Dhoops / Sree Yadalam, Goloka, Padmini, Bic, Mysore Sugandhi Dhoop Factory

While the word dhoop is sometimes used as a general name for incense, it seems to be most commonly reserved for a certain type of extruded, thick, bamboo-less, sandalwood-based and heavily perfumed incense that is one of the most inexpensive styles available. Many different companies from India produce incenses such as these and they’re often used to fragrance large areas given the profuse amount of smoke they produce. Unfortunately they’re also commonly created from very inexpensive ingredients and often contain bitter, sour or other off scents that bring the overall scent down a notch.

The following is a survey of a number of different available dhoops with a general assumption that the scents are very close and can be described as a group. Usually at core we have a certain inexpensive binder, a decent amount of cheaper sandalwood or other woods, and what often seems like an oil blend that one might generally think of as floral, but often contains ingredients that are woody or citrus-like as well.  As mentioned, the results are very inexpensive with boxes often around a dollar or two.

Sree Yadalam Dhoop Industries’ Sree Sai Dha Sangam Dhoop Stick is an example that falls, perhaps, at the more synthetic end of the equation. The ingredients remain as explained in the previous paragraph, however in this case the perfume is a little too strong. Like many dhoops the oil smells like a mix of woody, citrus and floral elements with a subscent that reminds me of candle wax or the scent associated with a box of crayons. It seems to my nose that the elements one would associate with sandalwood are perhaps approximated rather than provided by the ingredient itself, leaving the experience fairly unsatisfactory. However, this is still certainly well within the standard characteristics of a dhoop.

Goloka Dhoop is probably a little friendlier and slightly richer in sandalwood content, but other than these differences, the dhoop scent is relatively similar. The slightly bitter or sour elements of the previous dhoop’s perfume oil are absent here, but the candlewax-like subscents are still quite present. Goloka Prayer is something of an alternative to the dhoop featuring a very strong resin content replacing much of the wood, perhaps guggal or frankincense in the mix, and the results are closer to certain Tibetan incenses. Of all the dhoops in the list this is perhaps the least traditional, although the resin doesn’t completely cover up the nature of the wood and oil mix commonly found in dhoops. Interesting, but ultimately its basis relies on fairly inferior and cheap ingredients.

Padmini Dhoop is a thinner stick compared to the previous three with a slightly more brick red hue. It’s also fairly removed from the synthetic-seeming and more bitter oils found in the Yadalam and Goloka version, with a bit more of a floral slant, which helps to free up the wood scents a little more. It’s also missing the more candlewax-like elements but perhaps trades these for a bit more in the way of cheaper binder or wood filler. Again, it should be reminded that these are all shades of a degree and that this remains quite close to the standard scent.

Bic Sandalwood Dhoop is relatively more pleasant with the dhoop scent moving to the woodier side of the equation with the lack of the “floral” perfumes associated with the others. It has hints of much more quality sandalwood, with touches of the better crystalline heartwood-like scents mixed in with the more buttery and sawdust like inexpensive outer wood. After the heavier perfumes of the previous four this one came as something of a relief.

Mysore Sugandhi Dhoop Factory’s Chandan Dhoop  is easily one of the more commonly found sandalwood dhoops and is both thicker and shorter than the previous  versions, almost like wood cylinders. Compared to the Bic, the sandalwood seems very mixed down with cheaper woods and I’ve often gotten a more bitter woody scent from these, which tend to be a bit smoky and harsh. Of course given their thickness, they’re probably better relegated for large room use than personal.

Similarly, Mysore Sugandhi’s Laxmi Dhoop should also be used for a larger room as it’s one of the most intensely smoky incenses you’ll find in any style, perhaps the closest an incense will come to setting off your smoke alarm. But unlike the Chandan Dhoop, the Laxmi seems to be of an uncommonly high quality. For one thing it’s not hardened like the others, with a size and consistency like a several inch long cylinder of play-doh. I find this so smoky that I’m more apt to pull inch-long pinches off a log than to burn a full one. The color is of a dark brown and while it has similar characteristics to the candlewax/crayon like scent of the dhoops early in this article, the mixture of herbs and oils seem to be at an uncommonly high level for a dhoop, which perhaps makes this one the most removed from the traditional style. And it’s also fairly easy to recommend in that I can think of no other incense like it, truly a one of a kind experience.

There are lots of other dhoops out there, but you find pretty quick that after sampling a few of them a certain amount of repetition sets in. Certainly the two I’d pick in this batch would be the sandalwood goodness of the Bic and the original and unusual quality found in the Laxmi dhoops, both of which, while you may not burn them often, will stretch the diversity of one’s collection of scents and do so without breaking the bank.

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18 Comments

  1. Aer said,

    April 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I know this is a older posts, but I would like to say that I actually enjoy burning dhoops at home, and although they are smoky. I generally burn them only in my bedroom, because this is where I do my spiritual stuff, so in a sense, my bedroom is my temple. I really appreciate the smokiness that a lot of Indian incense produce, I like the atmosphere that it creates. In fact, even though I love all forms of incense, from everywhere, I actually prefer Indian, the Japanese ones are wonderful too, but I like the bluntness and straight forward honesty of the good quality of Indian.

  2. Mantoo Kalsi said,

    November 11, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Hi, I have just come across this conversation about dhoop smoke. I love to light a dhoop stick in the morning and evening after returning from work. but my husband gets really mad seeing a lot of smoke in the house. He really gets frustrated and says that this smoke is actually injurious to your lungs and may even cause cancer as these dhoops are made from cheap ingredients. please help me to evaluate if this smoke from dhoops is really injurious to our health or not ? am i exposing my daughter too to this deadly smoke..
    Awaiting your earliest comment.

    Regards
    Mantoo

    • Steve said,

      November 11, 2009 at 6:52 am

      Hi Mantoo – I have had concerns about the smoke just like you. I only recall this coming up once before on this blog and I found the discussion for you. I don’t know if you’ll get the absolute final answer you’re looking for, but at least there’s a few comments along with some links to various medical studies (I don’t know if Mark is a doctor, but he seemed to have a lot of thought and information on the subject.)

      Scroll down to comments 22 through 31 between myself, Mike, Mark and Nancy (about halfway down the page):

      https://olfactoryrescueservice.wordpress.com/ask-the-olfactory-rescue-service/comment-page-3/#comments

      Hope that helps!

      – Steve

      • Mike said,

        November 17, 2009 at 8:40 am

        Thanks Steve for digging that up! I can only add that having some form of ventilation for your incense may not only be a sound idea in terms of not building up smoke but it also helps the aromas themselves by releasing any prior build up.

    • Mantoo Kalsi said,

      November 15, 2009 at 1:45 am

      Hi Steve,

      I just got the opportunity to read this site again today, thank you so much for the information. Yes, I have read the articles mentioned too. But I guess its all upto the person and the environment in which you lite up the Dhoops. So i have decided to lite dhoop in my husbands absence (when he is at work) so by the time he gets back from work, house is smokeless.
      Regards,
      Mantoo

  3. Maharani said,

    August 12, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    To expand slightly-I’ve noticed a lot of discussion of the fact that Indian style incenses are much smokier than Japanese incense, and this is generally seen as a fault. I would like to point out that most Indian incense is formulated/used for worship, and the smoke plays a role (see Dhoop above). I suppose there ARE Indian incenses made just for meditation or scenting a room, and they might be less smoky. This is something that is not clarified when Indian incense is sold in the US, alas. Also-for those of us who grew up with it, the smoke is part of its character. I find some dhoops excessively smoky too, but as I said above, they are not generally used in the home.

    • Mike said,

      August 12, 2009 at 2:08 pm

      I did acknowledge that dhoops are best used in larger rooms at least a couple times in the review. I think that becomes very obvious when you sit in front of one for long enough. 🙂 Personally the whole idea of smokiness isn’t necessarily given (at least by me) as a negative, quite the contrary – as one example, I’m generally not fond of smokeless incenses (noting the difference between a smokeless incense and heating a blend for a smokeless result, the latter which I do like a lot). But the relative output of smoke I do find important to impart in a review so the reader can make up their own mind, based on how much smoke each individual finds pleasant or unpleasant.

      When I started this blog it was actually after years of using Indian incense, but it was while I was exploring Japanese incense. I know it took me some mindful energy to get used to the smoke content in Indian incense again. But overall I don’t think it was the smokiness that I was adjusting to, rather than the smokiness combined with mediocre or lesser quality incenses. And that’s an important factor in many dhoops in my opinion, that they are very smoky and often low quality ingredient-wise. And ironically in the end I think the best dhoop in this group here is actually the smokiest. So it’s all relative in the end…

      • Maharani said,

        August 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

        That’s true-you did. I did think it worth commenting, though, that the smoke is part of the original design for this species of incense, and that might not translate so well to a domestic context. On the subject of reviews, I have found this blog really interesting and helpful in taking a more critical view of incense, and had a lot of fun exploring what is out there. So thank you so much for your efforts!

        • Mike said,

          August 12, 2009 at 4:05 pm

          I too appreciate you expanding our cultural knowledge of these products. It’s true that the semantics are different depending on whether we’re approaching incense as a product or the result of cultural and/or historical use. In fact I remember when trying to adjust from a Japanese incense smoke level to an Indian incense smoke level, it was suggested by a reader to burn an agarbatti outside or to basically change where you put your censor and I credit that as being pivotal to my readjustment (with some of those rare agarwoods, they’re so expensive you almost feel like you have to sit in front of the stick so you don’t waste the smallest waft of smoke :)).

          • Maharani said,

            August 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm

            I am a bit apprehensive about going further w/ Japanese incense for this reason: my sense of smell may be declining with age, though I hope not…. I just watched a U Tube movie on the subject of Japanese incense appreciation and the subjects were doing just that-sitting with their noses right over the incense, which was in a small censer or cup. So-different cultural practices obviously affect the way an incense is perceived, and someone used to one tradition may well have challenges with another. For me, the issue might be that I dont find the Japanese incenses sufficiently strong-but we shall see-I am still going through the Shroffs and have bought Pure Incense Agarwood and Mothers Nag Champa. Japanese is next on the list.

            • Mike said,

              August 13, 2009 at 7:34 am

              Kodo ceremonies with the little cups really do have the aromatic ingredient at about as low a threshold of smell as you can imagine, as it’s usuallys et up so the wood chip is being heated. Sticks themselves burn at a much more noticeable level. I will say that after adjusting I do feel comfortable switching from one style to another and actually notice qualities in Japanese incense I didn’t notice before when I, say, come off of burning Indian incense. I like to think the styles are all more interesting in comparison. But it is true, Indian agarwoods are *very* different from Japanese ones. And I’d find it fascinating to find a Japanese champa, I’ve definitely never seen one before.

              • Maharani said,

                August 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

                A Japanese Champa or, indeed, Durbar masala, would indeed be interesting! Here is a snippet of information on the subject of Durbars, that might add to your perception of the style. The term Durbar was originally used for public audiences or courts held by the Mughal Emperor, a Maharaja, Raja, Nizam or Nawab in India. It was the equivalent of a royal court in Europe. The ruler himself might also be referred to (but possibly not addressed) as “Durbar Sahib”-Lord of the Durbar. The English incorporated the Durbar and its associated ceremonial into the pageantry of the Raj, holding several large Durbars with Viceroys presiding, and ending with the enormous Delhi Durbar in 1911, presided over by George V and Queen Mary. All the Indian Princes attended. I don’t know whether Durbar incenses were purposely formulated for such gatherings, but their woody green tones might be deemed suitable for a large group where personal preferences are unknown. I could investigate this further. It is possible-indeed probable-that the name was selected for its local connotations. When I see “Green Durbar”, this is the image I see in my mind-and it definitely adds a nuance to my enjoyment of the style.

                • Mike said,

                  August 13, 2009 at 9:34 am

                  Very interesting. I’m wondering if perhaps the association was sort of the royal aspect, that is, incense durbars considered the royalty of masalas so to speak. I know the way it’s been transmitted in the US is via the Incense from India line, via Incense Guru who define it as “…wet-process incenses which frequently contain ingredients entirely unfamiliar in the West. They are usually very slow burning and quite sweet and spicy in bouquet. They can amalgamate solid and liquid perfumes in a gummy base which never quite dries, making the sticks themselves soft to the touch. All are rich and highly fragranced.”

                  • Maharani said,

                    August 13, 2009 at 9:48 am

                    My guess is the name references both the ingredients-as in their richness and quality-and the “royal” connotations. I have my copy of “Hobson-Jobson” in front of me and it has an entry for Durbar-the word is Persian in origin, meaning a court or levee, and in the Kathiawar States (Gujerat) the rulers were actually addressed this way as is “Yes, Durbar”, “No, Durbar” etc. There is however no entry for either masala or agarbathi-perhaps to be expected as Hobson-Jobson was in origin a work of reference for officials of the Raj….

                    • Maharani said,

                      August 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

                      Another thought-perfume-attars mostly-played a large role in court ceremonial in India, being offered with paan to honored guests. See the movie “Heat & Dust” for absolutely correctly observed Indian Princely State ceremonial.

                    • Maharani said,

                      August 14, 2009 at 11:57 pm

                      I did a little research: the original Durbar Bathis consisted mostly of resin incense and natural oils, which is what they preferred to burn in the Royal courts (Durbars), and which provided the high quality scent they expected.

      • Rob M. said,

        August 13, 2009 at 10:31 am

        Padmini dhoop is found in virtually every Indian food store where I live. I really appreciate this fragrance and find it one of the most “Indian” scents I know. But I have found the way to appreciate it is to place it in a safe container and then do work outside the house. About an hour later – after the stick has finished burning – the whole house has this wonderful scent that lasts and lasts. I find most Indian incense – especially the dhoops – needs to be appreciated from a distance. A lot of my agarbatti is burned in the the basement and the scent eventually permeates the whole house.

  4. Maharani said,

    August 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Here is a formal definition of dhoop:
    Dhoop
    A special incense used during Hindu ritualistic worship. The smoke from it has the ability to ward off negative energies. They being gaseous in nature are unable to ‘breathe’ in the sattvik smoke from dhoop.

    I have never known any Indian actually burn dhoop at HOME-people use agarbathies in my experience-so-traditionally, dhoop was used for temples etc. It is according to the definition above, supposed to be smoky.


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