Gokula Incense / Rose & Saffron, Royal Vrindavan Flower, Sandalwood & Myrrh, Sandalwood & Saffron, Shiva Nag Champa, Tulsi Vrinda

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla
Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra
Marigold & Juhi, Musk & Amber, Musk & Champa, Musk Heena, Musk & Patchouli, Pink Rose

This is the last of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

Rose & Saffron is a natural pairing for incense and this one acts as a very different incense to the Pink Rose I covered last time. For one, this isn’t as sweet, but you can still feel some similarities between the two incenses around the base. Strangely enough I detect something like a chocolate note but I also felt what is stepping in for the saffron here might be more obvious on the fresh stick than on the burn. It also has some sort of camphorous-cooling elements in the mix as well. This is very different from, say, the Vedic Vaani Saffron Rose and that’s a good thing as this combination of elements doesn’t really remind you of other incenses and keeps it fresh. In the end I kind of love the minty sort of top on it. Quite a bit to explore on this one, there’s a lot going on.

Every time I see an incense with Vrindavan in it, it’s kind of like musk or lotus, they’re so different from stick to stick that you can’t always be sure what you’re getting. But Gokula’s Royal Vrindavan Flower is a really gorgeous stick and mostly presents a champa-ish incense with a really beautiful and somewhat unique floral oil that I can’t remember every placing in an incense before, at least exactly. I’m not even sure how to describe it because it strikes me as being sort of pink, sort of lotus like, but ultimately really balanced. It’s a touch soft, so likely a bit of halmaddi is in the mix, but overall I love the pretty after effect of burning, it’s as if some of the perfume is separate from the smoke. Definitely one I’d put on your Gokula shopping list, this one’s quite special.

So I had almost forgot until I checked my notes but there was a slight snafu with my order (no worries the kind Gokula folks cleared it up right away) but I think there was one non-Madhavadas I did not get and then one Mahavadas I did get and that’s the Sandalwood & Myrrh. Madhavadas sourced incenses, of course, have their usual base (vanilla, sandalwood – often an equal aromatic note in any of their incenses) which, while the company tends to have a huge arsenal of top notes that are very good, can be quite fatiguing if used frequently. I’m not really quite sure if something like this would have been to my tastes whatever the source, but it does seem like a reasonable low grade sandalwood/myrrh mix, although the combination really evokes something different rather than the listed ingredients. The resin seems a bit more in front of the wood and certainly the base plays a part in it, but overall it feels a bit musky and a touch mysterious. I am pretty sure I have tried this before, may have been Pure Incense but it could have also been Primo, but ultimately it sort of gets on my nerves over the burn.

Visually, the Sandalwood & Saffron seems to look a lot like the yellow dusted thinner masalas we’ve seen so recently with the Absolute Bliss imported King of Saffron. This isn’t a really successful version of it, if it is, in fact it seems strangely a bit closer to a champa, except the combination of ingredients seems to leave the aroma sort of bitter and a bit incoherent. It’s almost like you can tell what they were going for but without distinct notes of either ingredient, it feels more like a sort of sour or bitter mix (perhaps a bit camphorous as well) with vanilla and other more sweeter accompaniment, and as a merger it doesn’t really work for me too well. I’m not sure if that’s because it doesn’t fit my expectations visually, but it just strikes me as a really odd mix. Saffron and sandalwood mixes really only work well if the resolution is higher and the qualities are kept to woody and dry.

Although Shiva Nag Champa is not a Madhavadas incense, the top perfume does remind me of some of the Pure Incenses champas I’ve tried over the years. These perfumes aren’t all that reminiscent of say the Blue Box/Satya Nag Champa perfume or even the Gold Nagchampa/Vintage Nag Champa types you get from AB or Temple of Incense (it’s sort of like Nag Champa vs champa flower maybe?). This doesn’t have the powdery qualities of that scent and is instead much sweeter and piquant. It verges ever so slightly on bitter during the burn which seems to be aspects of the citrus in the mix as well, gulp, as a touch or urine or something. It’s a strangely complex and involved top note for what may seem like a critical perspective, but it could cause a bit of flip flop in impression because it’s like a mix of pleasant and notes that most are probably not going to like too much.

Tulsi Vrinda is an herbal incense that leans a bit in a spicier direction while still having a lot of the same powdery characteristics of Gokula florals. It’s cousin to something like the Kerala Flower in the Temple of Incense line or Happy Hari Samadhi Sutra. This isn’t Tulsi (basil) in the same way the Temple of Incense stick is, but it has some hints of that scent buried in an overall base. It’s enough to perhaps give this incense a bit of personality that some of the others don’t have. There’s also a bit of woodiness in the mix that prevents it from getting too pink or sweet.

So this installment wraps up the Gokula reviews! As you can see there are some definite highlights in the last four reviews, for sure the Musk & Amber and Royal Vrindavan Flower are really strong, and just coming behind those I’d recommend the Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra, Musk Heena and Rose & Saffron (so all six would make a good starter order). A lot of other scents could be growers in hindsight as well, with a number of solid scents in the middle, but for the most part this is a decent quality line overall and at least this “half” of the line has a profile that might be different than what you’d tried before.

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Gokula Incense / Marigold & Juhi, Musk & Amber, Musk & Champa, Musk Heena, Musk & Patchouli, Pink Rose

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla
Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

This is the third of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

In the latest installment I wrote about three very good floral incenses, some of which used marigold and/or juhi in the aromas. However the Marigold & Juhi as an incense on its own is probably the first Gokula incense I’ve come across I found actively unpleasant. Floral charcoals often have pitfalls of having bitter, sour or other off notes and this one seems to have the middle quality. The lemon or citrus qualities (described on the site as citric floral) are a too loud and while the charcoal often isn’t too bad in Gokula incenses, it’s unwelcome in this sort of combination. Perhaps this is just my own feelings about citrus floral mixes and I admit I don’t usually like them so if you do you might like this one better.

Then we go from maybe the worst to probably the best incense in the catalog that I’ve tried, Musk & Amber. In the last year I’ve sampled a number of great Vedic Vaani musks and this one is akin to those that lean more in the animalic direction rather than the sweet. Amber always seems to pair really well with musk and there is a thickness to this scent that a lot of the catalog doesn’t have as much. There’s something about amber that brings out some balsamic qualities in the middle that really compliment the musk so it’s almost a perfect merger. The site also describes this as having frankincense, hina and sandalwood in the mix and while I wouldn’t expect any of these notes to be loud they certainly help with the complexity. I know this is one I would bulk up on with a repeat visit, it’s just extraordinary so I’d certainly recommend adding this to an order.

The Musk & Champa incense is a scent that I’ve gotten really familiar with through the Vedic Vaani catalog. VV have a gigantic host of sticks that are dark brown colored and usually have some level of halmaddi in the mix. They’re a faint cousin to some of the darker flora/fluxos but in something like 8 out of 10 cases the top note is something that doesn’t quite come together with the rest of the stick. This note often kind of reminds me of crayon or an oil used in a candle. For sure whatever the musk here is very different to that used in Musk & Amber and is much moved over to the sweet side but I’d guess that element is either synthetic or created from a combination of elements. This probably includes the agarwood and saffron given as side notes. Where the champa is soft and powdery in the florals I described last review, everything in this incense blots out those gentle elements. Don’t get me wrong, this is likely to be something ORS readers will like, but I will admit these sort of incenses are heavily fatiguing me. But I have tried a couple that got the balance right outside of Gokula, although I will have to discuss those another day.

One of my new favorite aromas of late is heena (also hina), the leaves from the tree that impart a lovely green note very different from western trees. Like amber, and sometimes included with amber, heena imparts a really different characteristic to incenses that tends to make the aroma a bit more complex, because being fairly unique it tends to broaden any profile its put in. While I’d love to see what Gokula imports could do for a Musk, Amber and Heena incense, the Musk Heena here is still a really lovely scent with the heena sorta of tempering the animalic qualities of the musk. It keeps a sort of bitter but somewhat evergreen meets herbal freshness to the scene that a lot of these other musk incenses don’t quite have as much. So this is a yummy goody as well, well worth checking out.

It’s strange that with some of the Gokula musk incenses being so powerful that the Musk & Patchouli would be such a mild incense and not really be strong in either ingredient. Perhaps some of this profile is because of the additionally listed ingredients of sandalwood, frankincense and neroli. It seems more like this was going for a champa-ish incense without really evoking musk or patchouli all that much. The incense is instead cooling, camphorous, powdery and has quite a bit of vanilla. So it’s a relatively mellow scent but seems to have a bit of resolution nonetheless. The incenses tilts largely over to a dusted charcoal but even some of these that are quite firm seem to have a bit of halmaddi in them. I wouldn’t really get this for the musk or patchouli, and nor would I recommend this as a starter incenses but there’s little wrong with it. It just doesn’t leap out and grab you and I would guess it doesn’t end up being particularly memorable.

Finally, we have the Pink Rose with a similarly colored masala. All roses these days are usually created from something else as it’s rarely been an affordable oil. This often results in incenses well off the aroma and some can be painful. Gokula have the right compromise which is basically something of a sweet floral hybrid, a very common take on a recipe (think Krishna Rose at Absolute Bliss for example). This is certainly a pleasant version of it and while it’s not really all that near rose, it’s likely to be well appreciated as long as you’re not overstocked in this area.

Gokula Incense / Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

This is the second of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

My general impression of flora/fluxo incenses is they usually come with an orange dipped stick (either full or just the end). And Gokula’s variant (one of them really) is actually called Flora Fluxo. I have reviewed or burned so many of these types of incenses in the last couple months that they probably feel more redundant to me than they actually are, but if you’re not familiar with the style then usually the standard version (kind of like how blue box Nag Champa is – or maybe used to be – the standard for those incenses) is the red package Sai Flora and it’s a reasonable baseline although it is heavily perfumed and often stronger than those I have reviewed lately. Gokula’s version is somewhat muted and not quite as bright and brassy as Sai Flora. Most floras and fluxos have earthier levels in them but they’re usually much more buried than they are here, which tends to give me an August, almost Dionysian vibe like prunes or grapes. I am not sure the balance maybe quite works for me on this stick, but I would not take that as gospel because most are just minor tweaks from one to the other and if you like the style, you’re likely going to search for the one that works for you. This is certainly a reasonable quality take.

Floral Bouquet actually does what it says it’s going to do and presents a floral mix that’s very pink and sweet. It’s a bit of a masala although still fairly firm but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t feel like it’s battling charcoal but is more of a blend with a bit of woodiness. I’ve gone on record many times the pitfalls of presenting general florals, but this one has no bitterness or off notes and it’s probably friendly enough to be kind even to incense muggles. It actually reminds me a little of some of the old Dhuni incenses, perhaps in a more manageable form than that, but approaching that kind of pleasantness (I keep being reminded by the sadly lamented Dhuni Frangipani for some reason). It feels like it has something like pink Valentine’s candy at heart, but the structure of it seems to balance it out in a good way.

Gold Sandal seems to be a cousin to the Agar Sandal we reviewed last time, but like a lot of midline Indian sandalwood incenses, they really don’t smell a lot like sandalwood. There is some inherent woodiness to the incense but there are bitter/sour off notes as well as some really strangely placed fruity notes like peach or apricot in the middle. One wonders if this was an attempt to build a sandalwood out of a different set of ingredients. The Agar Sandal actually felt a bit closer to me in getting to that note or at least it ended up being more genuinely woody than this one. Certainly, the overall bouquet of the Agar Sandal is much more coherent, so I’d suggested starting there before heading to this one.

Even though I am going in alphabetical order, the next three incenses share quite a few of the same ingredients and operate very closely in style. The Jasmine and Lotus (and according to the description juhi, kewra and parijata) is an interesting blend for sure in that you’d expect that to be tilted way over into jasmine when the noticeable lead aroma seems to be something similar to the blue lotus that’s part of the Madhavadas catalog. It’s a very pretty, powdery sort of scent where if you can imagine it, the jasmine kind of faintly provides a background color to give a bit of complexity to the lotus scent. And honestly I think that is where jasmine is at its best. So after introducing some incenses Gokula imports that may be wobbly, this is one that I think has a rather distinct sort of mix I haven’t turned up in other catalogs and that is indeed what one often looks for in an incense.

And better yet, the Jasmine & Nag Champa may be one of Gokula’s best. While I’m not sure either aroma is dead on, they are both close and the juhi and lotus they meld with work well together. Whatever one has in mind for a mix like this, it’s going to be a bit different than you expect. While the champa perfume isn’t the classic style you get on something like the AB or TOI Gold Nagchampa, it does have a much more powdery bottom to it that evinces maybe a bit of halmaddi in the masala. The top note is very pretty and while you can kind of sense jasmine in there somewhere it’s not unlike the previous incense where it seems to mostly come out in some aspects of the bouquet as part of a merger. And overall, it leans over into pink florals a bit.

Finally the Lotus & Kewra is a very interesting experiment. This stick is a lightly dusted charcoal, but even moving back from a more masala like approach this still seems to have the same sort of warm and gentle powdery qualities of the last two incenses, which I like very much. The charcoal does spike a little through it as is always the case with floral charcoals but the perfume mix is quite nice nonetheless with what seems like either a balsamic or vanilla like quality in the middle. And yes there is even a distinct kewra note through the middle! Screwpine is definitely an aroma I’d like to see more often as it’s such a distinct and different scent to anything else. While the lotus isn’t quite as distinct as it is in the incense above where it’s paired with jasmine, and this may be because of the kewra, the resulting merge is certainly worth it. The incense description also describes the blend “in a sandalwood base with swirling notes of champa and marigold.” The powdery quality is certainly champa-esque and the marigold can be faintly ascertained but to my nose I don’t get any sandalwood and nor would I think you’d need to. Whatever the case this is definitely a Gokula winner.

Gokula Incense / Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

With the assistance of a reader, I made a 24-incense order of Gokula incense earlier in the year, basically all of the ones I was informed were not sourced by the Madhavadas family as these often overlap with other companies like Pure Incense. So these are divided into four reviews of six incenses each. My order arrived somewhere in the middle of several early orders to Vedic Vaani which largely eclipsed my entire incense year and while I went through all of the Gokulas, it felt like a good idea to sample and then let them rest a bit and come back to them with a fresh nose. With some exceptions in either direction, Gokula import a lot of decent scents and I might generally rate this half of the line as being on par with some of the Prabhuji’s Gifts incenses. All of these came in 20g packages although I do believe 250g bundles are also available. In my experience Gokula scents are either dusted charcoals almost entirely made from oil mixes or a step into masalas with occasional incenses being a bit softer to the touch.

So up front we’ll start with a trio of aloeswood/agarwood incenses. The Agar Sandal is definitely a masala and one way I can tell is that my package of it showed a number of places on sticks where parts of the masala had crumbled off (you can probably see in the photo) and even if the stick is relatively hard it definitely feels there is a noticeable amount of halmaddi in this. So in a way this is something like a cousin to Absolute Bliss’ King of Sandal in that it’s a bit of a “sandalwood champa” type. The agarwood doesn’t feel like it’s particularly woody or perhaps even the real thing, but whatever they are using does modify the aroma away from it just being sandalwood heavy on its own. I have noticed a lot of incenses like this in the Rare Essence or Prabhuji’s Gifts catalogs and this is basically on par with those, but perhaps not quite up to the resolution or balance of King of Sandal. There’s a feeling that at this level a lot of the aromatic functions of an incense tend to blur together to its detriment. But don’t get me wrong, this is still a pleasant burn, but unless you’re new to Indian incense it won’t be much of a surprise.

On the fresh Agarwood & Musk stick you really do get something of an idea of what the musk is supposed to be like here. And in the burn, it’s in there somewhere. But like the previous incense, there probably isn’t any actual agarwood in this, rather it feels like a mix of things meant to approximate it. So the overall aroma is almost like a collection of notes in between both of these things with the musk pulling the other elements over in its direction. It’s a reasonably pleasant scent overall but lacks a bit of distinctiveness, although I do like that this isn’t a sweet musk. For a charcoal it has some surprisingly masala-like characteristics and it reminds me a little of the Parrot Green Durbar that Shroff used to carry 10 or 15 years ago. The issue in the end is that the description isn’t quite what you get, but it for sure isn’t anything like what a Madhavadas incense would be with the same description. But it reminds me too much of what is missing from better incenses, which may not be an issue for everybody but it pushed it out from being a keeper.

I will admit that I am at a place in incense life where jasmine incenses are getting on my nerves, no matter how good they are, so I may not be the best judge of Aloeswood & Jasmine. Unlike the previous two incenses I don’t smell a lot of anything that might fall under the aloeswood category here but there does appear to be a reasonable jasmine perfume here in the sense that it’s that sort of weird mix of floral and peaches. This incense verges slightly in both bitter or astringent sort of areas which may be part and parcel of having jasmine in it because even some of the better Absolute Bliss, Temple of Incense or Vedic Vaani variations tend to still have these aspects (for example the deluxe “tube” Vedic Vaani Jasmine Sambac incense is one of the few premium tubes they do I don’t really like much). But it’s also possible some of this is where the “aloeswood” comes out. My opinion has often been that even in the best cases some of these florals either don’t work out or just as likely I’m not naturally fond of them. So definitely a YMMV sort of thing.

Amber & Frankincense is a recipe somewhat similar to Samadhi Sutra in the Happy Hari line. In Indian incenses, particularly those that are more akin to champas and have a little halmaddi, frankincense often sort of appears in a more peppery-spicy sort of form often with like a touch of licorice and these remind me a bit of frankincense champas and more of an old school recipe like Maharaj. It’s the green dipped tip that often identifies the formula as well. The amber, of course, gives it a bit of balsamic heft and an overall richness, so it’s a nice merging. This is really as good of a place to start with the formula as any, but if you’re familiar with a lot of Indian incense it’s likely you will know this one already.

With Celestial Fruits I’m largely out at the name. It’s the sort of incense that tends to inspire mini rants from me on why fruits are usually not a good idea in incense and this is even more so when it is a fruit salad sort of scent like this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unpleasant but it’s definitely way too generic. The lightly dusted charcoal sticks gives it away and it’s essentially what I’d call a fruity floral in that I would guess the bouquet is probably a combination of elements all used to approximate fruitiness that is akin to something like one of those canned fruit cocktails by Dole or something. It’s soft, powdery, inoffensive and ultimately dull. And even though it’s supposedly in a sandalwood base I don’t sense much in the way of that.

Chocolate & Vanilla runs similar risks to the Celestial Fruits but incenses that cover coffee or chocolate are usually a bit more on point. However this is a bit softer of a masala which implies there’s a bit of halmaddi in the mix. I’ve tried a Vedic Vaani or two that had a similar profile to this and even though this doesn’t explicitly say so there’s a bit of coffee in this mix as well. The masala like elements of the stick do tend to help when it comes to moving this a bit farther away from a purely charcoal stick and for sure there are some elements of the burn that feel more traditional. But I would not go into this thinking you’re going to really get much in the way of an actual chocolate and/or vanilla scent. But it is kind of intriguing as a scent, there’s some level of woodiness (identified as sandalwood but more generic to my nose) along with something that roughly plays along the chocolate to vanillla to coconut axis. I actually enjoy a stick like this here and there but it’s the kind of scent I find fatiguing with overuse. It’s still quite a ways away from the kind of smell you get from baking or melting chocolate or so forth.

Ramakrishna’s Handmade Incense / Special Nag Champa, Special Loban, Special Ramkrishna, Dhuni

In my past few years of exploring Indian-styled incense from multiple different establishments claiming things like ‘all-natural’ and ‘handmade’ and similar, I kept wondering if there was some sort of smallish operation doing things in a more old-fashioned way, using the more traditional ingredients rather than perfumes and synthetic substitutes that are common in 95% of the Indian Incense world.

The problem is that if you read everyone’s marketing copy, they all claim they are “all-natural” using traditional recipes. So in the end, the proof is in the product.

I first was suggested by a friend that I might want to check out this expensive shop on eBay that sold handmade incense. It took me a while to get around to it because it didn’t look all that fancy. Finally, I made my order. I have been excited to try everything they make since making this order. This is really wonderful incense.

If you find yourself interested in purchasing a larger assortment and don’t want to pay eBay prices, the seller, Goa Bay Trading, will also sell to you in rupees on their website and send you a Paypal invoice and add 1000 rupees for shipping/handling. I’ve been finding their service good, though the site seems a bit sketchy since it doesn’t have a proper checkout, they send you a Paypal invoice.

I’m going to start with a few I think are winners. First, they put ‘special’ in front of several sticks and this seems to mean that the sticks are thicker with extra halmaddi, so much so that you have to peel these thick sticks apart from each other.

Special Nag Champa

I am relatively new to appreciating Indian-style incense. I don’t truly know if this is what the old incense was like but this stick was kind of mashed because it is so soft, flattened in places. It is a thick hand-rolled masala dusted with brown finishing powder. As a Nag Champa, this goes in some kind of apple-pie and orange blossom direction with cinnamon, apple, and orange blossoms. I don’t get the typical salty sandalwood/Champa flowers scent of a nag champa but then when I dig down and put my nose in the smoke I start smelling like these thin angel hair threads of nag champa smells mixed in with the other smells. The more I lit these, the more I like them. They have a complicated bouquet dancing around a recognizable core of the “Nag Champa” scent. I’d rate this 9/10.

Special Loban

I have encountered Loban to smell like a wide range of things, despite it actually supposedly translating to benzoin. Note in the picture that this one crumbles and be careful because I had this fall apart as it got exposed to air. This is a natural stick with a very soft masala that crumbles a bit but can be mushed back together, it is finished with a brown powder that marbles into the moisture of the masala. This is unlike any of the Loban sticks Vedic Vaani or other suppliers sell, and is a really strong masala that seems to be made from halmaddi and loban and sandalwood and smells like all three are the highest quality. The smells blend together and create a magic carpet ride of scent that I imagine Mike will say reminds him of something he used to get from Mystic Temple. I really like this one, definitely a 9/10.

Special Ramkrishna

This is a deluxe version of “Ramkrishna” in all dimensions, it is thicker, softer, and easy to mush around, in fact, they kind of stick together and you have to ‘peel’ the sticks apart in the package. They’ve been misshapen by shipping somewhat. Otherwise, this is the regular Ramkrishna turned up to 11, it is sweeter, more expansive, the floral note is both more present and more mysterious, and feels like instead of an attar they went for the real essentials. This is a very charming stick and makes me immediately happy to be smelling it. It’s really just a very familiar smell yet somehow this is like going from a Prius to a Rolls Royce while keeping the whole smell mostly the same, there is none of the ‘cosmetic’ smell I got from the non-special Ramkrishna, just what I take to be geranium and a maybe a drop of rose. 8/10

Dhuni

Like most Ramakrishna’s, this appears like many others, natural stick, soft charcoal masala, and light brown powder finish. This has a sharp musk different than other musks, it has a sweet and vanilla note but otherwise, it’s got a funky BO-but-in-a-good-way kind of scent. Also, urine notes but also in a good way. I realize that adding ‘but in a good way’ to both BO and urine might be suspect but I have a hard time describing this musk other than it has notes from both but neither are the repugnant notes. I really tend to like when incense gets funky and takes me to a barnyard or similar olfactory experience. This is one of the more animal-like musks I’ve encountered and surprisingly more musky than the ‘Musk’ or ‘Kasturi’ sticks from these artists. 9/10

New Temple of Incense Scents

Temple of Incense has released a few new limited edition scents for the holidays here.

Mayraj / Loban Bathi; Pradhan Perfumers / Royal Life; Saranya Traders / Saranya Supreme; Sree Trading Co. / Sree Sidhi Ganesh; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Cottage Industries / No. 14 Sandalwood; Unknown / Mysore Sandalwood

In addition to the range of Meena Perfume Industries incenses Everest Traders sent me, included were a varying batch of Indian scents as well as a varying batch of Bhutanese incenses, the latter of which I will cover in the next installment. The following are incenses from a number of different suppliers, some of which I don’t believe I have seen imported here, at least not often.

Loban incenses are an unusual breed. As far as I’ve been able to tell loban can mean benzoin or frankincense or resin mixes and you’re not usually told which; however, I’ve tried enough Indian frankincense sticks to know most of those don’t smell like lobans. The Absolute Benzoin at Temple of Incense or the Asana Sutra from Happy Hari are examples of pure charcoal benzoins and these are a bit closer to the loban but also not exact. The TOI Big Cleansing incense is probably the closest although in this case there’s more of an herbal quality to that incense that won’t often be found in a pure loban. And the Loban Bathi from Mayraj (I think that’s the company but the package is so thin it’s hard to tell) is about as down the middle of a loban as you will find. The thing about lobans to me is that if you’re familiar with lower grade resins you may know they can have scents that smell like heated stone or even gravel. It’s something I became familiar with through inexpensive Catholic church mixes, which are far and away from like the great frankincense you can get through Mermade Magickal Arts. On the other hand a brilliant high end loban like Vedic Vaani’s Kawadi Golden Loban can move away from this into almost candy-like sweetness and a definite resin presence. This one is more in the middle, it may be one of the most definition perfect loban incenses you will find, there’s some gravel/stone in the mix but there’s also a very nice resin note in the mix and yes a hint of the candy that gets more refined as the quality goes up the scale. It looks largely like a dusted charcoal but it’s a tiny bit softer than I would expected. I’ve never been the hugest fan of the style but outside the VV I just mentioned, this is one of the best I’ve tried and certainly a pleasant burn. Maybe the only issue is these are thin packages with maybe 5-6 sticks, so they’re about a dollar a stick.

Pradhan Perfumer’s Royal Life is a beautiful mix of perfumes for sure. The sticks are much smaller than the average but they pack an aromatic punch that is closer to a champa style incense. This is what I consider a traditional perfume in that it has some elements of the way some Indian incenses have been for decades and if they have moved or changed any ingredients it still seems like a wonderful, nostalgic mix. There’s a touch of licorice or something in the aroma which has always been an element I love in certain Indian incenses (the short-lived Ascendance that Mystic Temple used to bring in one was like this), but this also has some level of wood in the mix among with a lot of sweetness and a big floral bouquet. The stick is a little soft so there’s probably a bit of halmaddi in the masala. Very nice overall and it makes me wonder if the company has it in a longer stick. This one I’d certainly consider purchasing on my own.

Saranya Supreme takes us back into the flora/fluxo category, very much a cousin to the Sai Flora with the thick sticks. Unlike some floras/fluxos this one seems like a thick dusted charcoal stick from its firmness, but it ultimately does a similar thing to most incenses in this style. This mix seems to lean a bit to a smoother sort of aroma which I assume in part because it doesn’t seem to have additional ingredients like most floras/fluxos and there’s a bit of a resin fruitiness in the middle that is a touch loban-like. There is also a touch of a strange woody note that is hard to get my nose around on the outsides that I don’t tend to detect in floras/fluxos usually. Ultimately it’s definitely a different take on the style, a description that’s hard to define further as these types seem to be complex and loud (and this one stings my eyes a little bit), but when I brought out the next incense I was quickly reminded that the central floras and fluxos are much wetter scented and not nearly as dry as this one. For newcomers I’d start with Sai Flora because it’s somewhat more generally available than many of these incenses and acts as a good central base from where to understand the style.

The Sree Trading Co.s’s Siddhi Ganesh works much better as a flora to my nose than either the Sarayna Supreme or Sai Flora. Over the years I’ve often seen floras fall into two categories by sight, the lighter toned sticks like Sai Flora and then those like this one that are colored dark brown and have a different sort of scent profile as a result, while still being unquestionably “flora.” That sort of crystalline brassy top note which always seems to be present in this style merges with a slightly softer base that seems to have a bit of halmaddi mixed in with the charcoal and dampens that top a little bit in a way that often balances it a little. This does have the sort of crayon-like notes I tend to find fairly often in floral incenses and the base is very similar to probably a half dozen or more incenses in the Vedic Vaani catalog who often just change the top note. There’s some level of something like plum or prunes in the mix, but also an interesting spice mix that balances it on the other side. This is a neat incense overall, with some brightness that helps ensure the oil mixes don’t bog this one down too much, which is something I find occasional with dark brown masalas like this one. However, I would say a full stick might go too long a way so I’d test this at a half stick first as it’s very fragrant. But it’s certainly one of the better fluxo/floras I’ve tried.

I believe I received a sample of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Cottage Industries #14, Sandalwood from Padma Store some months ago and getting a full package from Everest Traders reminded me of one thing in particular, that often one or two stick samples are often not enough to really get into an incense. I found after my third stick from this package I started to like this one a little more than on my initial take. My initial take on the whole line was that most of the ones I had tried were very average incenses so keep this comment in mind.

As the history goes, in India, sandalwood trees were overharvested leading to shortages, which also led to a more careful cultivation program in more recent times. However even though this is happening, there is a lot of evidence that scents like sandalwood are actually created synthetically now. Short of actually looking over the shoulders of the incense creators in India, which I would unlikely be allowed to do, it’s difficult to tell what is in sandalwood incenses these days, sometimes Indian sandalwood is used but Australian sandalwood and wood from other countries is also used. You can have sandalwood incenses that are mixed with the other woods and more lower quality. Overall a whole range of different sandalwood scents are available. For me the high end sandalwood incenses that remind me of the old days tend to be a few that Temple of Incense or Absolute Bliss, or if you like the Madhavadas style, Pure Incense has a few as well.

So with that in mind I would place this #14 in a more inexpensive category in that it does not have much of a real sandalwood note to it, but feels like maybe cheaper wood or wood that has had some of the oil extracted might be the base for this incense. It comes across a bit more like a floral mix and the note on top will be different from what you have experience. Back in the day some of the Incense from india drier masalas used to have aromas quite like this and they’re usually really inexpensive. This Cottage Industries line is actually pretty large and while it looks like Everest Traders also have an Amber and a Mattipal, I believe if you’re in Europe, Padma Store has quite a number of different blends from this company in addition to these.

The last Indian incense package I was sent was 100g of something labelled as Temple Grade Mysore Sandalwood; however, I do not detect any sandalwood, scent or otherwise, in this incense at all. For $4 for 100g batch you would basically not expect it to, but since this is an incredibly inexpensive incense I decided to just evaluate it on its own. There’s something intriguing about the incense for sure. It’s a dusted charcoal with maybe a tiny bit of softness to it. It seems sort of like a mix of a sort of sweet champa-like base with a note I remember from previous Asta Sughanda incenses from long ago, a bit like that paper meets vanilla smell, but also there’s something like a rubber tire note to it that flirts between being a kind of weird subnote and a bit too intrusive. In fact given the number of sticks in this I burned at least five before I started writing this. I would guess that the intention of this batch was to give a sandalwood note but the mix was off in some way, it’s something I think importers run into occasionally. And so there seem to be some components in the mix that are kind of interesting. But ultimately I don’t think this one works and it reminds me in ways of some accidents I’ve been able to check out.

Meena Perfumery Industries / Meena Supreme, Meena Flora, Meena Indian King, Meena Nag Champa, Siddanth, Meena Sambrani Stems

It wasn’t long ago I bought what I thought was Meena Supreme, but when I took it out, I was somewhat nonplussed. ORS has been around a while and I was originally introduced to Meena Supreme by Paul Eagle when it ended up being Happy Hari’s second incense to distribute after the Gold Nagchampa. I received a surprising number of samples at the time and some of these incenses came in Happy Hari style labels but quite a few also came in little boxes like the ones pictured here. Meena Supreme, I would guess, has to be one of the top five “name” incenses known well inside and outside India, with maybe Nag Champa and Sai Flora at the top and this one right after it. And there is a reason why, it’s a very distinctive incense, a unique combination of materials and perfumes that I reviewed way back in the day and archived on this post.

So imagine my surprise when I heard from Everest Traders on Ebay who said they were the distributor for the Kabadi family’s Meena Supreme Incense from Bangalore, India. I was very glad to hear this as this hasn’t been carried by Absolute Bliss for a while and you basically have to order overseas for it. Also, Everest Traders is California based! The box I received for review is exactly how I remember it looking all those many years ago and the aroma is as well. In fact my original review in the above link is still so in point I’m going to repeat it here first and include a link to this new source…

“But even if you can’t count on incense nirvana, usually something so prized is usually going to be quite good and for the most part Meena Supreme succeeds from just about every angle and if it may not be the best incense ever created, I’d definitely say it’s one of the more unique and desirable of Indian incenses and certainly one I’m going to add to our Hall of Fame. Meena Supreme is a fluxo incense which means it’s solidly in the genre inhabited by Sai Flora, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and the like, which also means it’s a big stick, highly aromatic and something of a major smoke producer. This is perfect for me, especially during the dawning of spring where various allergies often make smelling Japanese incense very difficult, but if Indian incense smoke is too much for you, Meena Supreme will likely be too. In fact during the first two sticks, I wasn’t even sure if I would end up liking it, but it was likely because it was just too much at the time.

Since my initial foray into Meena Supreme, I think I’ve burned three to four boxes of it if not more (the size box I got fit about 6-8 sticks I believe). It is a highly addictive scent once you get it, as most signature scents are, and is also very hard to describe. Meena Supreme starts with the same earthy, almost stable-like background tones of Sai Flora but that’s where the similarity between incenses ends. Where Sai Flora goes in a bright, heavily floral, brassy direction, Meena Supreme is much more sultry with a mix of woods, rose, cocoa, coffee (with milk) and most importantly a feeling that all the subscents have been blended and aged. Most importantly Meena Supreme had the ability to make me think about it a lot when I wasn’t burning it, which has led to a lot of impromptu reaches.”

I would only add here in 2022 that the sticks may be a bit smaller (and maybe less smokier?) than I remember (which may of course be more my memory than the stick) but I love that all the notes I listed here are still completely relevant. I came to love the mix of earthiness and sweetness almost like a mix of fresh soil and brown sugar. So anyway if you love Indian incense and haven’t tried this yet now’s your chance!

Everest Traders also sent over some other Meena Perfumery Industries incenses, which also were a lot of fun (and I would mention here the ET packaging is really nice, very cognizant of protecting all the incenses from damage). One thing I came to find out rather quickly is other than the Sambrani Stems, which I will get to last, all of the other Meena incenses share a similar base to the Supreme and share a lot of the same aromatic notes, which makes it a little harder to separate one from the other. You might want to think of these in the sense that there’s probably a top perfume mix that differs from incense to incense. So the first one of these is Meena Flora, described as a “fluxo incense.” We have, of course, reviewed several from this style over the years, the most famous being the red package Sai Flora, but we, perhaps most recently, took a look at a couple of El incenses in the same category, These are thick stick, very distinctive incenses and so you might not only consider the Meena base for the Meena Flora but the flora/fluxo style as well and consider it a mix of those things. It still has a lot of the cocoa/coffee/brown sugar/earthy base to it, but it’s a bit more heavily aromatic than the Supreme with some of the same aspects that Sai Flora has. It’s not quite that brassy or sparkly, in fact it’s quite subdued compared to a lot of other incenses in this style. My most recent personal burning has been the Vedic Vaani Sai Flora which is much more refined and well on the other side of the red packet on the earthiness-to-refined axis. It’s actually probably more different as a flora than it is as a Meena incense.

Where both the Supreme and the Flora are small 8 stick boxes, the Meena Indian King has a higher stick count (as do the rest of these incenses) and the incense itself is certainly less weighty than the Supreme and Flora. While you can still recognize the same base I have mentioned in the previous two incenses, the Indian King feels a bit drier. It’s described as a durbar bathi, which has often been a category incenses like champas fall under, and this one does feel a bit more like a Meena-style Nag Champa variant to me. I’m not sensing enough halmaddi to keep it soft but there may be a little in there, but it’s actually overall not quite as sweet as the Supreme. It’s kind of elegant in a way and very traditional. And a walk in and out of the room shows it dissipates quite nicely too with a slighty tangy-meets brown sugar edge on top. Given it’s not all that different from the Supreme, it could be considered a more price-conscious alternative given the stick count.

One of the reasons Indian King struck me as a champa type is because it’s not terribly far off from the Meena Nag Champa. Seriously the description of this, at least if you were familiar with Meena Supreme, is imagine Meena doing a Nag Champa. It feels like champas are so variant these days that we’ve almost lost what we might have considered the standard because the Satya Blue Box is such a shadow of what it used to be. And in that sense, the Meena isn’t terribly different from the more modern hard stick variants that tend to send most of the aroma up on a charcoal base. This is definitely still a masala base and may have a little halmaddi in it but most notable it’s a little sweeter than, say the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense Gold or the AB carried Vintage Nag Champa. Some of these vedic champas feel like they could pull rain out of the air with their driness and while the perfumes are probably a bit more in the pocket than this one, this stick’s combination of some aspects of Meena Supreme (like, say, the earthiness and brown sugar) make it just a bit more interesting. With so many champa variants out there and it basically a virtual impossibility to go back to the great stick of yesteryearm I lean towards wanting variation more, so I like the differences on this one.

So then there’s Meena Siddanth with a dude beaming om symbols, and, gulp, a couple of swastikas in the mix, probably not the most popular symbology in the west. As you might know this has a much different meaning in India than it does in the West so I’ll just move on to the incense itself. This style is considered a “dhoop bathi” although it’s really difficult to tell how all of these sticks vary in style from looking at them; however, this is just a wee touch softer than the previous incenses. This has a more diverse aroma, it’s still a Meena stick at heart but it has a mix of fruity, powdery, herbal, and a touch of wood oils that make it probably the most distinctive stick so far. In fact this seems like quite the lovely and complex incense with all sorts of things going on and it’s by far the least earthiest of five sticks. Perhaps if you have just tried the Supreme, this might be the one I’d recommend next.

Now the Meena Sambrani Stems are a completely different style of incense. Looking around on the net it seems like Sambrani Cups got a bit of notoriety for a bit when this style of using cow dung to heat up resins came to a bit greater attention and a search of these cups show some rather offputting visuals. However cow dung is not the only way to heat resins up and it looks like the outside of these dhoop-like cylinders are probably based on charcoal, although like any incense I can’t give a comprehensive list of what’s actually in these (and I can’t say I’ve every tried the straight up base note of cow dung to be informative). All I can say is this is possibly the most intriguing incense in this batch. Sambrani, like loban, is one of those terms that seems to shift in meaning depending on who is using it and both seem to be anything from resin mixes to specific resins like benzoin or frankincense). Ultimately the aroma is almost thoroughly resinous and intense with a lovely bit of spice and a touch of caramel. Unlike a lot of Indian masalas where the resins really get watered down with the stick base, the level of resin is really nice and strong here with a fruitiness you usually won’t find in a loban or other highly resinous stick. So yes this is a lovely batch of (sort of) cones, like many dhoops they’re really smoky and will fill up a large space fast.

So ultimately the new or casual browser is recommended to check out the Meena Supreme if you haven’t and certainly the Sambrani Stems and Siddanth next, but I enjoyed all of these. Nothing is quite like a Meena incense, they have a distinctive personal stamp to their style that is quite recognizable once you get to use. it. And we certainly encourage Everest Traders to bring more of this line to the west!

Absolute Bliss, Happy Hari / Absolute Sandalwood, King of Saffron, King of Sandal, Oudh Saffron, White Lotus Oudh Saffron (new versions)

Absolute Bliss has recently gotten in a big restock and while I’m not entirely sure if this covers everything with significant scent differences (I am told there is also King of Musk which I would have absolutely jumped on had I known), it definitely covers five sticks that range from slight to significant improvements in aroma.

The first, Absolute Sandalwood, was enough of a trainwreck that I didn’t review it originally. Corey at Absolute Bliss is basically as aware as we are when something ships over that is not up to snuff, so in that sense I don’t really relish a blistering review of something we all know isn’t good. The new version of Absolute Sandalwood may not be the greatest sandalwood every extruded but it presents a really unique sort of woodshop-like take on it. Where the previous version did not get this mix right in the slightest, this new one actually really started to intrigue me after a few sticks. Think of that mix of turpentine, glue and fresh wood dust you’d get in a shop and then kinda bolster that with some level of sandalwood in the mix and you’re onto what this one smells like. I’m sitting here with my third stick from a 10g package and actually really starting to like it, in the sense that it’s actually complex but the complexity is almost like these specific woodshop elements one at a time. It has a strange quality of richness with these elements that elsewhere might not be to a lot of people’s tastes. So while I’d probably caution one not to go hogwild, I would also highly recommend checking out a small package of it to see if it’s your speed. I’m actually starting to love it.

King of Saffron is not the King of Saffron I remember from many years ago when Paul Eagle was running the shop – that stick I remember being brown and very different from this one. The current King of Saffron should be familiar to those with some experience with Indian incense as it’s essentially the very thin, extruded, yellow dusted stick often called saffron sandalwood or some other name in plenty of catalogs through the years. I probably came across 3 or 4 versions of the same incense in the Vedic Vaani catalog this year except Absolute Bliss’ version is definitely better than all of those, and incredibly reminiscent of when the Mystic Temple version was a classic. The only other incense I’ve tried in the last 25 years that reminds me of the glory years of Indian incense is Temple of Incense’s Extreme Sandalwood. King of Saffron not only has the dryness, the saffron spiciness and a level of wood but it has that incredible floral finish that these incenses used to have but have usually just disappeared. It also has a wonderful camphor thread through it which has always been one of my favorite things about this particular scent. And remember these sticks are thin enough that 125g of this is likely to have has many as two times as many sticks as you usually get by that weight. So this is one you want to jump on for sure.

The King of Sandal is also very different from previous versions and it’s not really so much a pure sandalwood stick now as a sort of sandalwood champa type mix and a really beautiful one at that. It’s actually not easy to balance the sweet and woody of these two elements, and I come across plenty of these mixes that are off in some way. This new stick is halmaddi rich and probably leans in the sweeter direction but it’s rather perfectly balanced for a sandalwood top note and not only that it’s a very accessible scent. In many ways it’s not unlike the Oud Masala in this sense, where the sweeter base really creates more of a blend than say a charcoal with oil would. I actually was kind of wondering if part of this is that the sandalwood here isn’t turned up too high where the woodier notes might conflict a little more. Needless to say this is another highly recommended new find.

The last two incenses, the Oudh Saffron and White Lotus Oudh Saffron are now in a different format, moving to a bit larger of a charcoal masala base than the previous versions. These are incenses that are largely carried by the oil mixes on top and when they are, the mixes tend to vary a little from batch to batch. This is my third batch of the White Lotus and it’s largely the same incense, just maybe a little bit different. The second batch may have been a tiny bit more dialed back in the woodiness where this new batch turns it back up a bit. The Oudh Saffron however, actually strikes me as quite differently formulated. I am not sure how to explain this except that this new formulation seems a bit more complex and rich than the prior one. I think that the inherent woodiness in Indian oud incenses is generally pretty rare because there usually isn’t any real oud in them and so the approximation doesn’t account for the deeper and richer aspects you’d find in wood or wood-heavy aloeswood incenses like you’d find in Japan. Instead Indian oud incenses tend to approximate that a bit and go for more of those spice tones you tend to find at the top of ouds. Saffron itself is also pretty multifaceted, even among incenses called saffron sandalwood that stretch beyond the one I reviewed above, the note can be anything from floral to spicy and all places in between. Here I think it ends up pushing the usual Indian oud spice mixes into something a little richer. It still has the same sort of almost licorice like middle in it the previous stick had, but of course when the batch is fresher you’re likely to catch all of this more up front.

So ultimately a stock well worth going back for. As always, there are no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. Please note that currently Absolute Bliss only ships to the US.

Absolute Bliss restock

Corey has restocked the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari line, please use his contact page for more information. I am hearing there are some quality upgrades on a few of the normal scents, so that is particularly good news!

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