Petaled lake

An ancient queen’s discovery.

| December/January 2001

Jim Long welcomes readers’ questions or comments; you may e-mail him directly at, or tour his gardens at

I’ve often read about the famous attar of roses, but since it is almost as expensive as gold, I’ve never actually bought any. Attar of rose is the essence, the actual oil from the rose. I learned of its legendary beginning while traveling in India this year. My friend and guide, Puneet, told me the enchanting story of attar of roses.

In the early 1600s, Princess Nur Mahal was being courted by the great Moughal Emperor Jahangir. He would do anything to please her. One day, probably to test him, she asked that a small lake be covered over with the weight of an elephant in rose petals.

So with great flourish and fanfare, Emperor Jahangir commanded his servants to bring him the weight of an elephant in fragrant roses and spread the petals over the lake. Once the roses had been cast upon the waters, the Emperor would row a boat with the princess, demonstrating his devotion to her.

Every day when the powerful Emperor asked what would please the Princess that day, her request was the same.

After several days, Princess Nur Mahal noticed an oily film on top of the water. Dipping her finger into the lake, the Princess found that the oil had the highly concentrated fragrance of the roses. She commanded her servants to soak up the oil with cotton wool and wring it out into bottles for storage. Legend has it that this was the first attar of roses.

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