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Shopping for Itra in Benaras


16 June 2019. I’ve come to Varanasi after 3 years and shopping for Itra is on top of my to-do list.


Standing tall and strong against the western perfumes, the Itra from India has stood on its own for centuries. Unlike the complex notes or layers of the western fragrance, the Itra is uni-note in nature which only matures after a couple of hours of its application.

My fascination for the Itra is decades old, and it found its expression in Kashi and Old Delhi. The streets of Rajadarwaja have a few itra shops where I used to regularly visit for the precious aromatic itra, and in Delhi there are the shops in Dariba and Chandni Chowk.


Yesterday, after having the Darshan of Kashi Vishwanath I visited Rajadarwaja and once again stood at the shop of perfumer Sunderlal Shyamlal Khatri which I have been visiting for close to 35 years. Not much has changed... same humbleness, same excellent quality, same courtesy and honesty.


I checked the various qualities of Itra with them. To test the Itra one must first see the consistency or the viscosity. Thick viscosity is a general indication of no mixing with cheap additives, but one must also remember that during summers the viscosity can go down. The next step is to dab the itra on the hand, rub it gently and smell it. A sharp nose should be able to locate the presence of an additive like the mineral oil which some cheap perfumers use. The final step is to rub the dab vigorously till the skin turns hot, wait for some time and smell it again. This process excites the cheap additive and its smell surfaces up.


I bought khus, a very popular itra which is known for its soothing effect in summers. The renowned photographer Santosh-da in Pondicherry, when he had once smelled Khus on me, had said in Bengali,” Benarash Benarash jemon laagche”, meaning it smells like Benaras. Such is the association of Khus with Varanasi.


I also bought Hina, an itra which has a very warm effect and is therefore popular during the winters. It is a good idea to buy Hina at least one season before using it, because it matures with time, and older the Hina, the better it is.


Next on the list was chandan oil, whose aroma is known to disintegrate negativity in the body and the atmosphere. No other perfume in the world can match its divine aroma. I also bought Kashmiri Kesar which I found of very high quality and very reasonably priced. Unlike the packed saffron which I find in the Delhi markets, this saffron was sold loose and I could smell it and touch it. Wow, what an aroma!


My eye caught the row of bottles of Rosewater and Kewra water in the display cupboard. I enquired with the gentleman at the counter how their waters were different from the other well known brands, he asked me a counter-question. He said,” Have you tried using their Rosewater for your eyes?” I got my answer and picked up a few bottles of these waters.


Finally, I picked up a bottle each of Mogra and Mitti ka Itra. Mitti ka itra resembles the aroma of the ground after the first few drops of the first rain of the monsoon. This itra has a very niche appeal.


Itra and saffron do not come cheap. They sold the Itra at Rs. 180 per gramme, which is a whopping Rs. 1,80,000 a Kilogram. But what the heck, who wants a Kilo of such exotic stuff!

©Arun Vyas. This article may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author. Arun Vyas may be contacted at arun@arunvyas.com / arunvyas.com/contact



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Aneeta Bansal
Aneeta Bansal
22 Μαΐ 2021

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog on itra, it felt as though i was with you shopping for itra in the lanes if Benaras.

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Itra is also very friendly to the human body unlike wester perfumes which are alcohol based. Perfumes tend to disturb the nervous system and have an adverse effect on the body. Your writing is indeed helpful in identifying authentic itra.

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वाह इत्र के बारे में आपका ज्ञान बहुत गूढ़ है।

में अरोमा ऑयल के बारे में काफी स्टडी भी किया हे और अनुभव भी किया,पर इत्र के बारेमे मेने पहली बार आप से ज्ञान प्राप्त हुआ।

मुझे आपके शब्दो से सुगंध आ रही हे।

एक अदभुत अनुभव आप

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”Indian sacred architecture of whatever date, style, or dedication goes back to something timelessly ancient and now outside India almost wholly lost, something which belongs to the past, and yet it goes forward too, though this the rationalistic mind will not easily admit, to something which will return upon us and is already beginning to return, something which belongs to the future.”

                                                         -Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in India  

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