Almost every time I tackle a line’s series of durbar/champa style incenses I’m always afraid I’ll start ranting on about the lack of halmaddi in them and how much they’ve changed in a decade, while at the same time I often realize that not ALL of them had a lot of halmaddi in the first place, and that my nose has changed quite a bit in a decade as well. Add all this up with the dearth of information we tend to get on incenses due to the language barriers and you’re often wondering what is fact and where rumours and myth get started (I’m always hoping not here). A company like Incense Guru which produces Incense from India, possibly the largest line of Indian incense in the Western World, undoubtedly procures all these incenses from various sources under their label so it’s difficult to know what the original sources are (although that they break them up into particular styles has always been greatly helpful).
I do know, however, when I started buying incenses from this company well over a decade ago, just on a visual basis I can tell they’re different now. Many of the earlier incenses, particularly Maharaja, were definitely more hygroscopic then and pulled apart with quite a bit of wetness, now the incense is as dry as a masala. On the other hand I’m not so sure about Fantasy and the others, I feel like I’m tackling older memories here. But I introduce all of this because this “history” has a large influence on me; I’ve known these incenses for a long time and sense some sort of degeneration in their effectiveness, which means I’ll have a different perspective than anyone coming to these scents anew.
Deja Vu is a powdery and undescribably distinct modern durbar type, both sweet and dry in a way that makes you notice one element and then the other and back again. It’s light, dry and airy in a way that makes you wonder if halmaddi was every involved. It’s also a cousin to Incense from India’s very popular Snow Apricot scent (which from memory was never particularly hygroscopic) in that Deja Vu could also be considered a fruity incense. Unfortunately, in the end, it’s a lot like Shrinivas champas in that so many of them are perfume heavy and don’t have aggressive enough personalities to be particularly memorable. I mean if I was to burn a stick of this today, by tomorrow I’d have mostly forgotten a lot about it except in generalities. Pleasant yes, but ultimately generic, in fact even the company’s description doesn’t go farther than calling this a “stronger Nag Champa type fragrance.”
Maharaja (Mystic Temple has this style as Maharaj) used to be one of the style’s stone classics when it was made with gooey halmaddi, in fact in remembering the incenses that really put me on the road with it all, the original Maharaj was definitely one of them. But the problem with the incenses in this style has always been that even though they’re all remotely in the same aromatic area, they differ just enough with every purchase. And so very quickly, even a year from my first stick Maharaj/a had lost its hold on me. And today even if the sort of anise and spice mix still keeps the modern version roughly similar to what I originally loved, it’s now very dry and the spice cookie/spiced tea like scent that use to merge perfectly with the honey and halmaddi now just seems kind of unbalanced. So in a way this is kind of a perfect example of how memory interferes, as I highly doubt anyone coming fresh to this might not like it.
And speaking of old favorites, Fantasy was another, definitely solidly in my Incense from India top 10 in the old days. But where I have memory of Maharaja transmuting like a chameleon, with Fantasy I remember the early batches and then this one. I do remember it being a bit softer in the old days than it is now, and the bouquet of it does seem drier now, but it’s a lot closer in scent than some other drastic recipe changes. It’s roughly in the same style as the Deja Vu, except it’s scent is much more in the slightly floral, herbal and especially) spice direction with hints of saffron and sandalwood in the mix. And thus unlike Deja Vu I can usually get a mnemonic picture of Fantasy’s aroma in my head. While I do enjoy it now, it seems sort of mediocre compared to the Shroff, Pure Incense and Mother’s fragrances we’re seeing now.
Vision perhaps due to them all being part of the same review, reminds me a bit of a mix of Deja Vu and Fantasy (it probably is partially because these are all relatively skinny champa sticks). There’s more patchouli in this and something of ammoniac smell I’m starting to notice in some Indian incenses, but ultimately it’s still that sort of sandalwood, vanilla and sweet oil sort of scents that most champas are like these days when they’re not deluxe. Ultimately it’s hard to break down the elements more than this as so much of the scent is derived from a fleeting perfume scent. Perhaps the fact that I don’t have as much of a memory of the original incense makes it hard to dig up further impressions, but like Deja Vu this is another one of those generic champas that have lost their ability to force impressions.
So this is sort of an unusual quartet in that ten years ago I might have picked at least half of these out as examples of the best champas available, however now, I’m starting to feel these, some of the Mystic Temples, so much of the Shrinivas and Nitiraj lines are all sort of in the same boat, pleasant undoubtedly but not up the best of what’s available out there.