Ittar (Hindi/Urdu),also known as Attar, is an essential oil derived from botanical sources. Most commonly these oils are extracted via hydro or steam distillation. They can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as ittars are distilled with water. The oils are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired.
Ittars are highly concentrated and therefore are usually offered for sale in small quantities in decorated crystal cut bottles or small jeweled decanters. Ittars are popular throughout the Middle East and the Far East of India as well as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Ittars have been used in the entire Eastern world for thousands of years. They are free of alcohol so the problems faced in the West by perfume lovers are irrelevant to most Eastern perfume lovers. Ittars are affordable because they are so concentrated that a small bottle will last the regular user several weeks or even months.
Ittar figures into some of the romantic stories of a bygone era. Its patrons included great poets like the legendary Mirza Ghalib. When Ghalib met his beloved in the winter, he rubbed his hands and face with ittar hina.
A true attar is a perfume oil made from flower petals distilled in water using low heat and pressure. Some attars also contain exotic woods, spices and resins. Over several weeks, the steam containing the fragrance oils is collected into a container of mild sandalwood oil. There, the oils blend together until the sandalwood is completely saturated with the fragrance of the flowers.
Most ittars are alcohol-free and are used by many Muslim men and women. Ittar has long been considered one of the most treasured of material possessions and the Islamic prophet, Muhammad has been compared to Ittar as one of the most beloved of gifts given to mankind.