The making of / botanical perfume oil / Washing and soil removal of vetiver roots prior to distillation
/ Kannauj / Perfume capital of India. The city of Kannauj is to India what Grasse is to France and situated in Uttar Pradesh at the Northern part of India on the banks of sacred River Ganges. Due to its key role of perfume production, Kannauj is known as ‘the perfume capital of India’. Traditionally perfume oils were supplied to the Maharajas during their reigns in India over three hundred years.
The entry gate of the city Kannauj, India
In Kannauj the tradition of making botanical perfume oil is still fondly preserved by artisanal craftsman and passed on from generation to generation. Kannauj had almost 700 distilleries up until the late 1990s. Due to the synthetic perfume industry, the amount of distilleries has decreased to less than a third. Traditional perfume houses hold the secrets of / hydro distillation / which is a very specialised job.
Perfume house at Kannauj, India
In large round copper pots called / deg or still / water and raw material will be boiled over a cow dung cake fire. Degs are build inside a / bhatti or furnace / which are made up of bricks and clay. The capacity range of a deg is between 10 and 160 kilos of floral/herbal material. It starts with filing the raw material inside the deg with the required amount of water. The lid of a deg called / sarpos / also made of copper is hermetically sealed with a mixture of cotton and clay. The temperature is controlled manually by putting in more cow dung cakes when required. While boiling the raw material there is considerable increase of pressure inside the deg. To prevent the lid from blowing off, a leaf spring called / komoni / is used on top of the lid. The lid of the deg has an opening for connection with a receiver. Receivers are copper vessels with a large belly and narrow long neck called / bhapka / filled with the base material, which is primarily sandalwood oil. A bhapka captures the fragrance filled steam from the deg via a / chonga / hollow bamboo pipes that connects the deg and bhapka. The bamboo pipes are wrapped with rope made from grass and serves as an insulator to the pipes that extracts the vapours from the deg. The receiving bhapka is during the process kept in a / gachchi / cooling tank. Water inside a gachchi is changed continuously to keep the bhapka cool. This procedure is managed by highly experienced and skilled workers known as / dighoo / they know by experience when enough vapours have been condensed inside the bhapka. When the desired quantity of vapours get condensed, a dighoo rubs wet cloth around the body of the deg for a temporary pause in distillation and the filled bhapka is replaced by another bhapka. The bhapka is then allowed to cool. The mixture of oil and water is then separated directly from the bhapka through a hole at the bottom. After the oil and water have been separated as two different layers, the water that has been removed goes back into the deg for the next process of distillation. This distillation process is repeated several times for fifteen up to forty days until the sandalwood oil in the bhapka is fully saturated and achieves the desired fragrant perfume. Sandalwood oil is a fixative that completely gives up its own fragrance and acquires the fragrance of the raw materials that are used in the distillation process.
When the desired concentration of perfume is achieved, it will be poured into leather bottles, known as / kuppi / made of buffalo or camel leather for sedimentation and removal of moisture, to achieve the desired concentration level.