Ramakrishnanda / Bala Krishna, Govardhana, Madhurya Rasa, Shringara

Ramakrishnanda Part 1
Ramakrishnanda Part 2
Ramakrishnanda Part 3
Ramakrishnanda Part 4

My relationship with Ramakrishnanda incense has kind of hopped all over the place. I first encountered their line when it first came out in a local new age shop and was immediately impressed by the quality of scents based on how the incenses had almost permeated the whole store. But I found out quickly via the sampler packs that there were some incenses that were almost atrociously bad as well, and I also found out that much of the amazing aromatic qualities of the incenses had largely faded after six months (which is fairly typical of most Indian incenses). So in a year I went from thinking they were one of the better incenses lines on the market to somewhere in the middle.

There was also a small batch released about a year ago (covered in the Part 4 link above) that I found somewhat average, especially to what Shroff and Mothers were starting to release at the time and this sort of cemented my opinion that Rama were not quite as good as the new premium incenses coming out, but they were certainly better than the Satyas and Nitirajs. And with this new group of four incenses, I think the brand has brought the quality up a little, especially on (at least) two of these which are well worth checking out.

Ramakrishnanda’s Bala Krishna is not really a new incense as much as an old one in a new package. Sublabeled as saffron and frankincense, Bala Krishna is the classic dry saffron sandalwood masala (Mystic Temple has a version for example), the thin yellow stick with a mix of sandalwood and camphorous qualities with a nice saffron spice on top. Personally I find it pretty hard to even locate where frankincense might be in this one, as it’s never come to mind with this aroma, but I’ve always liked this one as it has a sort of “chandan” sandalwood type of scent to it that merges nicely with the saffron. It’s not really a surprise this one keeps popping up, it’s quite dependable and varies little from company to company.

As traditional as the Bala Krishna is, the Govardhana is nice little innovation in the world of champas with loban and coconut featured as the two main ingredients. I can’t even think of another incense that’s tried this combination before and I usually find coconut incenses to be almost disastrous, especially when they evoke cheap suntan lotions. The results here are impressively complex and inexpressibly beautiful. The loban isn’t anything like the gravelly benzoin scent you get in other sticks or resins, here it’s nice and cooling, even a  touch fruity without being overbearing. Well worth checking out this one, the subnotes even create some nice vetivert and/or patchouli associations.

Where Govardhana was a complete success, the combination of the khus and almond in the Madhurya Rasa blend doesn’t work at all. There’s something in the perfume that kills an essential part of the khus aroma and a part of the base that adds too much biutterness to the mix. This is very typical of the other incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line that don’t work, there’s an obvious clash at work. Even the almond isn’t particularly identifiable, which is quite disappointing, especially when you do think a combination like this could work.

There’s one more success in this new group, the combination of citronella, patchouli and geranium in the Shringara. I burned a stick of this late last night which caused me to bump this review a ways up on the list just to get the word out on this and the Govardhana. This is a big red colored champa that seems to have quite a bit of spice in the mix as well to go with the very interesting combination of three oils. One wonders if the same perfumers who create clashes like with the Madhurya Rasa also create the alchemic wonder of something like this, where the more cloying aspects of citronella are balanced so nicely by the patchouli and geranium. Perhaps the only issue with this stick might be that because the oils are so intense, I can imagine they’re probably going to fade quite a bit at some point. But if a cherry red, loud, brash scent amplified by lemongrass and patchouli sound up your alley, it’s well worth a look.

Anyway even if there’s one failure in this group, I still love the fact Ramakrishnanda are still up for experimenting with formulas and trying new things, because they can add two successes to their list.

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Shri Loman Ngagyur Nyingma Buddhist Charitable Society of Bhutan/World Peace Grade B

I’m not sure how long this one’s going to last, since it’s buried at the bottom of this page but I wanted to bring this traditional Bhutani stick to attention. I’d be curious to try the Grade A on this as World Peace Grade B is a remarkably good Nado Poizokhang clone and roughly the same quality as Nado’s own grade B. This version is created from sandalwood, astasugandha, ambergris, and saffron and is in the classic Bhutani style, with a pink color and an almost plastic-like consistency. The aroma is typical, a nice berry, spicy, woody and peppery blend and won’t surprise anyone familiar with Bhutanese incense. Perhaps the best part is comparatively it’s a lot more affordable than Nado. So it’s well worth picking up if you need to check out a traditional Bhutani stick.

Krishna Store / Agarwood, Everest, Frankincense, Jasmine Natural

The Krishna Store offers one of the most unusual lines of Indian incenses, along with all sorts of books, videos, CDs, beads and the like. The first time I looked at the store, it seemed that they only offered single aromas at 250g packages, but unless my eyes deceived me then, they do seem to carry smaller packages now. They have also packaged 16 of these aromas as a sampler bundle, which is what I purchased maybe about a year ago. The sampler bundle, does change, however, but in checking I could only find one of the 16 that doesn’t seem to be available anymore. Some of these incenses are not in that bundle anymore, but should still be available.

Let’s face it, Krishna Store is selling mostly incredibly inferior product. The florals in this line (the packages seem to hail from 2-3 different companies including one called Gopala) are what I’d call disasters, not only do some of the scents not even remotely resemble what they’re trying for, but the results remind me of the potent and stomach turning smells that used to leak out of chemistry labs in college. However, there appears to be one decent incense in every four or five, including one in this first batch of reviews.

Krishna’s Agarwood smells nothing like agarwood at all, in fact it’s far closer to lemon furniture polish. It smells remotely what it would be like to combine a cola or other soft drink with a champa. Ramakrishnanda’s Rasa Lila is a roughly similar analog but this isn’t nearly up to that quality level. The perfume oil on top is instantly cloying and a bit sour and gets worse as it goes. It seems artificial in some way, particularly so when it’s impossible to guess what the creators were trying for. And unfortunately the spice note present on the fresh stick is missing during the burn.

If one was to take the bitterness of Tibetan “campfire” incenses and turn it into an Indian champa, you might get this Everest blend. It’s also kind of a rough step off the Mystic Temple Patchouli Champa. Unfortunately this is very astringent and unpleasant stuff with that heavy sense of burnt rubber in the background. It’s very indicative of the way these incenses are made, where there’s a roughly decent base dipped in some horribly synthetic perfume.

Krishna’s Frankincense (this package had the company Vaikuntha on it) is a rather standard frankincense masala, with what smells like a lot of inexpensive benzoin as well, making it smell like a catholic resin mix. You’d be lucky to find a less refined frankincense stick and it doesn’t help there appear to be some oils in the mix as well, destracting from the authenticity and giving the bouquet a much more static and shallow scent than necessary. Similar to Vinason’s Frankincense.

The one winner in this bunch is the Jasmine Natural (I think this is the same incense sold just as Jasmine), a very nice, big, thick, almost flora sized durbar with a spicy floral mix. It’s Jasmine-ish rather than authentic, but the aroma is still quite pleasant, very gentle and slightly honeyed. It’s not in a Shroff or Dhuni league but it’s worth picking out as a minor gem in the catalog. But be warned, it’s still slightly shallow as if the aroma doesn’t carry very far, and I wouldn’t doubt at all that this was created synthetically.

There are three more installments coming up down the line, but my guess is I’m a month or two away from getting to the next one, so stay tuned.

Kunmeido / Gokuhin Daikunkoh

We’ve covered quite a few Kunmeido incenses in the past and have probably discussed this temple length “every day” stick in the past, because it’s a high quality, fairly notable work in a style that’s usually dull as ditchwater. Kunmeido, of course, are quite well known for using fenugreek as a spice in their incenses, which gives incenses like Reiryo Koh and Unkun Koh signature aromas. With the thick and long Gokuhin Daikunkoh, you get a something of a variation on Reiryo Koh. This is a firey, spicy sandalwood blend, so spiced with herbs even calling it a sandalwood doesn’t seem quite right, it’s entirely defined by that sharp note in the spices. Overall this feels quite a bit more deluxe than the usual “daikunkoh,” it’s perhaps most similar to Baieido’s large aloeswood coil, but not quite as refined. If you love the other Kunmeidos, don’t forget this one.

Doma / Agar 31, Relaxation, Ribo Sangtsheo, Pyukar, Mandala, Special Incense

Doma Herbal Incense have a rather sizeable line of Nepali incense products that vary from the inexpensive to the premium ($18). Their products vary quite a bit in style, packaging and quality, but for the most part they tend to be pretty standard Nepali/Tibetan fare with the lion’s share of their sticks tending to inexpensive woods mixed in with light aromatic touches. This review covers about six different packages in the line.

The Agar 31 – Healing Incense (as well as the Relaxation) comes in these unusual flat sized boxes that aren’t really all that easily storable when you consider most Tibetan sticks come in long boxes or rolls. This is what I’d call a pencil shavings incense, even compared to other Agar 31 incenses, this has very little in the way of luster. It even has a strange, light floral note in the mix which is very unusual for this style. The black agar doesn’t appear to be very high grade and along with the herbs it just appears to flavor up a very overwhelming and cheap cedarwood base, which ends up being the dominant aroma.

Relaxation, fortunately, is quite a bit better, but that’s likely because the middle is filled up with resins rather than woods. Not sure if we’re dealing with frankincense, benzoin, myrrh or gugal gum here, although I’d assume it’s a mix of some of these that combines with a bit of herbal swank in the middle. It’s akin in some ways to both Yog-Sadhana and the swankier Heritage (or maybe a mix of the two), as well as the Natural Arogya-Karmayogi or Himalayan Herbs Centre Traditional Mandala. I like all these scents quite a bit, as well as this one, as they’re essentially like resin mixes embedded in Tibetan woods. Don’t expect fireworks, but it’s a good buy for the money and it holds up to any of the comparisons.

Ribo Sangtsheo is one of the biggest rolls I’ve ever seen in a cardboard box. The ingredients listed are cardamom, clove, spruce, hemlock, butterworth and benth, but like many inexpensive Tibetans with dictionary lists of ingredients, the incense ends up as the average. I kind of think of a scent like this as sour wood. It seems to have a great deal of pencil shavings mixed in with the other elements. Nagi? Sandalwood? Saffron? Musk? Maybe in microquantities but I don’t even think straining turns up much in the way of aroma. Then again, most incenses with the Ribo Sangtsheo name tend to be for inexpensive offerings and thus have as much traditional use as aromatic, so perhaps in the end this shouldn’t be held up to too high a standard. As an aromatic it’s not much of interest.

Pyukar is not an expensive incense but at least it doesn’t just smell like spiced up pencil shavings. Like one of the other higher quality Domas, the smoke is fairly low and there’s enough sandalwood to give it a bit of dignity as well as some benzoin and a light touch of spice. It’s still a touch on the sour side, but it’s also a bit similar to Red Crystal and thus bears a sense of familiarity. A touch better than fair.

Doma’s Mandala lists sandalwood, musk, saffron, juniper, and cardamom, but the deep red and thin base speak of cedar and/or juniper wood, and once again it’s difficult to suss out the ingredients on the roll (although strangely the saffron does manage to peak out). Overall this is one of those generic red Tibetan sticks with a strong nod to the campfire, with little to speak for it except for a slight sense of high alititude. There’s lots of incenses like these, after a while it’s difficult to really sense any great difference in quality from one to another.

Finally there’s Doma’s premium priced Special Incense which to be fair isn’t really worth a half or third of its price, given that it shares that tier with much better incenses. Still it’s easily the best Doma in this group. Like the Pyukar this is a low smoke incense and I’d guess in this case that’s due to the myrrh content. The scent is very clean and mellow, with quite a bit of resin and wood in the mix. The major difference to me from other Domas is the base wood quality is a lot higher than usual, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s share of campfire associations. It does have that red berry juniper roundness, but then so do a lot of incenses at much more affordable prices.

Doma have quite a few other products, but based on the handful I tried here, I wasn’t inspired to check out any of the other incenses. In many ways the level of Doma quality is generally what you’d expect as a baseline for Nepali incense, there’s definitely some cheaper companies and a few much better, but what you’ll find in the catalog will generally be traditional and not too flashy.

Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masalas / Ruby, Shanti, Shran, Super Star

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12

For a bit more introduction to this series of wet masalas, please be sure to read Part 12 above.

Red or pink colored durbar or nag champa sticks (for instance Mystic Temple’s Kali Champa or Incense from India’s Red Poppies) are all fairly common in scent, they tend to be floral on top, usually in a rose-like direction. Even back in the days when halmaddi was more available very few of these stood out in any way and nowadays they’re almost interchangeable. So it’s fortunate that Shroff’s Ruby approaches the same formula and finally makes it go somewhere. For one thing the perfume that tends to be bland in other similar sticks is done much better here as you’d expect, with an interesting mix of rose and strawberry notes. The incense really fits its name, akin to a berry scented candle, but much richer. This one was something of a late comer for me, but now I’d consider it one of the best in this excellent range.

Shanti has the same perfume strength as Little Woods, but moves in spicier and herbal directions. The ingredients list this as a sandalwood and vetivert combination, but like Drona which shares these two ingredients, Shanti is much more distinct, and probably distinct enough in a way that you’ll either like this or not. The sandalwood is very noticeable on this one, at times it even seems concentrated, giving the whole scent a deep richness. This too has a caramel subnote and even a bit of sweet muskiness, but it seems to be something not on the ingredients list that sets this apart, as again, I’m not detecting any massive amounts of vetivert in this, but I do detect and herbal quality it might be providing through the combination.

Shran is an incense for screwpine/kewada lovers, as in many ways this might be described as a kewada champa. Unfortunately I’m not sure it works all that well as an incense, but then again I might not really count myself so much in the screwpine tent. The ingredients seem to be as high quality as any other incense in the range, including some rose and sandal notes in the mix, the former more or less overlapping some with the screwpine. It’s a mellow scent overall but I don’t find the base and perfumes to work all that well together, in fact it seems that any of the sweeter, richer notes in the base are actually fighting with the screwpine notes, which seems like it works better with more dryness.

Super Star seems to be modelled on Satya’s Super Hit, or at least the first time I burned a stick it reminded me of what Super Hit used to smell like when it was brilliant instead of dull. This is a beautiful combination of sandalwood, rose and what Shroff calls in several of these incenses “oriental” notes. The result is a very sweet champa with an accessible rose-infused aroma in front. In fact this scent has the breadth and richness of old school champas and is quite reminiscent of the kinds of scents Shrinivas did in its heyday. It’s quite easy to recommend this as it’s friendly on every level.

More Shroff reviews to come, this is one company that’s almost impossible to stay ahead of.

equinoxaromatics-New Store

Equinoxaromatics is a new incense and raw materials sit that is run by a fellow incense maker named Andrew. He carries many Indian styles as well as Biaeido and Shoyeido and will be increasing his stock rapidly. He also has many conntacts around the world for raw incense making materials at reasonable prices with more on the way. I have tried some of the Aloeswoods as well as many of his resins and they work really well.

He has mentioned that he will be putting his own creations on the site soon, when this happens don’t miss the floral & Aloeswood bakoor blend.

He is offering a 10% discount to ORS readers (except Shoyeido products). The coupon code is “orsdiscount”

Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masala / Darshan, Drona, Little Woods, Nag Champa

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11

There are probably enough comments on Shroff’s last batch of wet masala incenses in various threads on ORS that reviews at this point are near redundant. This is partially because this batch is easily one of the best to be imported to the United States in years (perhaps only the batch with Pearl, Jungle Prince et al was more celebrated). In terms of quality to cost ratio, you may not find better incense out there.

Previously there were only two wet masalas, French Musk and Saffron. I think the French Musk probably fits better in style with the group represented by Pearl, Jungle Prince et al, which leaves Saffron as the best comparison for the new batch. However these don’t strike me as wet masalas in the same way the old halmaddi-rich champas did, they’re not particularly gooey or easy to pull apart. But they’re all very rich, powerful and high quality scents based on some combinations that you might not have come across before.

Fresh on the stick, Darshan is redolent of candy green spearmint and you’ll need to like that to like this incense. The other ingredient here listed is musk with citrus, but there aren’t any really overt citrus elements that come to my mind, such as lemon or orange. What happens is that the mint and musk end up combining with the sugar and spice base to give off an aroma not far off from baking Christmas cookies. There’s even an unusual caramel note in the mix that helps to increase its sweetness. If you’ve familiar with past spice champas (the one that comes to mind is the long, sadly deleted Blue Pearl Spice Champa) you’ll have the general idea, but the spearmint really makes this a one of a kind stick. I find it particularly impressive because mint oils are often powerful enough to overpower most other notes in an aroma, so the balance struck here is clearly the work of a very impressive recipe. I fell in love with this one instantly and never grow tired of it. I’m likely approaching 100g already burned already.

Drona could be the weakest of this new group of eight, but relatively speaking that still puts it way above the incenses in recent reviews like Nitiraj or Sarathi. The ingredients here are musk, sandalwood and vetivert, however only the musk strikes me as particularly obvious and you can definitely compare this incense in part to Shroff’s French Musk. It ends up being a little on the generic champa side and shares the caramel notes of the Darshan, but other than the slight vetivert teases along the outside, no other element in the incense is any louder. The aroma ends up being kind of light and fluffy, with slight touches of vanilla and cocoa powder, but unfortuantely it doesn’t really have much of a hook or personality to sell itself. One might think of a mild nougat scent, slightly creamy, even certain latte types are reminiscent.

Little Woods is quite simply one of those incenses ORS was created to tell people about, it’s a triumph on every level, simply one of the very best incenses you can buy at its price level. The ingredients here, perhaps confusingly, are listed as fouger, oriental, rose and ambery sandal. The former element appears to be particularly important, and rather than describe it myself, I’ll just send you here. Of course any really classic incense is going to have a blend so perfectly balanced that to break it down would be difficult, and that couldn’t be more true for Little Woods. I find some similarity between this and N Ranga Rao’s woods, particularly the way certain wood subnotes merge with almost citrus-like evergreen touches on the top, but that’s as far as the comparison goes, because the perfume on Little Woods is much richer. But part of why such a strong perfume works is because it’s grounded in a superior base, with a mix of floral notes, leather and spice tea. In fact even well in excess of 100g burned, I still notice new elements of the incense, in fact I’m sitting here now going, yeah I think I get some of that ambery sandal too. Anyway, essential. In caps and boldface.

Shroff’s Nag Champa is interesting because it came out so close to the Dhuni version with so many similarities that they’re worth comparing, however Dhuni’s own brand has actually improved and changed enough that newer versions probably aren’t so comparable. Anyway Shroff’s entry is very traditional, almost definitive in some ways, although like Dhuni it’s a bit thicker than what you’ll find from Satya, Shantimalai etc. In fact the red box is probably a good comparison, but Shroff’s Nag Champa  is not as close to that as Happy Hari’s Gold Nag Champa because it’s so much drier. Shroff’s version also, unsurprisingly, bears the hallmarks of their brilliant perfuming skills, but it’s to the point that you end up thinking most of the aroma is carried by it, and let’s face it, a nag champa entirely succeeds or fails on its base. I do have to admit, I’m actually starting to get worn out by nag champas, largely because outside of Dhuni, I’ve yet to see any that haven’t managed to disguise off base notes or even sometimes the bamboo stick and while Shroff’s version manages to be really clever with the gentle plumeria-like scent on top, you need a much more resonant base to make me forget the formula is still missing something it used to have. On the other hand, I do think the Shroff version gets the scent to affordability ratio down perhaps better than any other version, so if you’re a fan looking to get away from Satya, this will be a good choice.

Next up: Ruby, Shanti, Shran, Super Star…

Incense Reviews Index Updated

Right here. This catches up on almost a years worth of articles.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

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