Mala Perfume Newsletter
"I was in the courtyard beneath a young bakula tree so heavy with clusters of buds that bees swarmed thickly around its wine sweet perfume and the fallen flowers were in such great heaps I began to amuse myself weaving these into an intricate garland."
Bhavabhuti(8th century A. D.) Malati Mahavam
One of the most lovely aromatic traditions of India centers around the act of giving and receiving garlands. At almost any auspicious event, i.e. marriages, spiritual gatherings, special social events, the aromatic flower garland plays a significant role. Also garlands play an important part in daily worship in Indian temples, indicating in their offering by the devotees, their humble devotion and love for the grand mystery of life represented by various gods and goddesses.
The garland markets that are often located in close proximity to the temples offer an enchanting view of the ancient world which garlands represent. Throughout India, during the course of the day, thousands of people quietly weave simple and elaborate garlands made of Jasmin sambac, Tuberose, Marigolds, Rosa centifolia, Rosa bourbonia, Holy Basil, Davana, Bakul Flowers and several other aromatic flowers and herbs. Toward evening the air becomes saturated with a divine bouquet that is the result of the co-mingling of the aromas of the above mentioned botanicals. The rich, exotic, floral notes meld with the deep green herbaceous notes of basil, davana and marigold producing an enchanting elixir that refreshes the heart and soul while at the same time producing a feeing of calm and relaxation. Over the years I have had the opportunity to stroll amidst the simple stands of garland vendors in the Matunga section of Mumbai where one can, at no cost, drink in the heady draught of garlands strung with hundreds, sometimes thousands of Jasmin sambac, Tuberose, etc. whose aroma saturates the surrounding atmosphere. In memory of those precious evenings the Mala Perfume came into existence.
In several past newsletters I have endeavored to impart impressions of what the significance of the garland might be in Indian culture. A few quotes are shared here:
"Fragrant flowers have been at the very core of religious worship since ancient times and these fragile, colorful and aromatic gems of the botanical world carry with them potent messages which can be understood by the person of highest intellect or the simplest country farmer. Family and community, even to this day, are very strong in India, and the teaching of this subtle language begins at a very early age and carries with it countless generations of power and meaning. When a simple Jasmine flower is held in the hand, or when it is placed about the neck in the form of a garland, or it is strung in the long black tresses of Indian women it speaks a fragrant language to those shariing in its aroma and beauty. This language iis exquisitely profound because it resonates without any need for recourse to spoken word and links the individual with a devotional attitude which encompasses millions of souls both past and present."
"Once again I took up the subject of the role of garlands in Indian culture with Ramakant as this is one of the most ancient uses for fresh flowers in India and has a deep spiritual significance. In several different Vedas reference is given to the making of garlands and the profession of garland makers. Garlands were used to adorn the images of the gods and goddesses, in marriage ceremonies, for placing about the necks of religious and political leaders, to honor guests in the home, etc. These ancient traditions continue to this day and they possess rich symbolic significance.
First the sages taught that flowers in their delicate beauty were like unto the precious human body that had been given to the soul to do the devotion of the Supreme Power. The flower with its sublime fragrance was seen as the perfect symbol of what a persons life should be like, that is, simple and pure giving off the fragrance of spirituality. Garlands of these lovely flowers were therefore offered in temples and religious places to signify that a person was offering their life in service to a higher power. The images around which these garlands were placed were representative of some divine attribute which they were hoping to inculcate in their lives. By placing the garland about their necks or at their feet they were invoking the grace and mercy of the Power which they represented to awaken that virtue or quality in their lives. Second, the sages recognized that the fragrance emitting from flowers had a beneficial effect on the human mind. Fragrance acted upon the higher intuitive centers in the brain and its refining influence helped put one in touch with that Hidden Power which was the fountainhead of inspiration and creativity. A garland composed of fragrant flowers was seen as one of the finest methods of conveying the subtle head space aromatic molecules into the brain via the nostrils as it(the garland) encircled the head and rested on the chest. Garlands were presented to religious leaders so that their discourses would be filled with divine inspiration. Third, garlands were seen as one of the finest symbols of the relationship between the lives of the common people and the people entrusted with their welfare. Individual flowers were strung on a simple cotton thread to form the garland. The thread was likened to the daily lives of the people and the fragrant flowers symbolized the beauty radiating from the simplicity of their lives. A person in a high religious or civic post when receiving a garland about their neck had to bend their head which indicated that they understood their responsibility to the people and would act in a spirit of humility for their welfare. Fourth, flowers woven into garlands were seen as a reminder to the people that human life was intertwined with nature and that nature was a witness to all his/her deeds. The sages were deeply aware that humans were only one part of life on the planet and that they(humans) had a responsibility to respect and venerate all life. Garlands were exchanged during marriage ceremonies in part because it was felt that the sacred vows being exchanged were being made before the great power of nature represented by the flowers. The meaning was that people were making a promise to the universe to maintain their marriage not just for their own sake but for all life. This promise made in the presence of nature as represented by the flowers was considered much deeper than a promise made before a human magistrate or priest alone."
"The lovely evergreen Bakula tree of the Indian subcontinent, with its small shiny , thick, narrow, pointed leaves, straight trunk and spreading branches is a prized ornamental specimen because it provides a dense shade and during the months from March to July fills the night air with the delicious heady aroma of its tiny cream colored flowers. In the morning the ethereal flowers which so graciously scented their surroundings with their deep, rich, honey notes during the evening hours, fall to the ground. People living in their proximity love to collect them as they retain their odor for many days after they fall. They are offered in temples and shrines throughout the country. Because of their ability to hold their fragrance for many days the flower has a special symbolic meaning when offered to the gods and goddesses. An offering of Bakula flowers signifies the unwavering devotion of the aspirant for the object of their devotion just as the bakul flower maintains its wonderful perfume long after it has fallen from the tree. The flowers have also inspired a popular saying, 'true friendship lasts like the scent of maulsari(bakul)' They are equally prized for making into tiny garlands which can be woven into the hair emitting a perfume that is a delight to the wearer and to those who come in their company."
"Now as I think back over 28 years of intimate association with India, many wonderful memories connected with Jasmin sambac come to the forefront of my mind. I really loved seeing the simple village women with the most elegant aromatic adornment conceivable, a sting of Jasmin sambac in their hair. It makes me happy to think that even the poorest peasant could afford one of the finest hair ornaments in the world at the cost of a few pennies. Going to the fresh flower market in Bangalore where the garland makers sat was a delightful experience. There in the shaded entrance to the market, they sat with their mounds of Jasmin sambac, rose, tuberose, and marigold nimbly weaving their creations of aromatic beauty to be used in temple worship, for honoring some holy person, or to consecrate a sacred wedding ceremony. The moist cool air in that sanctuary of flowers was filled with the deep, rich and mysterious bouquet of the Jasmin buds, co-mingled with the heavy, heady aroma of tuberoses; the fruity herbaceous notes of marigold, and the light, diffusive, sweet and spicy ones of rose. This perfume was not simply a product of the current days assemblage of flowers but one which seemed to permeate the atmosphere as a result of years of collective engagement in this art and craft. If the subtle interweavings of this essence could be distilled it would be a remarkable essence indeed. Following this fragrant thread forward into the 1980's I remember helping create a simple "dais" or seat from which a kind and noble sage gave discourses in the heart of Bombay. It is customary in India to use Jasmin sambac as a symbolic decoration where saints and sages give discourses. Near where we were staying was a fine garland and flower market whose many stalls were owned chiefly by people from South India. Happily we visited their shops and purchased long strings of jasmine flowers which we used to create a simple backdrop where this great teacher sat giving out the timeless teachings of all the great sages who came to remind searching hearts of their divine origin. In the ancient times, the aura of the flowers about a sage and the assembled congregation were said to inspire that type of atmosphere where the heart and mind would be inclined to remember that beyond time and space there was a pure and holy place where all duality was dissolved and only oneness remained. Finally on a very auspicious day, I met and married my wife in Mumbai and in her hair she wore a chaplet of Jasmin sambac."
"While visiting the city of Madurai our hosts there made a special arrangement for visiting the Meenakshi Temple. There I had one of the really unique experiences of the life in terms of roses. The day time visit to the temple, which I opted to attend, proved more interesting to me than the previous evenings. For one thing, we had a guide who explained many things to us about the areas through which we were moving. Of special significance to me was having a rose garland placed about my neck from the temple elephant. It was more than just receiving a garland. Looking into the tender eyes of this beautiful animal I felt her poignant longing for freedom. She seemed such an excellent example of a being who understood that there was something much more to life than what was appearing on the surface but was calmly discharging her outer responsiblities till the circumstances were right for her liberation. After enjoying the temple precincts we returned to the hotel to rest a bit, have lunch and prepare for the afternoon and evening events."
Mala Perfume Recipe
1 ounce Tuberose Attar
2 ounces Genda(Marigold Flower Attar)
1 ounce Sandalwood New Caledonia
1/4 ounce or Rosa bourbonia Absolute
1 ounce of Jasmin sambac Absolute
1 ounce Bakul Attar
1/4 ounce of Davana Essential Oil
1/2 ounce of Holy Basil
1/8 ounce of Rose Otto
1/8 ounce of Tuberose Absolute
Before going into the specifics of the materials used in the formula I would like to mention how important it is to understand that any formula is simply a starting point for realizing one's own aromatic vision of what a specific perfume might be. One can tweak the formula in any number of directions to accomplish different results. Even if one follows exactly a specific formula it may turn out uniquely different than a sample of the original as composed by the person from whom the recipe originated. The very thoughts and feelings we have during the creation of any thing so fascinating as a perfume will effect its outcome, strange as it may seem. Many people who are enthusiastically engaged in such a work will recommend that the person entering their perfume sanctuary should be in a happy, positive and serene mood so that all those refined feelings become part of the recipe. One also needs to remember that individual natural absolutes, essential oils, co2 extracts, attars etc are unique beings in themselves. Each batch has its own character so even though one may be using a Rosa damascena otto, for instance: the place of origin, the year it was harvested, the distilling technique etc will all effect its special bouquet which sets it apart from any other Rosa damascena otto. It is just to say that uniqueness of character is the hallmark of natural perfumery and is worth cherishing and honoring. If one is after exactly repeatable results as is desirable in the commercial perfume arena then natural perfumery may not be the world to enter.
In the initial stages of creating the Mala Perfume Essence I selected only the Tuberose Attar which presents a softer dimension of the very intense Tuberose Absolute which has a powerful heavy, deep, intensely sweet exotic floral character. Sandalwood has a refined effect on almost any precious aromatic essence, gracefully opening up its hidden aromatic depths so that they become accessible to the person wishing to investigate it. In end though, I did add a bit of the pure absolute to bolster the presence of tuberose within the overall composition.
Intermingling with the rich aroma of Tuberose is the Rosa bourbonia Absolute of South India. This species of Rose grows abundantly at the foot of the Palani Hills and offers a wonderful rich green honey like note nestled amidst the deeper warm, radiant rose bouquet. The top note is distinctly different than any of rose absolute I have yet encountered-another fine botanical gem amidst other gems. To fill out the roseaceous spectrum present in Mala Perfumery-a fine Rosa damascena otto was added as it possesses a very high sweet ethereal chord that compliments the deeper softer notes of the Rosa bourbonia absolute.
Jasmin sambac absolute from Tamil Nadu is central to the floral triad which includes the above two absolutes, otto and attar. Jasmin sambac is indeed the most widely used of all Indian flowers for garlands. The closed buds are picked during the daylight hours and then strung on to the cotton threads which binds all the flowers together and in the evening it begins to unfurl its flower petals and release its bewitching deep oriental, sweet sultry fragrance into the night air. The aroma is definitely part of the Jasmin aromatic realm but can never be confused with the sweet light ethereal notes of Jasmin grandiflorum.
I feel that the perfumer putting this recipe together might enjoy putting the Tuberose, Edward Rose and Jasmin sambac together first. Within a few days of making the combination in the suggested proportion they would have a good idea if the balance in the composition suits them. A month might even serve better to understand how the components are mellowing together. It is amazing to see how time changes the relationship of the individual essences.
The other oils and attars that form part of the Mala Perfume represent a different dimension of the composition. They bestow upon it a radiant green, herbaceous, spicy, but heady bouquet out of which the exotic floral chord emerges. It would be to the perfumers advantage to combine these three separately and allow them to meld together as might be done with the floral essences to see if further tweaking is required to meet ones personal olfactory tastes. When that balance is achieved in the herbaceous chord then it can be slowly added to the floral chord till the perfect balance is obtained. In my case I wanted the green herbaceous chord to really stand out before the lilting floral notes emerged.Iin the garland market one perceives this note so distinctly.
Davana essential oil offers the perfumery a most delightful uplifting potent penetrating green leafy herbaceous bouquet with an underlying delicate sweet balsamic wine-like undertone. Its richness can be underestimated so care is needed in its use. This member of the Artemisia family is now extensively grown in South India and its introduction to the garland makers trade is fairly recent. It is not a common item but finds its way into garlands for special purposes.
Holy Basil is of several varieties but distinguishes itself with a fine fresh sweet green herbaceous note that has a strong spicy component which is a lovely compliment to the unique balsamic wine-like notes found in Davana.
Genda Attar is at the core of this chord and gracefully integrates the other two essential oils in to its distinct sharp green-leaf, fruity heart which though softened by the presence of pure sandalwood oil into which the Tagetes erecta flowers are distilled, is plenty potent. The melding of these three essences gives a distinctly Indian flower market character to the composition and I know of know substitute for it in creating the feeling one gets while enjoying the cool of evening while walking amidst the gay colored stands of the garland makers.