Nitiraj / Color Aromatherapy Nag Champas / Black, Blue, Green, Gold, Orange, Purple, Red

This line up of Nitirag nag champa incenses seems to be one of the few remaining sublines in their catalog. There are seven aromas, undoubtedly to match up with the chakras, and they’re all created to represent a color in scent (there are no artificial colors on the incenses themselves). The entire line is more or less saddled with a lack of distinction in the same way so much of the Shrinivas line is, lots of aromas that only change  things to slight degrees.

Nitiraj’s Black Nag Champa for meditation lists sandalwood, vanilla and floral oils, which unfortunately doesn’t tell you much. And why would it? Everything is slightly tweaked here from the generic Nag Champa scent, especially the spicy middle and floral top notes, all of which are just gently different. The variation is quite nice, not up to the Shroff and Dhuni quality you’re seeing these days, but not poor either. It actually reminds me a little of the base that is part of the Nikhil flavored champas.

The Blue Nag Champa is for relaxation and contains rose, jasmine and sandalwood, making this somewhat similar to the Shrinivas “Valley of the Roses” incense. Like that incense the floral oils have an almost chemical-like scent and there’s no hint of true rose and very little jasmine. Unfortunately most floral champas don’t work out too well due to the avoidance of expensive ingredients and this is little different. There’s too much of a furniture polish thing going on here.

The Green Nag Champa is about balance and includes citrus oils with garden flowers and sandalwood. It’s quite nice, sandalwood heavy, with the citrus and flowers mixing in nicely and giving the entire incense an uplifting feel. The citrus oils in particular enhance the sense of freshness, strangely, in a way the Blue totally failed to accomplish. And most importantly, everything feels real with no off notes.

Wisdom is the theme of the Gold Nag Champa and the incense includes amber, jasmine and sandalwood. This champa is nice and hevay in the amber department, which gives the whole champa scent a totally different feel. The amber champas found in other lines are similar in style, but the jasmine really pops nicely in the mix (although a better jasmine oil might have made this a classic). Definitely one of this line’s best incenses, no surprise it gets the gold spot.

The Orange Nag Champa aims to evoke happiness and includes sweet woods and spices. It’s another semi-sweet champa, not terribly far from the Green if it had no citrus oils. Because of the lack of flashy ingredients, this also is still within the more specific nag champa aroma. It’s gentle, which is nice, but it doesn’t really have much in the way of a personality. There are Mother’s incenses that do this kind of thing much better, let alone Shroff’s Little Woods.

The Purple Nag Champa has a prayer theme and includes forest herbs and flowers. Another extraordinarily foofy, sweet nag champa, this one is mildly evocative of the sweetness of Honey Dust or Vanilla. Like with some of the other incenses in this line, it lacks a certain personality, althought it does seem to capture its color in a way the others don’t so much. Then again it doesn’t strike me as foresty in any way. Not much more to say, it reminds me of a forgettable Shrinivas offering.

Finally we have energy in the way of the Red Nag Champa which features exotic oils and sweet tropical fruits. At least in Red’s case we have a bit of vigor, probably due to the fruit oil mix (memories of Ajaro or Aastha from the Satya line come up here). But overall, we have the same issues, slightly weak and multiple ingredients combining for mild and unsuggestive aromas. This has sort of a champa mixed with a mild fruitiness that has little definition. It’s not unpleasant, but this just pales next to better incense.

There’s one more Nitiraj line, Masterpiece, although I believe this line may be on the way to deletion. But better than all of these, at least slightly, is Nitiraj’s gigantic Atmosphere brand which as a whole is a little more deluxe than the actual Nitiraj lines. Again, it’s worth keeping in mind that even when I’m positive about the incenses above, this is in no way to indicate these incenses are on the same level as the Mother’s champas, Shroff, Dhuni, Happy Hari etc.

Nitiraj / Classic / Amber, Divine, Frankincense, Musk, Myrrh, Nagchampa, Rajchampa, Sandalwood

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Nitiraj is an incense company with a very expansive catalog, not only do they have several lines under their own imprint, but they’re also responsible for the large Atmosphere series of incenses. Like Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, Nitiraj isn’t really producing high quality incense, it’s more as if they’re covering the inexpensive, passable midrange of Indian incense. For example if you were to take a number of Nitiraj champas and mixed them in with the Atmosphere range, I think it would be very difficult to tell some of the incenses apart. This is the same issue with Satya incenses, the recipe changes have led to many of their incenses losing distinct personalities. In fact I think it’s instructive to take a Nitiraj or Satya stick and compare them next to something from Shroff or Dhuni.

Nitiraj’s Classic line is akin to something like Triloka’s main range or in some cases Madhavadas/Primo. What you’re basically getting are average examples of all the sort of standard incenses you’ll find in many common Indian incense ranges. Here you get the pink amber style, a flora, several masalas and a couple of champas, but unfortunate most, if not all of these fall under standard quality. I’m not sure if my packages are just too old at this point (it does seem, for instance, that the Atmosphere range is superior), but there’s not really a lot to be impressed with here so keep that in mind if you want to keep reading.

It’s rare to find a bad Amber incense, but Nitiraj have managed one, although in this case it’s because the scent is far more like some horrible synthetic floral than anything remotely resembling an amber. At the light it just smacks you with shallow bitterness and a number of off basal subnotes. In many ways this stick is a picture perfect example of why ORS exists, so you can be pointed to alternatives for this kind of thing (in this case almost anything else with the amber label on it). Your incense should not have to smell like a chem lab accident.

Divine is Nitiraj’s Sai Flora equivalent, but with a bit of glitter in the stick and a much flatter scent. The brassiness you’ll find in Sai Flora overtakes the base too much and very little of the earthy, almost manure-like undertones exist in the Divine, which isn’t actually a good thing in that it leaves the result too generic. Maybe it’s because I’ve been burning better fluxos and floras, but this is way too much of a one-note incense to be comfortable in this thick stick category. Divine isn’t as bad as the Amber, but since Sai Flora, Mystic Temple Golden Champa and many others are so much better, there’s no point in this version. An incense that reminds you of better versions isn’t really what you want.

Nitiraj’s Frankincense is as strange and offputting as the amber, as far from the Madhavadas frankincense style as it is from real frankincense. It seems to have a more “resin blend” smell, rather than resembling pure frankincense and as such it seems like there’s enough benzoin in the mix to make it church blend like. But despite it’s individuality, Nitiraj Frankincense just doesn’t measure up to any other Indian frankincense I can think of.

Nitiraj’s Musk is a reasonable herbal masala musk, obviously trying to imitate the French musk scent and at least creating the imitation without any overt unpleasantness. But we’re also so far from the real thing that it suffers from the comparison. It actually reminds me a little of the NK aloeswood sticks, but with sandalwood mixed in instead.

The Myrrh is a brutally bad, sour and perfumed incense that doesn’t smell as much like myrrh as it does some sort of industrial gravel mix. This is the type of incense that gives the whole paradigm a bad name, I’d be surprised to hear anyone find this even remotely pleasant. It’s hard to imagine the quality department signing off on this.

Nitiraj’s Nagchampa will remind you pretty quickly of what the blue box Satya version turned into over the last decade and is very typical of what the modern scent was like until some of the newer premium outfits started restoring the incense’s reputation. Without halmaddi (or with very little of it) the bouquet has to be largely carried by the base. However, this isn’t particularly terrible, but only if you don’t compare it to the versions on the market now, which show this up for its lack of authenticity.

The Rajchampa doesn’t resemble most champas of any kind, it’s a masala with a tatty kind of perfume oil, a mix of Chandan sandalwood and an odd floral/orange-ish mix. It blares its message a bit loud and doesn’t do it with any sort of real quality, so its bouquet seems kind of cheap. It’s not on the bottom rung like the Myrrh, but it’s not one you’d run out for either.

Like the amber and frankincense, Nitiraj Sandalwood is both totally and not so totally reminiscent of the Madhavadas family version. What I mean by this is it seems the construction of the incense is similar (such as the base), but the directions they go are very different. Like the Madhavadas sandalwoods, this is a highly perfumed masala, but it doesn’t share the same vanilla and buttery sandalwood overtones (which is actually a good thing in my book). Stickwise it seems to be a bit loud and the overall bouquet belies the complexity of the wood, but essentially it’s a passable version.

Fortunately at this point, I can at least say I’ve covered Nitiraj’s least impressive line and while there’s no drastic improvement in the other ranges, at least in nearly all cases everything left over is champa style. The next batch will be Nitiraj’s line of color/aromatherapy scents. Essence of the Ages has confirmed for me that this range has been discontinued, but it seems most of these incenses are still available if you look around (including a few at discount prices at Essence).

Champacopia – Contemporary Nag Champas

Back in August 2007 I left one of my rare Amazon.com (of the  world famous, best selling incense Shrinivas Sughandalaya Sai Baba Nag Champa) reviews here. If you browse around a little you’ll find that even with a 3/5 star rating, my review is easily one of the most critical for that product and at the time I still hadn’t quite learned exactly why I was continuing to notice a variation in this product from box to box.

Wikipedia’s Nag Champa entry describes Nag Champa, saying “Champa incenses contain a natural ingredient indigenous to India called “halmaddi”, which is a semi-liquid resin taken from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree. It is what gives Nag Champa its characteristic grey color. Halmaddi is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. This can cause Nag Champa incenses to have a wet feeling to them.” What it doesn’t say is the the resin halmaddi was also reponsible for the large portion of the incense’s scent.

However, halmaddi has become increasing rare and now is part of biodiversity conservation measures to prevent the declining population of one of many non-timber forest products in India. And about a decade ago, without a word, the Blue Box Nag Champa incense, famous worldwide for its quality, changed its recipe by removing most, if not all halmaddi from its champas. What was once an incense institution now left users scratching their heads and trying to figure out why things weren’t the same. But not only did this shortage affect the famous Nag Champa, it laid a trail of devastation through several companies and has unfortunately laid waste to most of the Shrinivas Sugandhalaya catalog. Super Hit, Satya Natural and many others are just not the incenses they once were.

The most obvious way of telling the halmaddi has been reduced is that the incenses are not wet anymore and the deep and resonant honey and vanilla scent of the halmaddi has become a shadow of itself. What’s perhaps interesting about all of this is that halmaddi hasn’t completely disappeared, if you look around you can still find the resin itself. So it’s likely it’s just too expensive now to be an ingredient in a box that retails for only a few dollars. But as no company has taken it upon themselves to create halmaddi champas in a more premium price range as of this writing (I suppose I’m still crossing my fingers that the two new Shroff wet masalas might fill this niche), perhaps there are other conservation regulatory complexities I’m not aware of.

This write up is going to talk about a group of champas in the modern age. I’ll state right at the front that while a few of these are quite good, there’s not a one of them that truly resembles the old Blue Box, none of them have the semi-wet, gooey consistency the original had and while I’d guess maybe one or two of these do have a slight hint of halmaddi, none of them have enough to cause the incense to display the hygroscopic tendencies it used to. Read the rest of this entry »