mukhallat means “blended” generally refers to exotic
Arabic blends created with ingredients like rose,
saffron, musk and amber that compliment oud and
offer outstanding sillages and longevity.
Attars form an integral addition to celebrations,
festivals and Friday prayers. Guests are welcomed
with a few drops on their hands during weddings
for instance, as are worshippers, before entering
Arabic incense is called bakhoor – agarwood chips
or flakes burnt over charcoal in traditional incense
burners called mabkharah. While many prefer plain
agarwood, scented versions soaked in perfume oils
that emit aromas are also popular. Bakhoor not only
perfumes homes but also mosques, mausoleums,
cars, shops and clothes.
Tunisian culture scholar Sidi Adel believes that
bakhoor is the quintessential symbol of celebration.
It enlivens festivals like Eid, in which the incense
is continuously burnt. “Bakhoor spreads cheer,
dispels negative energy and creates a spiritual vibe
in the home. It’s a sign of Arab hospitality. During
social gatherings, the mabkharah is passed on
among the guests who, on receiving it, recite du’a,
or prayers, for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be
upon him), even scenting their clothes with the
smoke” he explains.
Sidi believes that bakhoor is also considered as
protection against the evil eye. “The Arabic phrase
‘inbakharu lak’ (may you be incensed to be guarded
from the evil eye) is a way to humorously commend
or congratulate someone in a lighter vain, especially
children or adolescents!” he smiles.
India houses one of the world’s most important
agarwood reserves in its eastern forests of Assam.
Oud has been a part of ancient Indian history for
Right from the Vedic era, agar has been a part of
Indian culture. In the “ashtagandha,” or list of eight
natural fragrant treasures, agar is mentioned first.
It is believed that along with sandalwood, agarwood—also called “agaru”—was once offered to the
sacred fire during “havan” rituals central to the Vedic
religion. The ancient medical science of Ayurveda
speaks about the numerous health benefits of agar,
like healing wounds, skin diseases, coughs and colds,
to name a few. Agar is also an age-old aphrodisiac.
Vedic researcher and historian Dr. Srinivasan
Krishnaswamy, who is based in Assam, explains that
agar finds prominent mention in ancient classical
Indian texts. “The Ramayana, one of the most
important mythological texts, speaks about the
revered King Dasharatha’s corpse being embalmed
with agar oil among other materials. While the
Mahabharata, another great mythological epic, talks
of the feel-good effects of agar, the classical text
‘Bruhat Samhita,’ which is synonymous with fasci-
nating references to fragrance, speaks about agar as
‘the pleasing aroma that monarchs would enjoy,’” he
Because of its high demand in the Arab market,
the prices of oud have sky-rocketed over many
decades, making it largely unaffordable by the
The prices of perfume oils and oil extracts in the
Arab world and India are calculated by way of “tola”
or 10-12 ml (depending on the perfumery or brand)
which many perfumers and aficionados consider a
standard quantity. Pure dehn al oud oil would cost
approximately between USD $100 and USD $5,000
per tola in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Many brands even sell oud oil for much lower prices.
While one can buy oud oil in its purest form, many
brands even have blends with a dominant dehn al
oud and other subtle accompanying notes like woody
notes, amber, musk, saffron or rose.
Pure oud oil is called “dehn al oud” (fat of the wood) in Arabic. Pictured is pure
agarwood oil from Assam. Photo courtesy of the author.