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History of Perfume - Part III

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History of Perfume - Part III  India

Perfume and perfumery also existed in Indus civilization (3300 BCE - 1300 BCE). One of the earliest distillation of Ittar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. According to a 1975 report, an archeologist named Dr Paolo Rovesti found a terra-cotta distillation apparatus in the Indus valley together with oil containers made of the same material, and carbon dating puts this at 3000 B.C., much earlier than we conventionally believe that distillation became practiced for the isolation of essential oils. We believe that terra cotta vessels with plugged orifices of woven materials were used so that when fragrant plant materials were covered with boiling water the vapours impregnated the material, which was subsequently wrung out to isolate the oil.


The perfume references are part of a larger text called Brihat-Samhita written by Varahamihira, an Indian astronomer, mathematician and astrologer who lived in the historic city of Ujjain. He was one of the ‘nine jewels’ in the court of the Maharaja of Malwa. The perfume portion mainly deals with the manufacture of perfumes to benefit ‘royal personages and inmates of harems’. The text is written as Sanskrit slokas with commentary by a 10th Century Indian commentator Utpala.

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