The Direct Help Foundation / Maya Devi / Artemisia Indicia, Cardamomo y Especias, Rhododendron Anthopogon, Romero, Salvia Officinalis

In keeping with the Direct Help Foundation tradition, the Maya Devi line of incenses comes in striking packaging, white lokta paper boxes that are made in a somewhat similar way to Japanese stationary, with woods and herbs mixed in with the paper, to create some really neat works of art. And like the Direct Help Foundation incenses themselves, they’re given a string and button so that the box can be secured. And inside, a dried boudha leaf sitting on top of a wrap around 25 sticks of incense.

They’re so nice you can immediately imagine when you’re done with the incense, reusing them for some of the more lousily packaged Tibetan sticks. In the cases of the Maya Devi line, unlikely many a TDHF incense, there aren’t really any strong oils to saturate the packaging, all five of these incenses are really natural and as the case with a lot of Tibetan style incenses, perhaps a bit too natural in that the heavy wood contents of these incenses bring with them undertones of gravel, tire and campfire. I mention this specifically, not that it particularly bothers me, but because over time you get the distinct impression this is what loses many on lower end, under $10 boxes of Tibetan incenses. And also to say that in that range, the Maya Devis are perhaps a bit more superior for the price due to the fresh nature of the herbs being used. However it’s difficult to call whether or not they succeed in spite of their bases.

Artemesia Indicia appears to be a mixture of mugwort, juniper and both red and white sandalwood. Himalayan mugwort (titepati) always seems to be a lot more fragrant than the mugwort I’ve managed to dig up at local herbal stores, a scent that would make you wonder why it’s being used in incense at all. But I’ve noticed the Essence of the Ages ropes that use titepati tend to be some of the better ones, as if there’s something of a fruity or citrus note to them. Not that this particularly saves this incense given the heavy juniper content, a scent that almost eradicates the sandalwood notes, but it does give the top notes a fragrant herbal note. The woods actually remind me a little of some Medicine Buddha scents (such as the Dhoop Factory version) with that slightly sour almost coppery feel to it. Overall, though, this is the first of a few Maya Devis that seem to lack an overall personality. You could be torn between the obvious benefits of a natural incense and the scent’s failure to really do something.

Cardamomo y Especias demonstrates fairly well the difference between the wonderful smell of fresh cardamom in teas and the spice itself with what it smells like burning. Cardamom on charcoal seems to overwhelm its natural aromatics and in the case of this incense, even with added spices, the results aren’t quite up to speed. That’s not to say it’s not a nice incense nor has its own subtleties, but the juniper again outweighs what should be stronger cinnamon, clove and nutmeg notes. Like many Tibetans, the overall combination is almost corn, corn chip or tortilla-like in scent, with grassy or even straw-like notes. The overall spice content rather than being rich, seems to impart something like an orange or citrus note to the top. In terms of personality, it’s probably the middle incense of the five.

Unfortunately, Rhododendron Anthopogon probably has the least personality, which isn’t particularly surprising for a type of plant that varies from shrubs to trees. But again, it’s hard to blame the top notes when the juniper, sandalwood and binder so dominate the overall scent, perhaps more than any other Maya Devi incense. It’s almost hard to describe otherwise as it contains a number of generally unfamiliar ingredients like Indian gooseberry (which might impart some of the sourness to it) and myrobalan. You do get these pleasant wafts of herbal content throughout the burn, once again reminding you how pleasantly natural these are, but the incense is so wood dominated that it’s really difficult to describe in more detail. Perhaps there’s a green, almost vine like scent to it in there, but it’s one I only noticed occasionally.

Romero brings us to the venerable rosemary, a scent that’s a bit more pungent and evergreen when it’s found in incenses. And it’s quite the strong herb when you consider it’s mixed in with five different woods here: red cedar, juniper, red sandalwood, sandalwood and camphor. It’s almost a conundrum that the woodiest incense could be so leavened by one herb with presence. Somewhere in my stock I have some Portuguese rosemary powder, which reminds me a lot more of the herb you use cooking lamb chops, but here it’s quite a bit closer to, say, crushed pine needles. But again, there’s such a large content of wood here that the rosemary has to compete with campfire smells and the result is likely going to be pretty harsh for some. I found the orangey rosemary presence to be quite lively, or at least this drew out a reaction stronger than some of the other Maya Devi incenses.

Salvia Officinalis is very similar to other incenses using Himalayan sage or sweetgrass and is the Maya Devi incense with the strongest personality, the one of the five where the herbs more or less conquer (or at least even out) the strong juniper and sandalwood base. It’s the type of incense that will remind some of rubber or tire scents, but I happen to be on the side of the fence that likes the airy, quasi-lemongrass herbal nature and finds it rather peaceful and tranquil. The herbs render the overall scent with quite a bit of citrus: orange, tangerine and even lime peel and there’s also a bit of nuttiness to the wood base the other incenses really don’t have. Overall it’s probably the least gritty of the five and while I wouldn’t expect this to be an accessible incense, it’s the one of the five I most enjoy.

It would be difficult to call Maya Devi a successful line, despite the packaging more than half making up for what are rather modest, evergreen rich scents. They get thumbs up for keeping it natural, quality herbs, and using older recipes, but the heavy juniper and binder contents really compete with the rest of the ingredients making them fairly difficult to differentiate. While I’m not sure I’d have wanted to add oils to these to strengthen the individual scents, I do wonder if an adjustment in the ingredient ratios would help improve things, although guessing the prices would probabaly come up fairly drastically as well. Perhaps in the end I wanted to like these more than I actually did and that’s largely due to the humanitarian efforts of the company as well as the look of the product. In the end I might even feel the beautiful boxes were worth overlooking rather mediocre incense.

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