Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Aravind, Chakra, Govinda, Pavitra, Radha, Rishi

The initial batch of five Mother’s India Fragrances proved to be a line popular enough to expand, with fourteen new incenses hitting the market about two years ago. The company has chosen to expand the line once again with not only these initial six incenses, but I believe there are also six more, although I have not received samples of these yet. Mother’s nagchampas in some ways are a style of their own, featuring halmaddi, sandalwood and additional ingredients in order to create scents that are unlike any other incenses on the market. For one thing, while these aren’t low smoke, they do tend to be a bit mellower than the incenses put out by Shroff and Dhuni and I know there have been times switching back to these sticks where I’ve found them a bit hard to pick up. So I tried to spend a bit of time with these in order to let them open up.

In essence you could almost call at least four out of these six sticks an expansion in the floral/rose direction. This is an interesting move by the company as I don’t think this niche had been quite as worked out yet in the  previous expansion. However, scents like these are usually considered more modern and less traditional and so I think a lot of these are likely to appeal outside the incense crowd and only those within that crowd who can deal with a lot of rose, geranium and jasmine scents are likely to go for most of these. And so I should probably state outright that geranium tends to get on my nerves quite a bit, so keep that in mind in cases where it pops up that this is a reflection of taste and not artisanship.

Aravind Nagchampa is something of a Lotus Nagchampa (Aravind means Lotus) and it combines jasmine, gardenia, rose and champa flower for the first of the florals here. This is the first of four that takes the Mother’s nagchampa center into a pink, “floral bouquet” direction, perhaps for the first time. All four of these incenses share a very delicate and light floral touch. Like a lot of incenses using low cost floral oils, the mix of oils tends to a bit of a generic quality, yet perhaps the surprise is that the overall stick comes off kind of dry and not drenched in perfume like you’d expect for this kind of style. In fact one thing to realize up front is it often takes a stick or two before the bouquet starts to unfold and in this case the results can occasionally be reminiscent of the actual flowers. In fact, this is actually reminiscent of some of the more affordable and better Japanese florals. As to whether this is reminiscent of other Lotus incenses, I’ll leave up to you, as they all tend to vary quite a bit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this first bunch is the Chakra Nagchampa which is one of two here that doesn’t go in the pink and floral direction. Well, you wouldn’t know it from the description, which lists fruits, spices, jasmine, tuberose, cyclamen and lily. Once again, this feels like a distinct move to a more modern and mainstream friendly type of incense and it’s reminiscent of one or two of the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume blends in the way this combines florals and fruits with spice around the edges. Of course the cyclamen note is almost immediately evocative of NK’s Aqua, but seated in the Mothers’ halmaddi base, the results to my nose are a lot more successful. In fact without the spicyness this might not have worked too well, but instead we have something fascinating. This is possibly the first in this group I’d recommend without hesitation, especially as it’s quite unlike previous incenses in the line.

Govinda Nagchampa returns to the floral (sub)style with a mix of sweet champa flower, neroli, ylang ylang and sweet roses. During my first sticks it was instantly noticeable how similar this is in style to the Aravind, except in this case it feels like the halmaddi/sandalwood center seems to come out a bit more. Govinda isn’t quite as dry as Aravind and the overall scent is noticeably sweeter. But like Aravind this is a noticeably more floral and “flower mix” type of scent than previous installments in the line and so when you look at the overall expansion it makes sense to move in this direction, giving the brand quite a bit more breadth. Like the Pavitra, I found that this mix starts to take off with use and like most of the incenses in the line increased use makes you feel like the creators really sat down and made sure they got the balance right. So if you want to try one of the florals I’d either start with this one or the Pavitra, but be sure to try one before expanding to the others as they’re all variations on a theme.

Pavitra Nagchampa might have been the floral in this group I liked the most, if, perhaps, because I spent the most time with it. At this point in taking notes on these incenses you start to run out of descriptive qualities when the incenses still fall into a pink, rosy, “feminine,” floral bouquet category. Certainly they all vary in scent within these qualities, but how to describe this one is difficult because my initial take was that the the top was a bit too strong with the florals of jasmine, rose, neroli, ylang ylang and balsamic orris. But after a few sticks it started to hit me from outside that such a mix works really well with the champa base, perhaps here the balsamic orris is triggering the halmaddi to bring out some more foresty qualities. Anyway if I was to choose one of the floral bouquet champas here to start with it would be the Pavitra, if only because I think it underlines how clever some of these blends are.

Radha Nagchampa is more dry and robust as a floral and includes white rose and spicy geranium. Anything with geranium tends to lose me and this wasn’t much of an exception, but putting aside the personal preference, you’d have to discuss this one in terms of its rosyness. As such this is perhaps the least bouquet-like as a floral, but it moves in the type of floral direction that I tend to find a bit harsh. It does have the same sort of clever balance the rest of the incenses in the line does in terms of the oils matching up with the base, but as this was the fourth incense so close in style, I was started to really run out of ways to separate this from the rest. In the end I’d probably say start with Pavitra, if you really love it follow it up with Govinda.

It’s perhaps a tribute to how modern this latest batch is that Rishi Nagchampa is described as an incense children love, and sure enough this mix of red roses, fruity jasmine  and blue violets puts this square in the inoffensive and fruity berry category. Generally anything this reminiscent of stawberries or raspberries will tend to be fairly popular but as most incense lovers know, you can only approximate these kinds of scents and in doing so the results often come off a bit generic, sure you won’t offend anyone but the results won’t be particularly exciting either. As a result even though this strikes me as a natural incense, the mix of scents leaves this feel a bit synthetic or dull. It’s lightly reminiscent of the smell of a big vat of gumballs at a candy shop or berry candles. It actually is quite well done overall in that it’s a lot better than most incenses this style, but like most of this new expansion it feels tailor made for people with only a casual interest in incense.

Anyway I hope to follow this up eventually with the other six. It should be said that Mother’s has always been incredibly generous with what they send, in this batch I also got a set of essential oils and absolutes they appear to be selling. All of the ones I sampled seemed to be of good quality (I particularly enjoyed the various cinnamon and cassia oils) so if you’re an incense creator this could be well worth looking into. Overall despite that some of these incenses aren’t to my personal tastes, I think this is a pretty clever expansion with every single one of these not repeating the type of scents we’ve already seen. And if you’re a fan of roses and other florals there’s probably some new favorites waiting for you.

Mother’s Fragrances Incense Making Kits

Equinox Aromatics is offering Mother’s Fragrances Incense Making Kits in two sizes right now. It comes with ten different EO’s as well as powders and equipment. This looks to be a great deal and pretty fun as well.

They have also expanded their incense line up and carry some of the newer “Niche” makers. As well as a good selection of Indian , Japanese and Middle Eastern makers as well as Raw Materials for making your own blends.

New Incenses

Beth at EOA has both the new Dhunis’s and Happy Hari lines listed now, both of which are pretty high on the “goodness” charts for Indian incenses. These are hand rolled and seem much more real (read natural) than anything else on the market (Mothers might be in this group also), at least to my nose. Of course, short of some very expensive testing there is no sure fire way to tell, and even GC/MS testing is open to interpiation. Go with what smells/feels right to you.

Over at Equinox Aromatics, Andrew has brought in Star Child from England. They look to be very faithful to some of the esoteric teachings as well as also being all natural. Real Halmaddi is also available at his site and not to be missed, it is very entertaining to experiment with if you are making your own blends.

Kohshi has some new scents in, one of which is Sanjusangendo Incense. It comes out of a temple in Kyoto. Nice woody/amber scent with a hint of cinnamon. They also have Kyukyodo and Yamada Matsu available. It is generally best to call the store and check what’s in stock.

Enjoy   -Ross

Top Ten for January 2011

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2011 be a good one for you, bringing health and happiness, and lots of great incense!

It’s my turn up at bat for the Top Ten for Jan 2011. The top ten can be difficult at times due to the sheer amount of great incense out on the market, and the many personal faves that I have. However, for this month, I’ve decided that the following ten incenses are my favorite this January. In no particular order, they are:

-The Direct Help Foundation Eternal Maiya incense. A lovely blend of sandalwood and patchouli, where the sandalwood provides the expected woody note and the patchouli a light airiness that is both earthy and slightly sweet.

-The Direct Help Foundation Oum Pure Sandalwood incense.  Sandalwood incense done up Tibetan style that has sandalwood and sandalwood oil. The sandalwood and the sandalwood oil are a one- two punch combo that makes this superior incense, one with a truly delightful sandalwood aroma.  This is not high end incense like Shroff’s natural sandal that runs north of $150 USD. This is much more modest incense, but one that still manages to be quite good.

-From Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, Sitar Dorje’s Unsurpassable Healing Incense (P’hul-Jung Men-Po).  This is absolutely lovely incense that ranks right up there with Dzongchen Monastery and Holy Land, in my opinion. Unsurpassable Healing Incense is like a first cousin to both, having similarities to Dzongchen and Holy Land, but is still different enough and with its own character that make it unique. This is another earthy, resiny, floral, musky blend. It’s an “all rounder”, hitting all those aforementioned bases, and has that special mojo that is both calming and uplifting at the same time. Some of the ingredients are aloeswood, white and red sandalwood, frankincense, saffron, valerian, magnolia, musk…etc. The scent itself manages to be both fresh and floral, with a darker resinier base and herbaceous endnotes with a touch of musk.

-Holy Land Grade 1. Well, I finally bit the bullet and bought this once it was back in stock over at EOTA. I’m glad I did, though, as that it is definitely a worthy purchase. I won’t write too much about this one due to the fact that it’s been covered extensively here on the ORS. Suffice to say that this incense that as Mike might say, “has mighty mojo that borders on being mystical.” The scent is darker, muskier, and less floral than either Dzongchen or Unsurpassable Healing Incense. If Holy Land incense was a food product, I’d say that it’s more savory than sweet (if that helps any in getting an idea of its scent and description).

-Mother’s Fragrances Lotus Incense. A singular and linear incense and scent, where there’s no complexity but dang if this isn’t a good one. Slightly sweet, and of course floral, this is incense that is very calming and is a good room scent. It’s one to use when having guests over as that it gently perfumes the room but isn’t overwhelming perfumey or ostentatiously showy.

-Mother’s Fragrances Atma Incense. The Mother’s incense catalog is simply superb, with their Nag Champa line being quite a standout. One of my favorites from their Nag Champa collection is Atma. A delirious blend of various ingredients, with floral notes and sweetness from halmaddi and honey. This is a tough one to describe because so many things are going on, and it’s all going on at the same time, the ingredients are working together and not against one another. It’s a symphony of scent, with lead violin being performed by the lavender, the cello is geranium, piano is vetiver, and the triangle is clove with halmaddi as the composer, and honey is the conducter.

-Hougary frankincense resins. A hold over from last month’s Frankincense and Myrrh review, but when incense is this good, it’s going to pop up continually in a lot of people’s “best of” lists. Bright, citrusy, fresh and fragrant, this is frankincense royalty. If you like frankincense at all, do yourself a favor and get some hougary.

-Duggatl al Oud Wardh Taifi. My favorite rose incense of all time, and one that provides an astonishing authentic fresh rose scent. There are many rose incenses out in the market, but this one stands head and shoulders over them all, in my opinion. Simply gorgeous and a must try for rose lovers.

-Mermade Magickal Arts Faery Call. I don’t know about you, but in the midst of winter, I often dream about and long for spring. This incense brings a touch of freshness and brightness and evokes spring and summer in appearance and scent. Literally garnished with dried flowers of marigold petals, rose petals, and lavender buds, and deliciously scented with neroli and other top notch ingredients, this incense is sure to put you in a cheerier mood and drive away the winter blues.

Shunkodo Haru no Kaori. The name of this incense translated into English means ‘smell of spring.’ Can you tell that I’m tired of winter? 🙂  This is great incense, more subtle than Faery Call, but equally good in its own way. As to be expected, it’s more refined being Japanese incense, with a less in your face scent bouquet. There’s the added touch of aloeswood, which adds that certain “je ne sais quoi” quality, that extra special touch that puts this incense into the category of wonderful.

The above incenses can be found at various retailers on the net. The Faery Call incense can be purchased from Mermade Magickal Arts, and the Sitar Dorje’s Unsurpassable Healing Incense from http://www.tibetantreasures.com/tthtml/ttmerch/incense.htm. Incidentally Tibetan Treasures will be going offline from February 7th to March 7th for a site renovation, and will return on March 8th. As such, if you want to purchase the Unsurpassable Healing incense, I recommend that you do it soon to avoid delays in processing and shipping.

What are the incenses that you have been burning lately? Are there any that are your “go to” ones to beat the winter blahs? Chime in and share your thoughts!

October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

Mother’s India Fragrances / Arjava, Hansa, Lavanya, Om, Purusha, Sattwa, Yajna

Since the last installment on the newly released Mother’s Fragrances Nagchampa incenses, the company kindly sent me what I’m dubbing the “Nag Champa Construction Set,” which is a series of ingredients that go into making their fantastic bases. One thing I learned fairly early about incense is that information from the east on these treasures has actually been remarkably sparse and so I’m extremely thankful to have received a further education from the creators. Not only has the set helped to show me where the sandalwood works into the base, but in particular having a sample of halmaddi resin has really helped to narrow down just where this works into these incenses. And overall my already high respect for the creator of these incenses has grown when I consider what the base smells like compared to the finished product. These are just works of art on every level.

So I wanted to say a few words about halmaddi resin before getting to the “back seven” nagchampas. This ingredient is particularly interesting in that the actually fresh smell of the resin itself (almost like a combination of chocolate and turpentine elements) is completely different from the smell while it’s burning, which is floral (likely that element similar to the champaka flower), slightly bitter and very balsamic. Not only is this obvious from the resin, but also from the base stick. Even on its own this a pleasant scent but what struck me is how much of a chameleon halmaddi must be since the oils that go into the incense change the nature of the relationship. Also, the Mother’s bases, while soft, aren’t gooey like the resin or many of the incenses I used to burn 15 years ago and as I intuit from the oils, there’s a really impressive level of balance and restraint here.

I wouldn’t have even recognized the base stick in the Arjava Nagchampa, which is the first of four incenses in this group that was not part of the original 12 incense sampler I received months ago. If there is a slight wildness to the halmaddi, you wouldn’t find it in this incense, which has a level of gentleness that is quite surprising. Where the descriptions of many of the other incenses list as many as 5 or 6 ingredients, there is only one specific listed here: rose. It’s interesting in that this is one of the new 14 that really stands out as being quite different, there’s an unusual herbal note at the top that is quite exotic and unique. The central scent is almost akin to some of the herbal-rose combinations found elsewhere and this all lies on a wood level that has been turned up a notch, while remaining pillowy soft. While it could be said that this is another wonderful contrast of spice and floral elements, the results aren’t quite so piquant as they are in the other scents, leading to a very sublime finish. Particularly because when I burn this I feel like I’m always trying to reach a description of the end, one that’s essentially elusive and mysterious. Like all great incenses the final notes end up as part of one’s memories.

Hansa Nagchampa is similar to the Arjava only in that it also has a fairly noticeable woodiness in the mix, but essentially this is a scent that returns to the floral/spice mix of many of these incenses. A lot of the main players in the whole line are in this one, including kewra, vetivert and lavender, but as always the addition of other ingredients modify the aromatic contour substantially. In fact, of the entire line this is perhaps the incense I find the most difficult to describe as the ingredient combos seem familiar, but the overall scent has been changed enough to be completely unique. Perhaps part of this is the golden champa scent in what I’d describe as the fourth fifth from top to bottom.  The amber here isn’t as strong as it is in the Om Nagchampa but it definitely flirts with the attention around all the floral notes and in many ways actually accentuates these notes so one feels that the florals are dominant to the spice mix in the background. And overall it’s the Kewra and Lavender that make, incrementally, the boldest statements in the mix. But in the end it’s puzzling because perhaps the best word to describe this incense is kaleidoscopic, because at any different time it’s possible to see new interactions among the ingredients. Which means in the end any static description won’t do this justice, as the base and the vetivert that tie it all together are really the only constants.

Lavanya Nagchampa really clicked with me after a couple sticks when it became obvious that the central part of the incense is very evergreen and spicy. I’ve discussed some of the incenses that contrast florals with a spice that could be roughly described in the cinnamon/clove/hot area, but this seems to get part of its spice from the use of resins as well as cedar, so that the spice note feels more green than red. Users of resin blends may have come across those that are resonantly foresty and that would be the comparison here. But it’s only a beginning and a platform because what dances on top is the jasmine and ylang ylang, and like the Arjava the results are just so delicate. It constantly strikes me that among Indian incenses, many of which can be incredibly strong and aromatic, that these are among the most refined and gentle, something only a master perfumer could gauge so perfectly. In the end it’s almost as if your aromatic senses try to convince you of its floral nature as the bewitching, rich evergreen and liqueur like background bubbles underneath, creating an almost yin/yang like paradox.

In fact as you use these incenses it’s really hard to separate one masterpiece from another, but there’s something in the Om Nagchampa that has made it my fastest used incense in the whole line, I literally have trouble trying to keep from burning my stock up in a couple days. It basically presents a triangle of amber, vanilla and cassia that is simply breathtaking and close to my sense of aromatic nirvana. My idea of the perfect incense is something that manages to be dry and rich at the same time, hinting at sweetness without being cloying. The cassia in this incense is just so perfectly placed that it’s a sheer delight and the amber notes are virtually flawless. As this scent burns it becomes so sublime by the end of the stick that it manages to represent the concept of Om in a way that might evoke ain ineffable response in the user. In fact it’s even difficult to want to burn another incense after this as it leaves such a powerful energy in the air after the last elements go up in smoke. By a long shot my top incense of August and it could be a reigning favorite for a while now.

Purusha Nagchampa is another of the dominantly lavender incenses in the line, which follows the absolute success of the Ganesh Nagchampa. Mother’s uses a number of different lavenders, however, and in this case we’re seeing an English lavender at the front, a note that is probably the most dominant lavender scent in any of these incenses. But while sitting on the top, the ingredients from the base up do a lot to modify the scent. For one thing this is one of the few, if not the only incense that has a sage note, an ingredient that seems to be far more common in American incenses (specifically southeast or Native American blends). Here it’s used to modify the lavender, and the results seem to bring out some of the wilder, herbier elements the two ingredients have in common. I’m not as familiar with orris, but I suspect this has a great deal to do with the more unfamiliar middle subscents that help to give this incense its individual personality. Closer to the base, the patchouli blends with the balsamic nature of the halmaddi to help make sure the top notes don’t go overboard. In the end this is definitely on the sweeter side of the Mother’s range, but it’s got just that touch of wildness to rein it all in.

Sandalwood is a main ingredient in all these incenses but it perhaps makes its presence most known in the Sattwa Nagchampa. With kewra, lavender tuberose and vetivert in the mix, this is definitely something of a cousin to the Atma and Hansa blends, if you can imagine the biggest change to be an increase in the amount of woodiness used. The vetivert here also seems to be turned up enough to give the scent a pleasant and sharp subnote and adding this to the woods and halmaddi base helps to balance the florals without reducing the richness of the scent. Overall this is a very pretty incense with a lot of activity in the mix and it’s among the bolder scents in the line. And like its cousins, the mix seems gauged to reveal its complexity slowly over time, something a review really can’t account for without an excessively lengthy preparation period.

Continuing a number of incenses with a strong lavender element is the spicy Yajna Nagchampa. However, if some of the Mother’s scents tilt more to a floral side, this is a decidedly spicy incense with woody notes, nagarmotha oil, patchouli and oakmoss all combining to imply a spice that also reminds me of cinnamon toast. This is also a very woody incense, however the type of wood scent it reminds me most of is akin (but far superior to) Satya’s Patchouli Forest scent, with that sense of crystalline, green resin that that incense evokes. Not only is the Yajna spicy, but it’s also devilishly complex in that there seems to be a lot of elements that make up this level of the incense. The oak moss is particularly noticeable here, almost more than a subnote at times, and with the patchouli it grounds the scent as something far more earthy the fire-like. In the end as you notice all this spicy, grounded activity it makes the presence of the lavender on top such a surprise and delight.

I’ll have to admit nearly every incense in this line is at a level of intricacy that they’re very hard to do justice to in words. So many of them are like a puzzle, because I feel that in a lot of other incense lines you wouldn’t expect some of these ingredients to work together like they do and in the end appraising them is like looking at a beautiful painting and switching between the singular elements and the composite final work. I may have mentioned strongly how much I love the Om, but over time I have no doubt that I’ll switch from favorite to favorite because in the case of complex aromas like found in the Hansa or Yajna, you get the feeling that it will take at least 10 sticks to feel that you’ve got a full grip on what’s going on here. And in the end I think this is the real joy in the use of incense, that what you have has the potential to continue to surprise and elate you as changing circumstances provide the varying viewpoints to smell new facets of complex bouquets. Because in the end with this line of Mother’s Nagchampas, all 19 exquisite treasures, you have some of the finest incenses available, particularly at an affordability that is quite astonishing. And please do check out the previous article for buying options, as I suspect in less than a month’s time they should be widely available to most of our readers.

Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampas / Agni, Amrita, Atma, Bhakti, Jyoti, Lila, Moksha

After being introduced to and living with Mother’s India Fragrances’ original five Nagchampas, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t have asked the question “How come there aren’t more of them?” After all the originals are a phenomenal quintet of nagchampas in an era where the form has mostly degenerated. Where so many companies have either eliminated or reduced the content of halmaddi in their products, often creating inferior recipes that only resemble the incenses they used to create, Mother’s have managed to continue a line that not only still contains the ingredient (also called mattipal) but considerably expands the art form.

That is, when nagchampas were made 15 years ago or earlier, the incenses were so full of the gum that the sticks remained so wet you could easily pull them apart. The Mother’s Nagchampas don’t aim for a similar effect and while the incenses are still quite damp, often visibly through the inner packagaing, they all have a uniform consistency that follows the original five scents to what is an incredible 14 new scents. And for those of you already well familiar with the original five, these are going to surprise and elate you as in most cases they have brought the form up to a new level of complexity. Almost all of these incenses have as many as five or six different oil or material sources not even counting the halmaddi/mattipal and honey base. The results are so impressive that it’s difficult to feel that even after sampling several sticks of them that the full story has been told.

I’d like to thank both the home company of Mother’s India Fragrances and their Dutch distribution company Wierook for not only making Olfactory Rescue Service aware of them, but by providing a bounty of gifts and samples in time for me to get some reviews out just before the products come to the United States (not to mention one of the most informative and descriptive English language documents I’ve ever seen for a line of incenses, something that strongly assisted my reviews). Where it was difficult to label only five incenses as the finest Nagchampa line available, now that the total is up to 19, there’s really no question that this is the top line of its format, with a fascinating and aromatically superior range that doesn’t stop to recreate any old recipes and instead uses superior essential oils and absolutes to create a wide range of impressive and intricate scents. This installment will cover the first half of these 14 new incenses with the second half to follow shortly.

The first of these incenses is Agni Nagchampa. Perhaps the most simple description is that this is more or less a musk nagchampa, but it’s far more complex than that. It’s essentially a French Musk sort of scent, which bears some comparison to Shroff’s incense of that name or even the old Blue Pearl Musk Champa, however we know from the description that the central musk scent is created from ambrette seeds. My experience with musks created this way is that they usually aren’t quite this sweet, so one has to look to the other ingredients to see how the bouquet is formed. Obviously the halmaddi and honey anchor this quite nicely at the base as they do for all of the incenses here, so it’s really the middle of the aroma where the magic is. The pivotal ingredient here is neroli or orange blossom oil, an aspect which is the first of many through these incenses that show an incredibly clever perfumery at work because it’s a scent that is mellow and doesn’t overpower while anchoring the musk to the base. The cedar seems to bring out the balsamic aspects to the scent more which both balances the neroli and ensures the fragrance doesn’t go over the top on its way out. Make no mistake, this is still a decadently rich and sweet incenses as any sweet musk would be, but you can almost feel the restraint nonetheless.

As rich and sweet as the Agni is, the cinnamon-laden Amrita Nagchampa is almost a study in contrasts. Even with the amazing halmaddi and honey base, the results are very dry and of this seven, this could be the most direct incense. The cinnamon is very beautifully drawn, in fact the description the company uses is “edible,” something easily understood with a sample. However the cinnamon does have its supporting actors, including patchouli, cedar and some unnamed woods and resins. There are some elements in this that remind me of Nippon Kodo’s Silk Road incense except with a much more genuine feel) but the comparison hints at an exotic subnote that really helps to transmute the base to support the overall dryness.

The Atma Nagchampa is also a restrained piece of work, but in this case it doesn’t transmit a single essence like the previous scent did, instead it portrays a balancing act with a number of different notes at work. What’s amazing about it is that even with so many players the composite aroma remains gentle and subtle. On top we have the dominant floral oils at work, some lavender and what seems like a closer mix of geranium and kewra (pandanus or screwpine) notes. But like several incenses among the new aromas, Mother’s have chosen to contrast these floral elements with a spicy backdrop (including clove), something the company is clearly adept at. The results are actually akin to a standard (if exceptional in quality) nag champa with a soft floral in touch. What it loses without a particularly aggressive bouquet, it gains with a gentle aura and since everything seems to work on such a subtle level, it’s one of the most difficult in this group to get a hang on. But by the last stick I had out it was really starting to get under my skin.

Bhakti Nagchampa is something of an instant classic. As mentioned with the previous incense, Bhakti goes for a floral spice mix that is extraordinary in that it seems possible to pick out the individual elements as they interact with each other. The rose/tuberose/geranium mix on the top could be the best among a number of incredible floral elements across all these incenses and this is perhaps because they not only have strong definition but they’re contrasted perfectly with the patchouli and cedar base. In fact the only question I have is whether a scent like this might lose some of this fantastic definition with aging, because the balance here is like a highwire act with all the base elements a stage for the florals to dance lightly over.

Jyoti Nagchampa has some similarities to the cinnamon heavy Amrita, but here the scent is less monochromatic and more of a tangier multi-spice blend. In fact, it seems likely some of its spicier attributes come from the mix of myrrh, vertivert and patchouli, a group of ingredients that all have great transmutational qualities in different blends. In fact any time Mother’s uses a larger amount of resins in its incenses, it seems to trigger the more balsamic and sometimes evergreen qualities of the base. The mix definitely leaves me very curious about the quality of benzoin used in the ingredients as I recognize none of the usual subnotes and a quality that is truly exquisite. Again this mosaic (which also pulls in kewra to a slight degree) really hits a great balance with a vanilla and spice presence that is just perfect.

Lila Nagchampa is a patchouli heavy incense whose other ingredients really shift the whole tonal balance you normally associate with the herb in new and fascinating ways. For one, this is an incense as sweet as the Agni or Moksha blends, something particularly unusual for something so prevalent with patchouli. Sharing the stage with the patchouli on the top is tuberose, which has already shown its effectiveness in the Bhakti, but where that incense contrasted the floral and spicy, the Lila goes for the composite approach, like a rainbow color chart changing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Undoubtedly the vetivert changes the patchouli element some, always a great partnering, but perhaps where the benzoin and oakmoss lies is where the true transmutation occurs as it falls into the sweet base. The informational material also calls chocolate as a note as a result of the benzoin and you indeed find a powdery cocoa-like subnote in the mix of all this interaction. Like so many of these beautiful scents this seems like one that will have a learning curve as long as the best incenses because it’s not at all what you’d expect in the long run. It’s better.

Moksha Nagchampa …. well if you think it couldn’t get any better than what I’ve already run through then we’d have to at least call this a gamechanger. Champa users may be familiar with a lot of the intersections between style and addition, but the incredibly lily of the valley scent (muguet) that crowns the Moksha is positively ecstatic. And Mother’s doesn’t shy from the contrasts here either, setting off on a trail of oriental woods and saffron notes that end up creating a very rich depth before giving one a floral shock that starts with the rose notes, part of which are described as “citrusy rose petals” which seem to be what I’m picking up as a slight melon-like fruitiness. It all results in the most incredible, kaleidoscopic aroma that has the feminine, floral notes of so many modern perfumes but with the depth of the traditional. I’ve had a few incenses with lily of the valley in them, but none quite so stunning as this one.

One thing you’d expect from a great company is that in expanding what was a really impressive quintet, Mother’s haven’t sat on their laurels and tried to spin similar variations off of an already established success, they’ve possibly surpassed them, or if not, they’ve added such an incredible amount of variation to their line that it breathes new life into the whole line and makes you want to go back to the original quintet for reevaluation. With each stick I became far more deeply involved with each one to the point that picking a favorite is very difficult, there’s really not a blend here I wouldn’t want consistent stock on. There’s just no question that this is the crowning line of the modern nagchampa and I’m fortunate to be able to bring seven more to your attention in the next installment.

The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

Today we introduce to you the Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25. However, unlike our usual top 10s and last year’s combined top 20, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and a little bit tricky. This year’s top 25 is something of a meta-list, in a way we want to capture the best of incense by looking at things from a larger perspective. So instead of having one incense per entry, we’re just going for broke: full companies, sublines, incenses, incense materials, incense supplementals – everything we could think of that would lead to a top tier incense experience. In fact we started at a top 20, expanded it to a 25 to make sure we got everything and ended up with a pretty good group.

Please keep in mind as always that our best of lists are something of a lark. For one thing I think both Ross and I probably find it somewhat difficult to truly tier these in order and so while maybe we like the stuff at the top a little more than at the bottom, maybe, there’s no particular rhyme or reasoning to the ordering and we consider everything on here to be superlative work, perhaps with a few individual idiosyncracies we won’t mention. As a whole though, I think this is a good look at what we consider the best incense related stuff on the US market today and we’ve pared it down only to include what is available here. As each entry often includes several incenses, we’ve left off links to reviews and sites, but just about everything on here has been reviewed previously and links to them can be found in our Reviews Index. So, after the cut, the ORS Top 25. Read the rest of this entry »

Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Ananda, Ganesh, Laxmi, Shanti, Vishnu

In nearly every article reviewing Indian durbars or champa incenses it’s virtually impossible not to mention that the style has undergone changes over the last decade or so due to the shorter supply of the resin halmaddi in these incenses. Nearly every company in existence has adjusted their recipes to some extent, although we’re largely left to guess over how it is they’ve done so. What we can generally tell is the soft, semi-wet durbars of yore have gotten drier over the years, the scents have often gotten just a little bit harsher and our expectations over reliving the old scents have diminished.

While Mother’s India Fragrances seem to have been around for a while (I remember the small packs of masala incenses they do which I found in stores years back), it’s only somewhat recently they’ve started exporting this five incense series of Nagchampa incenses. I’m unaware of whether they’ve undergone a change in formula or if they are completely new incenses, but they seem to use an ingredient either unheralded in Indian incense or just not included in the recipes, a tree resin known as mattipal. And in doing so they’ve created what is perhaps the finest short line in all of Indian incense today, making me wonder just what it is about mattipal that makes it so uncommon in durbars when it seems like the use of it might enhance the durbar industry in general and at least push it back in the direction that made it one of the most attractive and accessible styles of incense on the market.

Mother’s India Fragrances’ (Mother’s for short) five incenses are really variations on a theme. Although it’s difficult to confirm, the “standard” Nagchampa appears to be the Shanti, and the Laxmi is a mild version of the same formula. The Vishnu is similar and adds saffron to the mix, where both Ananda and Ganesh are a little more distinct in their differences, the former a blend, the latter using French Lavender oil. All five of these incenses are breathtakingly good, long burning and very high quality durbars. They’re perhaps slightly different than what you’ll remember from the halmaddi days, but at the same time they’re a lot closer in style to the originals than most other current durbar reformulations.

Ananda Nagchampa is  described as a blend of sweet floral and herbal fragrances. The base on this one as it is in all five of these combines the typical vanilla and sweet notes of most durbars with a slightly piney or evergreen note that is likely to come from the mattipal. The combination gives it a soft and mellow tone and in this case, the ingredients add up to a fairly intricate mix. Like the Vishnu Nagchampa, Ananda seems to strike a middle between the deluxe, sweet and perfumed concotion found in the Ganesh blend and the dry spicy and more typically standard nagchampa scent found in the Shanti blend. Like most of the incenses here there’s a very strong cassia or cinnamon aroma in the middle, but here there are fruitier hints such as strawberry and orange, mixed with what seem to be greener herbal notes. It’s possibly the most unusual incense of the five, the most complex, and the fragrance that takes one’s nose the longest to adjust to.

Ganesh Nagchamp is virtually one of the finest durbars to have been created by human hand, it’s a triumph of the incense making art. One has certain expectations going into an incense that is supposedly “crowned with French lavender oil,” but here the combination is far more than the sum of its parts. While one easily notices the lavender oil as part of the mix, it doesn’t seem typical either bearing witness to a finer quality or just the fact that its marriage with the mattipal base is one of alchemical genius. Although it, like the others in the line, has a strong note of cinnamon as well, the lavender moves it to the sweeter end of the line. It’s so rich, decadent and astonishingly good that even one stick will have one reeling in amazement that one could hit such a perfect match of ingredients. Every incense lover owes themselves a treat such as this.

Laxmi Nagchampa, as I mentioned above, is the line’s mild nagchampa and in many ways is somewhat redundant to the Shanti. For one thing, the line in itself (apart from, perhaps, the Ganesh) is fairly mild as it is, so the muting of the Shanti scents is rather soft, perhaps taking out more of the base and leaving the oils to do more of the work. The spices are quite a bit mellower here, but overall it’s difficult to guess what reformulation caused this one to be so gentle. In many ways you only need Laxmi or Shanti and I think more incense lovers will move to and approve of the latter’s richer scent.

Shanti Nagchampa itself is indeed the incense that smells the most like classic nag champa, although fortunately in this case something more like Bam Champa or the original halmaddi formulations of a decade ago. Perhaps this is the one that lets the mattipal speak the loudest as it seems to not only have the greater evergreen note but is redolent of cassia spice, adding up to a certain dryness that’s quite attractive. It certainly has me fairly nostalgic for the champa scents of old, that wet and intensely aromatic smell I remember from opening the old Satya blue box when it useds to be good.

Vishnu Nagchampa is described as “accented with saffron and based on oriental notes.” The saffron note is quite light overall and gives the incense a slightly spicier scent. Like the Ananda it kind of sits between the Ganesh and Shanti in terms of sweetness and dryness although it’s probably a bit closer to the Shanti. It’s almost liquor like in a way, with hints of cognac, whisky or fine rum at times, probably due to the nature of the oil. Like Ananda it has a bit more of a learning curve but is ultimately no less fine than the rest of the incenses in the line.

The Ganesh is an absolute must try, and I’d probably suggest giving the Shanti a go around as a second pick, before moving on to the Ananda and Vishnu. Those that do love the line by this point should have no problem with Laxmi either and may indeed prefer its milder qualities. One does wonder however, with such a powerful incense line if Mother’s intends to expand and concoct more fragrances as they appear to be onto a good thing where mattipal is concerned. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a new durbar renaissance.