ittarwali Gali is no longer thronged by people. Its 20 shops selling different varieties of ittar are seeing a decline in the number of customers coming to them to buy their natural and pure perfume. This is because of the high price these ittars come for. Besides that, ittars are now slowly being replaced by cologne or synthetic ittars that come cheaper. “It is ironic that while India-made ittars are being exported, colognes are being imported,” said Mohammad Rehan, a shop-owner.
Zamzam is the oldest ittar outlet in the murky lane, crowded with shops and overhead wires. This 30-year-old shop is brightly illuminated and beautifully decorated with designer crystal bottles, both large and small. Zamzam sells around 50 varieties of ittar. The most expensive of them is “Dhehul-ooudh-Shamshi”, which is priced at Rs 3,000 for one tola, or 12 ml. The owner told The Sunday Guardian: “We don’t keep very expensive ittars anymore, as nobody buys them. The demand for natural ittar has deteriorated over the years. Customers demand synthetic ones more as they are cheap and readily available. The sale over the years has also gone down drastically; customers are now fond of Gucci and Armani and thus they don’t come here. But we have our traditional customer base who still use only ittar as perfume.”
The empty shops are a testimony to the sad tale of ittar’s decline. Some shops just had one or two customers buying ittars priced at Rs 100-150. The shopkeeper said, “See, people here come to buy within this range, so why would we keep the more expensive ones? The customers are mostly the ones who come to visit the dargah.”
A true and natural ittar is made from flower petals by distillation. Some wood can also be used for making good and expensive ittar. The more prominent flowers and wood that are used are rose, mogra, jasmine, saffron, khus ad sandalwood, among others. It is free of alcohol and sold in their pure form. The most expensive ittar available in the market is called ooudh. It is made from a rare wood found in Assam, called Agar wood. It starts at a range of Rs 12,000 for 12 ml and could go up to Rs 50,000 depending on its purity.
‘We don’t keep very expensive ittars anymore, as nobody buys them. The demand for natural ittar has gone down over the years. Customers demand synthetic ones more as they are cheap and readily available.’
The natural form of ittar is slowly being replaced by colognes, which are a synthetic form of perfume made from essential oils.
All the shopkeepers in the gali complain about the decline in their business. Mohammad Rehan, another shop-owner on the same lane said, “Customers who come here mostly ask for the colognes, as they are cheap. But they can never be equated with the natural ittar which has something special in them and are pure vaporised forms of flower petals. They are made through a rigorous process and the older they get the better they become.” “The colognes are imported, mostly from Dubai and the Gulf, but the natural ones are made in India. The high end imported brands have their base as ittar. They just mix alcohol to it and it becomes sprays, after which they are sold at exorbitant prices,” he added.
Md. Zubair, who owns a small shop in this area , said: “We mostly have our traditional customer base and they still do come here for genuine ittar, as this is the only place to find authentic ittar in Delhi.”
Natural and indigenous ittars are made mainly in Assam and Kannauj. One interesting and a visually appealing huge crystal jar containing a blue coloured liquid caught our attention. The shopkeeper told us it was called the “Blue Sea” and was made up of a mix of flowers. It costs Rs 200 per 10 grams. These crystal bottles of multiple designs are separately sold as gift items. Some are heavily decorated with stones and other artificial ornaments.
The Ittarwali Gali, which is located near the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, is almost impossible to find without the help of locals.
Ittar is essentially an Arabic word meaning scent. It is believed that ittar was brought to India by the Mughals and it gained prominence during the Mughal rule. It also has spiritual connotations as many believe that the aroma of ittar can ward off evil spirits and attract angels.