Friday, August 23, 2013

Aromatic memories of home and hearth

Sometimes a faint whiff of a fragrance/aroma can remind you of the long forgotten events of our life. Many such aromas have evoked beautiful memories in me, some of which I am listing here in detail.

      1. Sambrani (Benzoin resin) : This incident happened some 10 years back, At Hyderabad’s Paradise signal. Our car was idling at the signal when a  man with a long beard and an incense holder in one hand and a peacock feather hand fan in the other tried to sway the white curls of the smoke from the incense holder towards our  car window. I downed the window panes to offer him some coins and the white curls of fragrant smoke tingled my nasal senses. The fragrant curls of smoke  threw me back in time to my patti’s(grandma) home and hearth. I immediately connected the frankincense as Sambrani. How can I not?  I have grown inhaling the smell of this at my grandparents home, “Sri Ramana villa”.
                                                        Chunks of sambrani 

“Sri Ramana Villa” was a lovely duplex home in a beautiful Suburb of Chennai, Mylapore.  It  had modern amenities in the first floor,  While the ground floor was traditional.   The backyard had a  closed well, Patti would place  a portable charcoal iron stove(sigri) in the backyard, once the charcoal was heated red, she threw the sambrani chunks  over that, immediately grey white curls of smoke would emanate from the stove. These fragrant smoke was used to dry our hair after our headbath. I and my cousins who often visited for vacations  were not interested  in this  oil head bath ritual. but patti insisted we have to  dry our hair since we would catch cold and the sambrani had anti-dandruff property also. It would even leave our hair fragrant for a long time and the fragrance would linger long after the incense was fully burnt.
From then on, everytime I passed the paradise signal, I started looking for that ‘Sambrani Man’. I now recreate the ambience at home by lighting a sambrani resin  in an incense holder and the fragrance and the white curls of smoke  has a beautiful effect on my psyche.

·         2. Kafir lime leaf powder(Narthelai Podi). One of the bottles that adorn my kitchen shelf is that of Kafir lime leaf powder. I use it to spice my oat porridge or as an accompaniment for curd rice. The moment I open the bottle, the lemony fragrance tingles my nose buds and refreshes me. No wonder, lemon oil is used for de-stressing in aromatherapy.   The fragrance also  leads me to the backyard of my husband’s patti’s home  at Lalgudi, a riverside town near Trichy.

                                           The kafir lime plant  in our ancestral village vaduvakudi

“Madhurambika Ashram” was a traditional home built according to tamil architecture. The backyard (pin mittam in tamil) had a broad platform with thatched roof. It was flanked by a tiny room and on the otherside a kitchen garden with herbal and traditional vegetable plants like mudakatthan(balloon vine)manathakkali(black night shade), sundakkai(thai brinjal), the regular citrus lemon which yields golf ball sized lemons, plaintain, 10 coconut trees, curry leaf,greens, moringa and more….All these grew beyond the well which had shallow water level.  It also had a beautiful brindavan(tulsi).

Between the platform and the rear door of the house,  grew a kafir lime tree. The branches and foliage of this tree formed a canopy between the door and the platform’s thatched roof. When on a vacation here, it was my favorite pastime to pluck the tender leaves of the kafir lime. I would wash it with the well water and dry clean them on piece of clean muslin cloth. The clean tender leaves along with ajwain,  salt, and dry red chillies would be pounded with  a hand pestle and mortar.  And the lemony smell emanating while pounding  would tingle my nosebuds and refresh my spirits.  This house was sold a few years back since it had no caretaker. Sadly, my children too miss this home. They loved drawing water from the well and going around the garden.

Now, I buy the commercially made narthelai podi, but whenever, I open the bottle the lemony fragrance not only lifts my spirits but also  reminds of the  beautiful times I spent in the backyard platform of my patti’s home at Lalgudi.

3. Frangipani and Ylang ylang. Every spring time, when I go for walk, I find the Frangipani(temple trees) and Ylang ylang( manoranjitham) in bloom, it reminds me of the hospital where I was born.  The Durgabhai Deshmukh hospital at Adyar in Chennai was where the whole brood of us maternal cousins were born. From the eldest cousin who is 4 years older  to the youngest who is 15 years younger to me and so I have been a visitor to this hospital during many of my cousins birth as well as during my own sis birth. This hospital has acres of greenery but the scent and beauty of frangipani and Ylang ylang always attracted me. I loved picking the frangipanis from the ground when I went there to see my new born cousins.  I pluck/pick  the frangipanis now  to float them in a uruli at my home.It leaves a beautiful fragrance all around the home and the memories of those times play in my mind.

                                        Frangipanis from my neighbourhood enclave adorning my home.

There are other aromas like freshly baked plum cakes which reminds me of my aunt’s home at Sankey tank,   the  comforting aroma of hot rice, ghee and dal reminds me of my mom’s kitchen @ Vijayanagar, the sandal fragrance reminds me of my first school trip to  The government soap factory, yeshwantpur( the makers of Mysore sandal soap). The  sandal fragrance is all around in the atmosphere when you pass through this road. Next time you are at Orion mall, or at ISKCON, Bangalore, inhale deeply to smell the fragrance of sandal in the air.

Many such  invigorating aromas/ smells  evoke warm childhood memories. All these cloaks me in a cocoon of warmth and serenity, filling me with nostalgia and positivity. 

This post exclusively written for Indiblogger's "Smelly to Smiley" in association with


  1. You brought me back nostalgic memories. That sambrani smell in our home. Those were the days.

  2. True SG, those were the days. Thank you :)

  3. True, some fragrances and smells have the power to transport us back in time. I the smell of Lux soap reminds me of my granny's place, even today!! :)

    1. Yes, Shilpa, soap fragrances have the power too. Lux at your grandmom's place? my grandmom's washroom smelt of pears :)

  4. I love sambrani too... very earthy, very homey:)

    Good luck for the contest:)

    1. Welcome here, Peevee. thank you:)

  5. very true..and I thought that Mylapore is the centre of times have changed...

    1. Thank you. Mountroad i presume is the centre.

  6. Interesting list :D All the best for the contest!

    Do breeze past my entry: