Monday, March 15, 2010

Pure, Natural Perfume: Itr

The Persian word attar is a transliteration of the Arabic itr, meaning "fragrance", "scent" or "essence".  Persian rulers were known to wear attars more than 5000 years ago. 

In the 10th century, the great Persian physician Hakim Ibn Sina used distillation to extract the fragrances from plants and used these for medicinal purposes. Rose water became one of the most famous of his perfumes and continues to be very popular, particularly in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

Simply explained, itr is the pure extract of flowers in sandalwood oil. Sandalwood oil forms an ideal base for perfumes and  serves as a good preservative. No chemicals or alcohol bases are used. 

17th century India and Noorjehan, the Mughal empress's discovery - of an oily layer over the water from rose petals kept to cool overnight - was the beginning of the natural itrs in India, which developed and progressed in and around Kannauj, near Kanpur, and is still a centre of itr production to this day.

Although aroma bearing substances like Sandal, Musk, Comphor, Saffron as such were used in India before the advent of the Mughals, the range of such materials and essential oils was further enriched when new plants were brought by them from Central Asia. Abul Fazal in Ain-e-Akbari  mentions flowers like ghulab, bela, chameli, champa, maulshri and rajnigandha along with the roots like adrak or ginger and barks as sandal, cinnamon and aloe. Animal substances like musk, myrrh and ambergris were also used along with khus, a type of grass and a few other spices.

Today the most used varieties of itr in the Indo-Pak subcontinent are rose, jasmine, sandal, henna, nargis, majmua, kevda, khus and mogra. One of the most expensive itrs is oudh, made from the bark of a tree variety found in Assam.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Jewel of Divine Wisdom

Fusus al-Hikam (The Seals of Wisdom) by Shaikh-ul-Akbar Muhyuddin ibn Arabi (Murcia 1164 - 1240). Translated by Maulana Abdul Qadeer Siddiqui.


The first chapter of the Fusus al-hikam (The Bezels of Wisdom) is entitled 'The Wisdom of Divinity in the Word of Adam'.

It begins with the assertion that the Real created the cosmos as an all-inclusive object in which he could contemplate the entities of his names, but that until he created Adam and breathed his spirit into him, the cosmos remained like an unpolished mirror.


Here Ibn al-'Arabi's idea seems to be that the cosmos as a whole - the totality of existent entities - manifests all the divine names but does so in a diffuse way, whereas man, as a microcosm endowed with consciousness, brings them into sharp focus as a unity.


Here Ibn al-'Arabi's idea seems to be that the cosmos as a whole - the totality of existent entities - manifests all the divine names but does so in a diffuse way, whereas man, as a microcosm endowed with consciousness, brings them into sharp focus as a unity.



Potentially every man is a microcosm, but in practice men differ in their polishing of the cosmic mirror, with only a select few realizing their primordial nature. These are the prophets and saints, all of whom belong to the category of 'the perfect man' (al-insan al-kamil). They alone assume the character traits of God, which are latent in all human beings, and manifest them in perfect equilibrium.


Muhammad is the 'perfect man' par excellence. Basing his argument on the hadith (sayings of the Prophet), 'I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay', Ibn al-'Arabi propounds the view that as 'the Muhammadan reality' (al-haqiqa al-Muhammadiyya), Muhammad is identical with 'the first intellect' (al-'aql al-awwal), the eternal principle unifying the immutable entities. All the other prophets, beginning with Adam, only became prophets during their historical mission; each was the bearer of a fragment of this Muhammadan reality in a particular place and time, a bezel in which a jewel of the divine wisdom was displayed. None the less, after their mission the prophets continued to exert an influence through the saints who were their spiritual heirs.


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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Prince Dara Shikoh & Hazrat Mian Mir

Hazrat Mian Mir was a born Saint and in the realm of spiritualism happened to be “Avaisi” and was from the direct ‘Taabeen’ of the Holy Prophet. According to Dara Shikoh, Mullah Niamat Ullah narrated that Mian Mir learnt everything but never revealed anything about himself. Hazrat Mian Mir did not like to have many disciples and would only accept who appeared generally in search of spiritual light. He had no known source of food and for days he would remain without food.
Shaikh Abdul Wahid Banbani, who served Hazrat Mian Mir for two years, narrated that once Hazrat Bala Pir was lying in the garden of Mirza Kamran Baradari and he was massaging his aching foot and “I suddenly noticed, a python coming towards them. When it reached nearer, I told the Shaikh a python was coming. He said let him. When it reached near, the Pir got up but kept sitting. The python also sat just in front of Hazrat Mian Mir. The python spoke something. The Shaikh replied ‘all right it will be like that’. The python got up, took three rounds of the Pir and went away. When the python disappeared, Abdul Wahid asked about the exchanges, the Shaikh replied that the snake conveyed that he had decided that when he will see him (The Pir) he will take rounds around him and would only then leave. Hazrat Bala Pir agreed and he went away after taking rounds. 

Hazrat Mian Mir died in Lahore in 1045 A.H. (1635 AD) at the advanced age of 88 years, having lived in Lahore for a period of about sixty years. He breathed his last in the room in which he resided in Mohallah Khafipura. Prince Dara Shikoh was the disciple of Shah Muhammad Alias Mullah Shah, from Dadakshan; in turn a disciple of Mian Mir. 

The lower portion of the tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir and of the mosque attached to it, covered with marble, is the work of Dara Shikoh. The upper portion, built of masonry, is the work of Aurangzeb, who, with the materials collected by Dara for the tomb of Mian Mir and the construction of a road form Chowk Dara to Mian Mir, built the Badshahi Mosque at Lahore, bearing his name.

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Sakina tul Aulia by Prince Dara Shikoh


Tazkira Hazrat Mian Mir