Today I’m going to talk about a few of my long-time favorite incenses, four scents that were basically my standards before I entered the wide world of Japanese and Tibetan incenses. In bringing them out again after what’s been probably at least a year, I was reminded why I loved them so much (and still do, now that some space and time has reminded me of why). All four, with one possible exception, are masterpieces of the durbar style, including one that’s something of a classic style, one that noone outside of Mystic Temple has ever really duplicated, one that’s the finest version of the style and an unusual stick that seems to be something of an Omani/Indian crossover. All of these incenses can be found under the company’s Red Label imprint as well as in bulk (except Golden Champa, which may be elsewhere in the site’s confusing set up).
It should be noted that Mystic Temple incenses are notable for occasional changes to scent. Like many of Shrinivas Sughandalaya products, it might be said that there’s been something of a quality shift over the years. For instance, in one of the first orders I made from this company, probably ten years ago, I fell in love with their Maharaja blend, only for subsequent orders to evince a new and somewhat inferior recipe (Reservoir of Pleasure is also a vastly different incense from what I originally bought). My main reason for mentioning this is that the incenses I am using for this review were purchased as long as 2-3 years ago. The good news is that none of them have appeared to have lost much in the way of scent, smelling as good as I remember, but this is a caveat that the recipes might be different now.
Mystic Temple’s Golden Champa is the company’s variant on the classic Sai Flora style. Sai Flora and all of its variants could be the largest, thickest durbars available anywhere. On average the sticks are twice as thick and appropriately golden, with an aromatic perfume and punch that’s so strong one barely needs to light the stick. It’s a scent I’ve found that tends to divide people. On 2 or 3 occasions over the years, guests and friends have made the comment that it has something of a manure scent to it, which could be the byproduct of having such a large concentration of florals in one place. Now, don’t let that turn you off by any means, such earthy notes are veritably buried by the potent perfume in place that mixes just about everything under the sun. There’s something of a golden (or even bronze or copper) vibe to the scent that contours what must be a huge list of ingredients that range from the sandalwood mixes in most durbars to cinnamon, clove and a multiple of florals. While I might give the Sai Flora contest gold medal to the Shanthi version at Incense Guru, or at least I would have when I had some many years ago, Mystic Temple’s comes in at the silver by a hair. In general these versions will tend to be less dry and quite a bit fresher than the general Sai Flora style in the red package. Overall this incense packs a wallop and is only for those who can handle profuse smoke.
Transcendence is a bit more difficult to describe, it doesn’t appear to have any analog I know of among other companies. It’s a scent I’m fairly familiar with as I often walk by women who wear a similar perfume, which makes me wonder if there’s a tie-in I’m missing. Over the years I’d probably have this in the top 10 of all time best durbars as it presents an even richer and sweet/spicy version of the classic Nag Champa. There’s a lot of sweetness and confectionary qualities to this incense, with a sugar/spice cookie scent mixed in and a bit of muskiness to the background. Like most of the big durbars, this has a great deal of perfume oil to it, but it’s one I’ve always loved and generally is met with very positively by guests, as it’s also one of the friendliest durbars available. Very rich and potent.
Vanilla Amber Champa is one of Mystic Temple’s triumphs. Since I tried this incense, I’ve seen similar incenses pop up elsewhere implying it’s something of a standard scent. Blue Pearl (Vanilla Champa) and Incense from India (Vanilla Sunrise) both have similar incenses and in all cases, this is a scent that reaches the high end of the durbar range (which isn’t terribly different from the other end of the range). Vanilla Amber Champa might be one of the most potent incenses available. I’ve burned a stick only to smell it as late as 24 hours later; there’s something about the aromatic combination that is uncommonly long lasting. Overall the incense delivers what it says on the package, it’s a durbar with very strong amber and vanilla perfumes, the latter more in front and the former bolstering the middle. The difference between this version and the others is that this one has a very sleek smoothness to it. The halmaddi middle to the champa isn’t quite as sweet as they usually are, which gives the overall scent a very pleasing dryness. It’s a really great, essential durbar overall, one of a few I’d immediately recommend to the Nag Champa fan interested in stretching out.
White Frankincense is a particularly unusual incense. The company has managed to mix me up quite a bit with their frankincense incenses. When I first tried samplers from this company (when the incense was housed in paper sleeves), the champa sampler had an aroma called Frankincense Champa in it, which was the perfect blend of durbar and resin. However even then the company didn’t seem to sell it separately, so I ended up finding something similar with Incense from India’s Golden Frankincense. Later, I was happy to see Mystic Temple had added it to their list, only to get a package to find out it was indistinguishable from their Amber Champa (whether this was a mistake in the order or an actual product change, I’ll never know). However at virtually the same time, they released the White Frankincense, which while being a bit different in style, scratched virtually the same itch. White Frankincense appears to use very good quality Omani frankincense, mixed into a base I’d hesitate (for a split second) to call a durbar, as it’s quite a bit darker colored than most champas. Lit, the stick is a powerful blend of sweet gum and a strong and potent frankincense that ranges from citrus (the resin) to peppery (the wood powder). Overall it’s such an excellent stick that it’s surpassed the previously mentioned Frankincense Champas, likely due to the high quality of frankincense used.
All four of these incenses are among the most powerful durbars available, emitting a smoke powerful enough to probably overwhelm anyone who isn’t incense friendly. They’ll scent any space for a period of time outlasting the actual burn itself, due to the intensity and power of the perfumes on display here. All four are also very friendly, lacking off notes from bad perfumes, while still remaining inexpensive enough to be affordable for most budgets. As I revisit so many old Indian durbars, these four still strike me among the best the style has to offer.