BANGALORE: It is not just the essential fragrance in imported bottle that sells in Bangalore's attar shops. It is history along with brave overtures to change. Manufacturers are now adapting to the times and creating mass fragrances for brands. But first the backstory.
At both Asma Exclusive Perfume Shop on Infantry Road and Al Madina Perfumes on Bannerghatta Road, what is on display is nostalgia and pride. Asma's chairman Dawood Farook Batcha and Mohammed Khalid, owner of Al Madina, trace back the history of attar to Prophet Mohammad's love for fragrance, especially musk oil. Pure and natural fragrances, they say, are also conducive to prayer and no festive occasion in Islam is complete without a dab of attar.
During the reign of the Mughals, it is begum Noorjehan who was credited with making attars popular as a part of everyday life. The legacy remains alive in Asma's sprawling basement store where hundreds of glass shelves glitter with bejewelled bottles.
The space also sums up a seven decade long story that began with entrepreneur O T Kader Basha Sahib who started the business.
Handwritten formulations dating back to the 1930s are still preserved though the clientele has grown to include people from diverse religions and backgrounds like software engineers.
Says Dawood Farook, "We have Jain and Hindu customers too who prefer to use essential oils in their puja ceremonies. Bakhoor (woodchips soaked in fragrant oils) is in big demand."
Partner D Kader Sultan says, "Our perfumes also find their way in your cosmetics, including creams, lotions, powders sprays, bath products and even agarbattis and detergents. We export our products to Asia Pacific regions and the Middle East." The company that developed Asma into a recognised brand is called Husna Flavours and Fragrances Pvt Ltd (founded in 1933) and its 10,000 sq ft facility can create just about any fragrance for a product and customise fragrances for clients..
At Bangalore's Asma store (also at branches in Chennai and Cochin), you can choose from over a 1000 variations of attars, ranging from French, Oriental, Arabic and Indian types with a new one being invented everyday. You can buy quantities ranging from 3 ml for Rs 30 to upwards.
Some of the fastest selling varieties are Khus, Crazy, Galaxy and Pleasant. Other attar outlets like Firdose P Khan's store at Shivajinagar and Ajmal's at Safina Plaza and Haya in Frazer Town too have their own loyal followers in India and abroad.
And it was the creativity involved in the business that drew Mohammed Khalid, an agarbatti manufacturer to open an attar outlet Al Madina, over a month ago. He does the experimentation with various fragrances himself though, he says, essential ingredients like specific plants, roots, gum extracts, musk et al are becoming rarer by the day.
Hence, new creations like Bulgary Water cater to modern nostrils along with old favourites like Oudh, Khus and more. His customers too come from all walks of life. The success of attar he says, lies in its simplicity and the long lasting allure of essential oils. Even in the frenzied world full of mercurial trends, attar, says he, reminds us of timelessness.