The art of fragrance is at the heart of India’s cultural heritage. For centuries, we have combined natural resources using the ancient knowledge of blending to create scents that can be used for healing, religious offering and sensorial pleasure.
Ancient texts like Charaka Samhita document how aromatic herbs and fragrant plants, which form the backbone of Ayurveda, can help in improving mental and physical well-being. Gandhasastra, a 1200 CE text on the science of perfumery, even classifies aromatic ingredients into a glossar—leaves, flowers, fruits, barks, woods, roots, discharge of odour from plants, and organic ingredients like musk. Whether it was the celebration of attars in Mughal courts, or the thriving trade of Indian aromatics along the Silk Route, fragrances have long been celebrated for their mood-lifting abilities.
Even today, scents play a vital role in our day-to-day life. A simple vase of tuberose at the bedside table can cheer us up on a dull day. A daily ritual of incense can be a good welcoming fragrance when entertaining guests. Scents linger in the memory and a subtle fragrance can become the signature of a beautiful living space.
With Diwali approaching soon, here are some ways you can add fragrance to light up your home.
The power of flowers
The Rig Veda has stories of Ashvins, the Hindu twin gods, adorned in garlands of lilies. The Mughal decorative arts feature an abundance of poppies, marigold, tulips and narcissus. The courtly scenes of Pahari paintings are filled with flowering vines and groves. From garlands of mogra around the hair or strings of marigold for celebrations, flowers are a part of India’s past and present. They offer not only beauty and fragrance, but also root us to an Indian way of living.
That’s why flowers such an essential part of Diwali celebrations. To fill your house with a beautiful fragrance, mix the uplifting scent of gulaab with mogra and rajnigandha and spray across the room. Garlands of rajnigandha, gulaab and juhi on doorways and chandeliers create a stunning visual and olfactory delight. For the rest of the house, you can use a combination of tuberose and lilies in tall vases.
The dining table, however, is one of the few places where fragrant flowers can be unsuitable, as they might overpower the rich aroma of the food being served. Instead, you can add bowls with large leaves and floating candles, a cluster of colourful votives, or a centrepiece filled with fruit.
An ancient ritual
Incense is among the oldest fragrance rituals. In ancient Egypt, it was burnt as an offering to the sun god, while in Japan the resinous aloeswood (or agarwood) continues to be passed down as heirlooms. The Atharva Veda and Rig Veda document incense burning as a ritual, one that not only creates a calming atmosphere, but also purifies the space.
In a modern context, burning incense and dhuna, fragrant smoke, are rituals of creating a calm, serene and a meditative space. During the festive season, they offer moments of quietude amid all the entertainment and social engagements. You can use pure loban blend or frankincense resin, which when placed directly on glowing charcoal embers, emanates a streaming fragrant smoke. Another option is sambrani, an incense made from the fragrant gum from the tree Styrax benzoin that grows in Sumatra. It’s one of the oldest incenses, with a serene balsamic scent that lingers in the air long after the stick burns out.
A modern addition
Clusters of scented candles and votives across the room enhance the fragrant ambience and impart a warm festive glow. It is important to select these with care since their scent can often be heavy and clash with the natural scent of flowers. Candles with one subtle scent, like jasmine, rather than blended ones can create a floral symphony. The key is using naturally derived scents from tree resins and flowers and herbs, as they blend seamlessly with one another and are always more pleasing and subtle. After all, our scent traditions are rooted in natural ingredients—from Nur Jahan’s attar and rose water infusions to the Vedic ashtagandha (eight sublime natural fragrances).
Attention to detail is the mark of a great host, and fragrance plays a big role here. A reed diffuser placed discreetly in the powder room is a thoughtful gesture. Similarly, there is a wonderful opportunity to place essential oil diffusers in small corners of the space. When pure, they are always plant-based. Once lit with a tea light, they release fragrant molecules that permeate the room and impart a delicate scent over time. Essential oils are often blended to create a synergistic scent that can be mood enhancing. Think about the experience you want to create and choose a blend that can best enhance this mood—deodar and fir oils evoke soothing forests, citrus and lemons are cheerful and uplifting, while floral blends are particularly delightful.
Anita Lal is the founder of Good Earth.