Siddhi is a Sanskrit term meaning an occult power (like the ability to levitate, or see into the future) which is usually the accomplishment of long years of yogic meditational practices. One of the rarest of these faculties is the power to materialize perfumes out of nothing, and one of the only known masters was Visuddhananda Paramhansa.
The first written account of this perfume adept appears in The Lives of A Bengal Lancer (1930), a memoir of the very upper-crust English officer Francis Yeats-Brown. While traveling to Puri, a coastal town near Calcutta, for the Festival of the Chariots, Yeats-Brown became keen on investigating temples and strange Indian customs. He decided that he must find a wonder-working swami, so he began to query his guide (and I picture him here in his jodhpurs and pith helmet), “Can you tell us, then…whether there are any Yogis now living in Puri who possess those supernatural powers of which we hear in the West?” He was directed to “Babu Bisudhavan Dhan” who was described as, “a very fat man wearing nothing but the usual loin-cloth” with a reputation for transforming common objects into gold and other miracles.
In short order, Yeats-Brown asked if he might demonstrate his powers and a pupil in his entourage replied, “The Mahatma is in the middle of a lecture about the aspects and appearances of our Lord the Sun, whose energies he can control. If you like, he can summon any scent to appear before us out of the circumambient ether.”
‘We should be honored if the Mahatma would do this,’ I said solemnly…He called for cotton-wool and a magnifying glass…The Mahatma took the cotton-wool in his left hand and the glass in his right, focusing a spot of light upon the wool. Immediately the room was impregnated with the perfume of attar of roses.
He waved the scent away with his hand, and I certainly had the impression that it vanished at his gesture. ‘What other scent would you like to come?’ he asked…with a smile that showed two rows of perfect white teeth. I suggested violets and instantly the room was full of the scent of violets…. So I named musk, and sandalwood, and opium, and heliotrope, and flowering bamboo, and nicotine plants at evening. Each came instantly. There was nothing near him that could have served as a receptacle. He had no sleeve, no table, nothing but a magnifying-glass and a piece of cotton-wool.”
Yeats-Brown decided that even if it was mass hypnosis, it was of a sort that no one could explain and he later became an avid yoga student, publishing some of first popular yoga texts in the West.
In Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) the young Yogananda described entering the retreat of Visuddhananda and engaging in some rather sassy doctrinal dispute about why anyone would waste twelve years of meditation just to master a Siddhi when it would be easier to go to the market and buy a bottle of scent. Still, he was impressed. “I extended my hand which the yogi did not touch. ‘What perfume do you want?’
‘Be it so.’
To my great surprise, the charming fragrance of rose was wafted strongly from the center of my palm.” Later in the day, when he visited his sister Uma, she teased him for being “quite stylish” with his perfumes and Yogananda decided that since someone else who was not present could smell the perfume, it was more than just hypnosis but an “actual materialization.”
Visuddhananda Paramhansa apparently died or otherwise disappeared in 1939, so there are no further accounts of him except for some few stories collected by his disciples, most notably Gopinath, though none of these have been translated into English. He was said to have learned his ancient art of solar science or surya vigyan when he was taken at the age of 12 to live in Tibet for two decades in the hidden mystical land of Gyanganj, someplace north of Mt. Kailash. There he attained the Siddhi of materialization through his study of maya, the illusory dark matter that permeates and creates the Universe. Unfortunately, the secrets of his perfume art have moved back to the hidden land from which they came.