Before global slump, attar was facing stiff competition from modern perfumes. Kannauj is to India what Grasse is to France: the country's perfume capital. Here the perfumes are still made exactly like they were a few centuries ago almost with the same distilling equipment.
Kannauj besides being a hub for scents is a market centre for tobacco, perfume, and rose water. Perfumer producers in Kannauj are famous for making sandalwood-based attars, which are essentially the essence of flowers or other parts of plants or even earth.
Sandalwood oil is used as a base material because it has a strong fixative property and can keep the floral essence over a long period of time. The most expensive is the Ruh Gulab' or Rose attar, which costs over USD 300 for only half a teaspoon.
Besides the domestic market the traditional perfume is exported mainly to the Gulf countries.
Kannauj's sandalwood based perfume industry had reached its glorious heights in seventh century and was re-discovered by medieval Mughal rulers.
The industry has since seen many ups and downs. Faced with the shortage of sandalwood trees in Southern India from which sandalwood oil is extracted, the attar industry in Kannauj has been fighting the serious threat posed by modern cheap chemical perfumes.
But now it is the global economic crisis that is seriously threatening India's famous flower-based perfume industry. "We have been affected a lot due to the recession. People working in our factory are very fex and if the government doesn't take steps to revive our industry, then it would not only be loss to us, it would be a great loss to the country also," said Pushpraj Jain, an indigenous perfume factory owner.
Part of the slump in demand is also a result of younger generation's preference for cheaper chemical based-perfumes available in exotic fragrances. The perfume making industry has slowed down and there have been lay offs.
The workers are keeping their fingers crossed in expectation of getting government support.&13;