understanding of Indian fragrance styles, his repertoire of exotic agarbattis, dhoops and Arabic-style ‘bakhoor’ incense had me wandering through a fragrant wilderness all afternoon!
“Monsoons call for spicy scents to rev-up spirits on a dull grey day and also green notes that remind you of India’s lush verdant wonders in a concrete jungle like Mumbai!” smiled Acharya. I finally zeroed-down on three agarbatti classics, a spicy-green ‘Spice Tree’, a spicy-woody ‘Wood Spice’ and a gilt edge ‘Dehn el Oudh’ with deep, high-energy notes including oud. Immersing my olfactory in his stock of traditional fragrance oils, I was dazzled by the versatility of his varied blends that spanned nearly all
fragrance families. I chose three distinct aromas; a cutting-edge ‘Patchouli Nagchampa’ with a deep patchouli draping a bright, delicious nagchampa, ‘Kamasutra’ a sensual heady floral with jasmine, rose and saffron to bring gaiety during an incessant downpour and a fresh ‘Super Natural’ opening with effervescent citrus bergamot that lingers on until a gentle ylang ylang and other complimenting floral notes emerge like the flora of a pristine lagoon under its transparent turquoise stillness! Acharya’s robust ‘Bakhoor Afreen’ was perfect bliss with a cup of no- nonsense Arabic Qahwah!
Last but not the least was my tryst with some traditional attars at Vedic Vaani, a Mumbai-based fragrance and incense manufacturer. Amber is a feel-good note in any fragrance and brings cheer. Oud
boosts energy and the combination is ideal for the monsoons, especially when one is home-bound during heavy rains and the attartrio ‘Oud Agarwood’, ‘Shamamatul Amber’ and ‘Hina Oudi’ seemed
just right for the weather.