Growing up, I was constantly enamoured by this particularly warm, intense and rich fragrance my grandfather wore. A little later in life, I found out that the scent was none other than ‘oudh’. Touted as liquid gold all around the globe owing to its rarity, oudh is slowly but surely finding its place in the global fragrance market. Fragrances are something I’ve been discovering lately, and the entire journey has been so insightful. While learning about different notes, families and concepts is always fun, what’s even better is getting a first-hand look at what goes behind creating a scent, especially oudh.
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I was invited to Ajmal Perfumes facilities in Hojai, Assam to get a glimpse into the making and bottling of oudh scents. A pioneer in the perfumery world, Ajmal Perfumes has been at the forefront of making the heritage of perfumery accessible and available to all. Here’s unravelling the processes and sheer hard work that goes behind creating this golden scent.
What Is Oudh?
Historically, the trail of oudh can be traced back centuries ago. The sole reason why it’s often referred to as ‘gold’ in the perfumery world is that its price can easily be compared to that of literal gold! Originating from the agarwood tree which finds its origins in Southeast Asia, particularly Hojai in Assam, the process of extracting this scent is a manually tedious one. A fungus in agarwood leads to the tree’s defence mechanism by producing a resin to save itself. This is the catalyst for the creation of Oudh.
Extraction Of Oudh
The fact that it takes almost 25 to 30 years for an agarwood tree to grow is enough to show why Oudh is considered a luxury in the fragrance industry. Not just that, but the extent of the fungus infection decides when the wood has to be harvested and shaved for the process. It’s a lot more tedious because it’s a manual process. A visit to their factory showcased these skilled workers using a specific collection of tools to shave the wood and further shred it. These tiny pieces of wood are then sorted into specific categories by workers using their years of expertise and impeccable experience.
Then comes the distillation part of the process which is even more fascinating. The pieces of the infected wood are immersed in water to make them softer, following which they’re steamed at (extremely) high temperatures. This allows the pieces to secrete oudh oil into the water which is then collected by hand. I wasn’t joking when I said each and every step is done by hand, making it no less than art!
Personally, the scent of oudh makes it to the top of my list of favourite scents, even though it may typically not be the first choice for most. Though the scent of oudh differs according to the type of wood it’s derived from, each scent is intense, woody and warm. These woody and warm notes have the tendency to make this scent a heady one. However, oudh doesn’t start off this way. It exudes a rather animalistic and pungent smell in the initial stages, almost like a stench.
Mysterious, captivating and indulgent don’t come close to describing what Oudh smells like. Think of it this way: heads always turn when one walks into the room adorned with Oudh.
Future Of Oudh
A predominantly Middle-Eastern scent that is now finding its way into everyone’s everyday routine, oudh began its journey by being used in ittars and perfume oils. I also discovered a rather unique way of using oudh in Hojai—chips of agarwood are burned on a piece of coal in a holder and the fumes can be used to perfume the hair. This leaves the hair smelling fragrant and feeling great. Small customs like these have played a major role in increasing the popularity of Oudh. What started off as a niche, guarded secret is now loved by millions all over the world and is here to stay.