Fragrance of the Earth in Literature

Fragrance of the Earth in Literature

When I first began to actively pursue the path of exploring the ancient and modern fragrant traditions of India, I was deeply intrigued about a perfume or attar which I had heard was still made in India- Mitti or Gil Attar. Attars in general intrigued me but I found in fascinating that perfumers had conceived the idea of making a perfume distilled from earth.

When I first contacted Ramakant Harlalka, and he asked me where I would like to start our aromatic explorations together- I told him that I would really love to visit the ancient attar center of production-Kannaum. So he kindly consented and the first journey we made together was there. It was a most incredible experience for me and remains vivid in my mind to this day.

During that first visit we were invited to explore many of the attar distilleries that were still functioning. We had as our guide a really lovely person named Mr. Avasthi.
He remains an intregal part of the attar project that was initiated at that time. Through Ramakant's help and guidance he was able to establish a small traditional attar distillery in his home in Kannauj(where he has lived all his life) and continues to make traditional sandalwood based attars for us there as well as in other parts of North India where he travels during different seasons of the year where particular aromatic plants are in bloom. Recently he has begun making a traditional Mitti Attar based on vetiver instead of sandalwood the first consignment which should reach here within a month or so.

Those who wish to understand a bit more about the process of preparing Mitti Attar might like to read an earlier newsletter on this subject

Mitti Attar

Reading the article on conjunction with viewing the video of the process will make the subject more understandable-

Mitti Attar Video

With these few thoughts in mind I decided to put together a selection of quotes which concern the fragrance of the earth.

Now, put your face in the earth and smell. Breathe in the fragrance of the living being that she is. The earth breathes, taking in air to fill her pores. And she breathes out, exhaling bits of herself that communicate her state of health or disease, her level of vitality.
Take a walk through the woods or a park. Periodically, bend down and smell the earth. How does the smell change under trees? In the grass? What does the earth smell where it is hard and dry and compacted. Soft and fetile? Can you notice different soil types, different histories. How does your garden smell?
The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature
By Starhawk

The fragrance, O earth, that has arisen upon thee, which the plants and the waters hold, which the Gandharvas and the Apsaras have partaken of, with that make me fragrant : not any one shall hate us !
The hymns of the Atharvaveda


THE smell of rain-wet earth upon the air,
And rose leaves, wet and flashing:
The fragrance floats me back, all unaware,—
I see that love-white face divinely fair
Again—and drooping head with braided hair—
Half know the fountain plashing,
The smell of rain-wet earth upon the air,
And rose leaves wet and flashing.
Wind-harp songs
By John William Lloyd

Somewhere in that scent of sea and plant life, somewhere at the bottom of it, like a bass note, was the scent of the earth. I went upstairs and opened a window so that scent could drift into the house while I slept.
The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
By Amy Stewart

The following are the opening and closing paragraphs of an essay entitled " The Smell of Earth," by G. Clarke Nuttall. Notice how well they fit together.

A bright fine evening after a day of rain is one of Nature's compensations. The air is peculiarly fresh and sweet, as though the rain had washed all evil out of it. The mind, relieved from the depressing influence of continuous rain, is exhilarated, and, above all, the strong smell of the earth rises up with a scent more pleasing than many a fragrant essence. In the town, indeed, this earthy smell is often obscured by the bricks and mortar which cover the land, and by the stronger, less wholesome odors of human life; but in the country it has full sway, and fills the whole air with its presence. Even a slight shower, particularly after drought, is sufficient to bring out the sweet familiar smell of the land and thrust it upon our notice.

This, then, is the history of the smell of earth as scientists have declared it unto us, and its recital serves further to point the moral that the most obvious, the most commonplace things of everyday life — things that we have always taken simply for granted without question or interest — may yet have a story hidden beneath them. Like signposts in a foreign land, they may be speaking, though in a language not always comprehended by us, of the most fascinating regions — regions we may altogether miss to our great loss, if we neglect ignorantly the directions, instead of learning to comprehend them.
English for secondary schools
By William Franklin Webster

The rain had ceased, the clouds that had blanketed the sky two hours before had been pushed and packed away into a low bank in the West, and a crescent moon was swung high in the mid-heaven. And whether it was that by miraculous dispensation my cold, which for days had inhibited the powers of sense and taste, stood away from me for a moment, or whether certain smells are perceived, not by the clumsy superficial apparatus of material sense, but by some inward recognition, I drank in that odour which is among the most significant things that can be conveyed to the mortal sense, the smell of the damp fruitful earth touched once again with the eternal spell of life. You can often smell damp earth on summer mornings or after summer rain, when it is coupled with the odour of green leaves or flowers, or on an autumn morning, when there is infused into it the stale sharp scent of decaying foliage, but only once or twice in the year, and that when the first feather from the breast of spring falls to the ground, can you experience that thrill of promise that speaks not of what is, but of what is coming. It is just damp earth, but earth which holds in suspense that which makes the sap stream out to the uttermost finger-tips of the trees, and burst in squibs of green. Not growth itself, but the potentiality of growth is there. The earth says, "Behold, I make all things new!" and the germs of life, the seeds and the bulbs, and all that is waiting for spring, strain upwards and put forth the green spears that pierce the soil But earth, young everlasting Mother Earth, must first issue her invitation; says she, "I am ready," and lies open to the renewal of life. . . .
Up and down
By Edward Frederic Benson

FROM THE DUST of the earth to the soul of man there is no absolutely odorless thing in the universe. Who has not noticed the glad, fresh smell of the dry dust when wet with rain? The odor is not due to the rainwater, for distilled water, sprinkled on the parched earth, will give forth the same smell.

When I dig I'm not tired at all. I like to smell the earth when it's turned up."

"It's rare good for thee," he said, nodding his head wisely. "There's naught as nice as th' smell o' good clean earth, except th' smell o' fresh growin' things when th' rain falls on 'em. I get out on th' moor many a day when it's rainin' an' I lie under a bush an' listen to th' soft swish o' drops on th' heather an' I just sniff an' sniff. My nose end fair quivers like a rabbit's, mother says."
The Secret Garden
By Frances Hodgson Burnett