Mystic Temple / Red Tara (Red Dragon Durbar), Green Tara (Dragon Temple Blend), Kali Champa (Durgar Rose), Tigerwood (Dragon’s Blood)

In terms of big incense moments for me, that is those points in history where I can actually point back to and say my current interest in incense is partially because of, my first encounter with Mystic Temple incense in the late 90s was one of the biggest. This was not only the era when halmaddi was used in abundance, but one in which the oils and perfumes often seemed to be richer. There was a little store maybe a block or two down from the Haight Ashbury intersection in San Francisco which I stumbled upon that had a number of their incenses in stock, so I bought as much as I could and started to realize just how superb Indian incense could be.

But it wasn’t just Satya Sai Baba’s blends that took a hit over the next decade, the same thing happened to Mystic Temples incenses. As halmaddi started to disappear the company’s recipes started to change, certain blends would come and go and just a few would disappear forever (I’m still forlorn over a Mystic Temple stick called Ascendance which must have only lasted in their catalog for a couple of years). And where Mystic Temple’s blends used to be close to the pinnacle of Indian incense, we’re now in an era where Shroff, Mother’s and Pure Incense have taken over the spot. And now I’m left having to describe scents with the memories of better days hanging over.

The four scents in questions here are all incenses with coloring. All but the Green Tara are red in color, all but the Tigerwood are durbars of a sort (in at least they’re modern day champa or flora type incenses). The first two in this batch are thick enough to be considered floras and are obviously related given they’re both “taras” and they both use the word “dragon” in the description. I do remember the Green Tara from my early experiences a decade ago, but Red Tara I believe to be a bit more recent.

In days past this Tara style was particularly deluxe, an incense so variant on the Sai Flora formula that its similarities mostly exist on the thickness of stick. But where Sai Flora has a complex bouquet that’s partially a result from how huge the aroma is, Red Tara‘s is a lot more simple as if it’s missing something in the middle. It’s similar to most red colored champa variants with fruity tops and spicy bases and in this case the overall aroma isn’t terribly far from the Madhavadas Magnolia (found in both Pure Incense and Primo lines). But I also get quite a bit of strawberry and that strange note that always reminds me of a fresh box of crayons. Overall it’s definitely a nice scent but like a lot of modern durbar styles where the base has changed, there’s a harsh note that becomes an irritant over the burn, an element exacerbated by the high smoke content. And I probably should note when I first tried a small packet of this I liked it enough to buy in bulk, but I haven’t been particularly impressed by the bulk package version, as if even in the last 5-6 years it may have had a recipe change.

The thing I remember most about the “Green Tara” version of this stick (I think it commonly goes as Dragon Temple Blend), was that even though it had a very alluring aroma, I could never keep any of the sticks lit, as if the contents were too dense. This problem isn’t apparent in the newer versions but then neither is the alluring aroma. In the end this actually ends up being fairly similar to the Red Tara, with a similar “crayons” subnote, although the changes are obviously that this is has some green notes and is a little less subdued and quite a bit hotter. In the old days these green notes had hints of wintergreen and kind of a deluxe perfume mix, the newer version seems by comparison like a more generic green note somewhere along the lines of an evergreen/mint mix. Like the Red Tara, it’ s a very smoky incense and thus problematic in the same ways like being a bit on the harsh side and strong without having much of an assertive personality. It’s still intriguing in its own way, but I’d definitely stick to getting a single packet (and I should mention that it’s inexpensive enough where an experiment would be justified).

Kali Champa is a red colored champa stick that is a variant on several incenses across both the Mystic Temple and Incense from India spectrum that feature a mix of champa elements and rose/floral, cherry and/or strawberry hints in the mix. Even in the halmaddi days I never thought this type of mix was particularly exciting but at least then the sweet honey in the base gave it some breadth that the modern version is missing. But unlike the previous two  incenses, there’s no particularly harshness here leaving this scent sort of generically friendly and thus likely to be pleasant to most who prefer floral and fruity notes. In fact the cherry tartness right on top is probably the scent’s most pleasing aspect, even if it essentially fails as a rose stick overall (and even then only due to the “subtitle”).

The Tigerwood is definitely the odd scent out in this batch, included here more as a sort of convenience. This is a masala incense that I’d probably categorize more in the poorer category. The dominant characteristics seem to be a combination of dragon’s blood resin and sandalwood (or more likely cheaper woods), but it’s largely drowned out by a strange floral perfume in the mix which seems to compromise the dragon’s blood scent, leaving the mix rather unbalanced. Overall it leaves one with a sort of bitter or sour type of scent that I didn’t find particularly pleasant although I should add a caveat that dragon’s blood isn’t really one of my favorite resins, so if you’re more inclined to it you might like this better than I.

Again, this is a rather small subsection of a very large incense catalog, so I consider this an ongoing series whose completion may rest upon any particular future enthusiam. I will admit that in this groups there aren’t really any winners or losers so much, the line does have some impressive scents that you can read about by clicking on the Mystic Temple category somewhere on the left.

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1 Comment

  1. John Gensler said,

    July 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    I own the Mystic Temple Incense Company. We stopped offering Green Tara, because the manufacturer went out of business. I don’t remember ever having a scent called Ascendence. However, I still have a small stock of Transcendence left, but it is almost gone and sold out. Could this be the same scent you are looking for? I directly imported Mother’s Autumn Leaves and Patchouli that I offer in bulk. I haven’t purposely changed any formulas for my incense, unless the manufacturers themselves did it. Part of the reason of course, is disappearing raw materials, and the explosion in cost, of ingredients such as pure sandalwood. Everyone desires and demands purity, but when it comes to incense, few can afford it, or pay for it.


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