Kannauj is a small town in northern India that is known for its production of attar, a type of organic perfume made from the distillation of flower petals. About three to four hours drive from Agra, Kannauj appears like any other dusty north Indian town. A rich blend of fragrances envelops you as you enter Bara Bazaar in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, wading through the small pathways. Since the days of Harshavardhana, who governed north India between 606 and 647 AD, Kannauj has had a robust perfume business near the confluence of the Ganga and Kali rivers. Kannauj later supplied the Mughal monarchs with perfumes and perfume oils.

Even as you stroll through the old town’s streets, you can’t help but notice the aromatic note in the air; even the sludge flowing through the wayside drains has a floral touch to it. Some establishments are packed with glass bottles filled with ittar—native India’s perfume—amid a few general confectionery and Attar shops. They’re used in anything from fragrances and essential oils for consumer products like soap and shampoo to food flavoring and even medicine. Even the distillate isn’t thrown away; it’s used to make agarbatti, or incense sticks.

But Did you know that many years ago, the perfumers of Kannauj, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, discovered the knack of capturing the exquisite scent of fresh rain on dry land into a perfume? Long before the two Australian mineralogists, identified the chemistry behind the pungent odour and named it ‘petrichor.’ It is known as ‘mitti-attar’ and is one among Kannauj’s most sought-after perfumes.

Since the time of Mughal emperor Jahangir, Kannauj has been distilling flowers for the production of perfume. In the past, the region had around 800 perfume distilleries. Kannauj’s Ittar manufacturing abilities are passed down from generation to generation. Flowers and natural resources like musk, camphor, saffron, and other aromatic ingredients are used to make ittars. Summer variants often include flowers like white jasmine and herbs like vetiver. The soil is used for monsoon variations like Mitti attar, which smells like damp earth, and winter varieties like Heena ittar and musk attar.

Except in a few cases, natural perfumes are free of alcohol and chemicals. Attar made from rose has a powerful scent, whilst attar made from sandalwood oil has a long-lasting scent.

The’shamama,’ created from a co-distillation of various herbs and spices, is another well-known ittar from Kannauj. The shamama is made by multiple families, but each has its own unique formula, which is closely guarded.

In 2014, the perfumes of Kannauj was awarded a Geographic Indication (GI) badge, recognising the traditional Attar – making process unique to this town. Kannauj is now India’s only Ittar-producing centre. The number of these industries has significantly decreased. Every year, it decreases as synthetic fragrances supplant Ittars in popularity. To allow the traditional industry to continue its authenticity and growth, it is critical to address this issue.

This Ittar capital of India has both domestic as well as international markets in  United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Singapore, France, Oman, Qatar, and others.