While the Arabs created masterpieces with the enigmatic wood, little is known about Oud’s ancient Indian connection. With every swirl of the Kandoora, the captivating spicy, woody whiff casts a sillage spell. The earthy syllables of Arabic seem to compliment the ruggedness of the fragrance. Indeed, Oud or Agarwood is etched as the eternal symbol of Arab heritage, hospitality and honour. Right from the beginning of Islam, the myriad health benefits of oud have been emphasised, along with its role in enlivening daily life with its mysterious aromas.
The fierce passion for oud that the Arabs have nurtured for centuries, especially in the Gulf region, has made it a way of life rather than just a fragrance. Dehn Al Oud or pure agarwood extract, along with being used as perfume and an essential ingredient for sublime fragrance blends, is also often smeared by men in their beards, the women, in their hair. Pure agarwood chips and even scented ones (‘Bakhoor’) are burnt on traditional incense burners called ‘Mabkharah’ to emit an elevating scent that both exhilarates and heals. Arabic non-alcoholic oil concentrates called ‘attar’ or ‘Utoor’, known to be warm, spicy and audacious, pay homage to oud with complimenting notes like amber, saffron, musk and rose to name a few. Eclectic mukhallat blends, attars and perfume sprays with dominant Dehn Al Oud and floral musks with subtle oud notes have pillared and glorified Arab fragrance tradition in the global arena.
India, the Arab world’s age-old trusted neighbor and trade partner on the other hand, has its unique agarwood saga lesser-known to the world. Right from the times of the Vedas, known to be among the world’s first scriptures that date back over 8000 years, ‘agar’ finds prominence as ‘God’s own Perfume’.
India houses one of the world’s most important agarwood reserves in its eastern forests of Assam which houses rich reserves of the Aquilaria Agalocha tree. “The exhilarating animalic, deep, sweet and fruity fragrance that is typical to Assam’s oud is a result of the tree’s infection and sickness rather than of health, like that of a fully bloomed flower!” smiles Tajul Islam Bakshi of Assam Aromas, one of India’s leading oud distillers. “Oud is universal and sacred to all faiths. It is a complete spiritual product and its market has extended beyond the Middle East, to regions as far a north and South America and Europe” he adds.
India’s renowned traditional perfumer Mukul Gundhi, seventh generation torchbearer of Delhi’s Gulab Singh Johrimal, one of the country’s oldest known traditional perfumeries established way back in 1816, shares fascinating knowledge passed down by his illustrious forefathers. “ Ancient classical Indian texts talk about ‘Ashtagandha’ or treasure house of eight natural fragrant materials where ‘agar’ is mentioned as the very first along with musk, saffron, sandalwood among others. It is believed that agarwood along with sandalwood was once a part of our millennia-old ‘Agnihotra Havan’ ceremony where prayers are recited before a sacred fire to which various fragrant materials are offered” he explains.
Agar, Gundhi explains, is known to be energetic, sublime and spirituality elevating although Dehn Al Oud’s is a fragrance many would consider obnoxious. “Oud is highly aphrodisiacal. I have clients from even China who buy my Dehn Al Oud for its aphrodisiacal properties” he says. While many sell synthetic versions, he is one of India’s top-ranking vendors of authentic, aged Indian Dehn Al Oud.
The ancient medical science of Ayurveda talks about agar’s mental and physical health benefits. Even legendary classical texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bruhat Samhita talk about agar and its positive effects on the mind and body.
Mukul Gundhi’s vast repertoire even consists of ethereal oud blends which are at crossroads between Indian and Arabic fragrance styles. While his formidable, Arabesque ‘Amiri Oud’ with a sharp oud accord rising from warm and deep sandalwood carpet notes is India’s response to the Arab World, his ‘Mukhallat Special’, ‘Oud Shahi’ and ‘Shabab’ take you on a journey of the old souqs of Arabia! Gentler, feminine blends like ‘Fitrat’ with dominant saffron and musk, ‘Sultan’, ‘Oud Gold’, ‘Khalifa’ and ‘Sharara’ spell class and sophistication.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Ouddict community.