Champaca

Champaca

When I lived in Singapore, I often walked my dogs through an old decommissioned cemetery. While it was in use, the cemetery served as the final resting place for many large Chinese-Singaporean families, but it had now become wild with encroaching jungle. As I meandered through the narrow roadways of the cemetery one day, I experienced a beautiful fragrance — it embodied a vapor-like coolness, with the heat of a narcotic white floral. I paused to peer into the overgrowth to identify where the scent was emitting from, but was unable to find any blooms. The source of the fragrance eluded me.

 

Later on a trip to Bali, I happened upon a produce market where women sold canang sari — banana leaf and palm frond baskets filled with a variety of loose flowers used for religious offerings. As I perused these flower stalls, I suddenly recognized the scent that had captivated me in the old cemetery in Singapore. A woman selling the buttercup-hued blooms that emitted the fragrance told me the flowers were those of the Champaca tree.

When I returned to Singapore I bought a Champaca tree of my own from a local nursery to better understand the intricacies of its scent. From there I began to compose a fragrance with Champaca at its nexus.

The aroma of Champaca is elusive and otherworldly — one might be inundated by the full force of its scent from a considerable distance, then walk right to the foot of the tree and smell nothing. Due to this mysterious nature, Champaca has developed an association with spirits, appearing in folktales describing apparitions that travel between worlds. One such myth as detailed in “The Chempaka Tree” by Tan Jing Quee describes a beautiful siren that appears to a mortal man under a Champaca tree and ultimately lures him out to sea. When the man first views the maiden under the Chempaka Tree, “the smell of fragrance dances around her, and he is intoxicated.” 

In Theravada Buddhism, Champaca is named as the vehicle of enlightenment for the seventeenth Buddha, Aththadassi. Due to the tree’s spiritual significance, certain Champaca groves in Southwestern India are considered sacred and are protected from logging. 

Walter William Skeat’s “Malay Magic” cites “champaka” as an ingredient used to scent water for Malay funerary traditions. Mixed with eaglewood and sandalwood, the scented water is poured on the filled-in grave “in three libations, each time sprinkling the grave from the head to the foot.” 

Champaca by Cultus Artem is a spectral scent — potent and elusive in the same breath. Formulated from wildcrafted Champaca flowers handpicked from the jungle of Tamil Nadu in India, it captures the ethereal, euphoric quality of this sacred flora.

– Holly Tupper, Founder & Perfumer