Prabhuji’s Gifts / Chakra Series / Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara

The Western tendency to create correspondences with Eastern spiritual systems seems largely a side effect of systems like the Golden Dawn where everything from colors to astrology signs to elements to Hebrew letters to tarot cards were lined up with one another to link things up and create one sort of universal spiritual system. This has long permeated new age culture and you can see it here in this seven incense chakra line where all the packages have different colors and so forth and the scents have been created to match up with each chakra, as if working with chakras was a simple as burning incenses and holding the right crystal. But hey, marketing right? (There’s a new Facebook ad equating using their groups as a method for transcendence that is currently annoying me, but I digress.) For sure the packages are quite nice on these, and if we can reference the many gems of the Ramakrishnanda incense line (scroll a bit down after this review), then I was hoping there would be treasures to be found in these as well, as Prabhuji’s Gifts has created a lot of memorable and inexpensive incenses that have become favorites of mine. They have such a wide variety of scents and lines now that there should nearly be something for everyone. So anyway let’s start from the root chakra and bring the energy up, or at least see if these smell good.

The Muladhara Chakra incense lists sandalwood, khus, patchouli and clove. This looks to be of Bangalore pedigree with a heavily dusted, somewhat hybridized masala with charcoal, very similar to what you’ll find with Satya incenses. However, like most of the Prabhuji Gifts line the perfumes tend to be better. I think the idea here is that earthier herbs like patchouli and khus are meant to be grounding, but the mix of all four of these ingredients really tends to blend those types of earthier elements out. You end up with a sort of budget quality woodiness from the sandalwood with a bit of a cooling vibe, not at all what I’d expect from the “cover.” As the incense burns you realize it’s going for a sort of mild stabilizing effect and that you do get the clove and patchouli as milder notes in the background and so overall this is pleasant if not quite exciting. But that may very well be the point.

Svadhisthana Chakra is all about the sacral (aka tummy) chakra. It has a similar style to the Muladhara, but is perhaps a bit softer. The list here is vanilla, rose and vetiver. I’m always a bit skeptical of incenses with rose notes at this sort of inexpensive price range and the one here seems a bit odd in the mix. The company also tags this chakra with the water element where something like jasmine seems a better fit and it’s kind of odd to see something like vetivert here as well. So it’s a bit of an odd duck. Like most of these incenses there’s also an inherent woodiness to it that isn’t listed and you can certainly smell the vanilla, although it leans a bit to the less sweet. I can’t really identify anything too unpleasant or odd about the notes, but the mix of them doesn’t sit particularly comfortably for me. It ends up being close to a lot of incenses you find at this range where the perfumes didn’t quite make it.

So, up to the solar plexus level with the Manipura Chakra, this time with a more simple blend of lavender and sandalwood. The consistency here brings it back more in line with the Muladhara. The simplicity makes this a much more satisfying incense. It’s interesting after sampling the lavenders in the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense axis to sample this as the sandalwood presence gives this a much different feel that those, perhaps less obviously lavender but still soft and pleasant enough to not be offputting like in the Lavender Fields variant. It’s more that it just sort of moves the sandalwood over into a more pleasantly general floral range. So it ends up being probably the best incense in this line. But again I find this interesting on a correspondence level because lavender more often tends to be thought of as air element here and because of that it doesn’t feel like it matches with the fire correspondence listed in the back. For fire you’d likely want something spicier like cinnamon in the mix.

Anahata Chakra at least keeps the rose (and maybe geranium) associations of the heart chakra in place, although it does so with patchouli as the first note listed. It reminds me a little of the Temple of Incense Om Masala, although perhaps not quite as deluxe. For listing a couple of big floral notes, it feels like they’re dialed back in comparison to the earthy and spicy notes and there’s some level of halmaddi to it as well. But the price difference between this and the Om Masala is probably a bit telling in that this has less definition, especially in the perfume area, it is pleasant but in a somewhat muddier way. It’s the kind of incense that would have had a bit more presence in the “halmaddi era” but without the full recipe, it leaves it feeling pleasant but a bit generic.

The “oriental woods and amber” of Vishuddha Chakra create an incense not terribly different from the other sandalwood prominent incenses in this series. It’s quite dry with very little in the way of sweetness and doesn’t have as strong of an amber note as you’d like. Without any real definition of what woods are included, it actually matches the profile fairly well and doesn’t seem as sandalwood-heavy as the others, but this pushes it into a somewhat generic and somewhat personality-less area. I like that it’s a bit different and the cooling feel of it does seem to fit the color scheme here but again, this falls a bit more into the way Satya incenses can be kind of hazy in terms of what scent they’re trying to reach. It’s perhaps that feeling that this is reaching for levels of expense it couldn’t possibly reach at its price.

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about the jasmine and tulasi that matches up with the Ajna Chakra. Ideally when you’re moving up into rarified spheres you’d like the quality to bump up quite a bit, but after the Absolute Bliss/Temple of Incense Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom, this one falls quite flat. Whatever is going into this mix frankly isn’t cutting it and the perfume is off in a way that’s distinctly unpleasant. It could be that this is old stock and it has faded some but I’m not sure I’d risk another go with what’s left. This stick is more like something you’d expect out of Satya, either factory. And honestly I’ve tried one of Satya’s jasmines (I think it was the Bangalore “Jasmine”) that’s actually more defined than this one, so maybe part of the issue is the Tulasi? Hard to tell for sure, but simply nope.

And finally we get to the crown chakra with the Sahasrara Chakra and the lotus blossom that often signifies the mandala here. But just like with the previous incense, I’ve had Queen of Lotus/Lotus Flower, Floating Lotus Flower/Shiv and of course the devastating White Lotus Oudh Saffron out frequently of late, so I perhaps was not in the economy section when I sat down to review this. Fortunately it’s a bit nicer on its own than the Ajna, and there’s at least some level of attempt to get the floral notes right, but it’s not the same class, not by a long shot. It does have a bit of sweetness as a masala hybrid that helps it a bit, but it also verges a bit sour sometimes. Overall it’s really worth paying a few more bucks for something closer to the real deal, this is something I’d say is nearly always true when it comes to florals.

Now keep in mind as I close this that there are a few incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line I still like a lot, although one of their finest seemed to have been discontinued for a different recipe. But these days I’m fairly sensitive when I pick up a new line that doesn’t seem to be quite as up to the standard I remembered in terms of wondering if the original catalog might have shifted as well. While I might have put the Ramakrishnanda line ahead of say the Designs By Deekay line by a hair with some overlap, I’d put most of the chakra line a bit lower and maybe a step ahead of the Satays in most cases. We’re talking about the same sort of masala-charcoal hybrid style in the Satya family here, but for sure I’d stick to the Ramakrishnandas first. However, it’s worth checking out some of the enthusiastic reviews of these incenses at the specific incense’s web page, to get some different perspectives. After all at $3.38 a package there’s not a lot of risk here.


Prabhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Bala Krishna, Govardhana (Previous Version Discontinued), Madhurya Rasa, Shringara

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

[7/11/21: Please note in researching this line today, Govhardana is now described as having “wood, rose and vanilla” notes which I would assume means the previous “loban and coconut” version has been deleted and so the review below is now historical and no longer applies. A shame as it was one of the best in the line.]

My relationship with Ramakrishnanda incense (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line) has kind of hopped all over the place. I first encountered their line when it first came out in a local new age shop and was immediately impressed by the quality of scents based on how the incenses had almost permeated the whole store. But I found out quickly via the sampler packs that there were some incenses that were almost atrociously bad as well, and I also found out that much of the amazing aromatic qualities of the incenses had largely faded after six months (which is fairly typical of most Indian incenses). So in a year I went from thinking they were one of the better incenses lines on the market to somewhere in the middle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prabhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Bhagavan, Krishna, Lalita, Radha, Rasa Lila

Ramakrishnanda Part 1
Ramakrishnanda Part 2
Ramakrishnanda Part 3

Since Ramakrishnanda (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line) released their first 15 incense blends a few years ago as well as three different sampler packs, they’ve not stopped there, trickling out a few other new blends that as of yet do not have an associated sampler pack. This review covers the five newest blends as of the current date which include one new premium Agarwood stick that costs about a dollar more than the usual 10 stick packages. The rest of the newer incenses follow in the durbar or flora styles used by the company and continue their experimentation with different ingredient combinations. As always the results are always unusual and intriguing, if not always successful.

Bhagavan is a durbar that combines patchouli and vetivert, given the listed concoction, however this is actually a stick that doesn’t particularly evoke either ingredient so much. In many ways this is an alternative to the types of flora incenses found under the name Golden Champa such as Sai Flora itself, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and several others, although in this case the stick isn’t quite as hefty. Any noticeable patchouli qualities seem to be lost in the mix or at least the oilier aspects of the scent are submerged, what’s left is more reminiscent of the brighter, foresty type of scent one might associate with Shrinivas’ Patchouli Forest blend. The Vetivert is less submerged but still floats more as a background note, and it’s difficult not to wish both aspects were cranked up a bit more. As both scents evoke sort of an earthy type of scent, I was surprised to find the earthiness mostly existed as part of the drier finish. However if one just forgets about trying to match up what their smelling with the ingredients on the package, you’ll still find this a very pleasant incense, particularly if you’re fond of any of the flora types mentioned earlier.

Krishna is a champa type incense that’s something of  a variation on Ramakrishnanda’s own Narasingha Dev. The ingredients given are vetivert, cedarwood and halmadi, but the strongest element seems to be the sweet gum like center, the aspect it has most in common with Narasingha Dev which opens the question whether that incense also has halmadi (which could be implicit in the champa part of its ingredients). It certainly has the strong vanilla aroma halmadi tends to bring with it, but again whatever vetivert is being used here doesn’t seem to overwhelm the incense as if it’s just being used as a note. The cedarwood, as well, isn’t as strong as it tends to be in Indian masalas but likely strengthens the forest like gum scents of the incense’s center. The entirety is a bit of a mix up, not as successful as Narasingha Dev, as if there’s just a bit too much going on and too many contrary scents cancelling each other out.

Lalita is a very pleasant sandalwood and musk incense with an incredibly attractive sandalwood oil at the center of the stick. As this is one of the newer Ramakrishnanda blends, it begs the question if some of the older packages are perhaps losing a bit of steam in terms of oil quality, as the scent here is very powerful and terribly attractive. It’s true one can detect a very nice topping of musk as a faint note with the incense, but it’s only a side note on what is a great sandalwood champa incense with an oil that’s pitched about perfect. Not a complex incense, but a very nice one, if there’s any other side notes it would be a touch of vanilla and maybe a bit of spice that reminds me of Indian masalas with chandan in the title.

Radha‘s ingredients are given as patchouli, cardamom and rose and had I not seen cardamom in the list I might have compared the interesting spice note in this incense to anise. The rose I’m not sure I detected at all, and given the track record with patchouli in this line, I’d say the company is using less of the obvious patchouli oil and perhaps more of the herb, because it never strikes you as overt. I’m left with the impression of a champa with quite a bit of sandalwood and benzoin in it with the vanilla touches not blending terribly well with the cardamom. There even appear to be some bitter or sour notes in the mix which are uncommon to Ramakrishnanda incenses which are usually always at least pleasant. One might chalk this up to an experiment that didn’t work so well, or perhaps by the time a packet was in my hand, the oils had faded considerably.

Which brings me to the last and newest of the Ramakrishnanda line, the powerfully scented agarwood incense Rasa Lila. Again one wonders at the level of oil dissipation (particularly when all of these incenses seem to be packaged very well) as in this case the oil levels are eye-stingingly powerful, although with an increased, premium price (as well as a gold sticker on the front setting it apart) perhaps we’re getting a bit more for the money. It’s a  rather thick durbar style whose primary scent is less the wood than the heavy citrus/orange/lemon that gives the aroma an almost furniture polish-like aroma in all the best senses. The agarwood/oud oil then floats as a background note behind this giving it all a nice three dimensional presence, taking the place that sandalwood tends to hold in most of the line’s incenses. It would be too much if it wasn’t for its resounding natural qualities which help to give this a very fresh and cleansing solar quality to it. It’s not at all like, say the Agarwood incenses found in the Mystic Temple line or the Absolute or Connoisseur versions in the Pure-Incense line, it really does have a unique and interesting quality all of its own. I’d probably chalk this one up as one of Ramakrishnanda’s more successful experiments.

Ramakrishnanda then has a total of 20 different blends to date and no doubt we’ll see more in the future. They also have a series of resin blends that I have not yet decided to spring for that may be of some interest to heater or charcoal burner lovers. Overall they’re a quality company with a lot of interesting scents, perhaps not at the apex of the art, but growing closer in that direction (I’d certainly like to see more in the way of premium scents). Perhaps the major downside is that they only seem to commonly retail 10 stick packages which means if you like any particular aroma you’re almost due for a restock as soon as you open a package. And I don’t doubt you’ll find at least one or two new favorites among the 20 scents they carry.

Prabhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Balarama, Gokula, Matsya, Narasingha Dev, Shyam

The five incenses in this write up can all be sampled via the Ramakrishnanda Varaha variety pack (10/8/21: Variety pack now discontinued) and are the last quintet among the originally released 15 incenses. Since then, Ramakrishnanda (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line) has released five new incenses, all of which will be covered in the next installment, however the current five are the last of Ramakrishnanda’s incenses to be included in a variety pack as of the date of this review.

As always, this group of five runs the gamut of Ramakrishnanda styles, from the floras of Balarama and Shyam through the charcoal of Matsya to the remaining two champa/durbars. Overall both the best and worst of the line are probably found among these incenses and like with the previous two samplers I’m not able to see any particular theme among them exc ept for, perhaps, diversity.

Balarama is a particularly unusual blend in its combination of lemongrass and clove. Like many of the line’s incenses the ingredients given in the description aren’t as intense or as obvious as you might expect. The usualy intensity found where lemongrass oil is concerned is quite tempered by the clove whose equally intense attributes are fairly blunted and mostly found at the top of the aroma and around the edges. That is, even with the spice’s presence it would be difficult to think of this as a spicy incense per se. Given this is a flora incense (although thinner than usual in a family of incenses that includes thick sticks like Sai Flora, Sai Deep, Sai Leela, Darshan Flora, and others), one expects a certain amount of sweetness but perhaps too the collision of lemongrass and clove oils manages to cancel these tendencies out. It’s an interesting, if not entirely successful experiment.

The lavender toned bamboo stick holding the Gokula scent fairly gives the incense away as Ramakrishnanda’s version of the same incense incarnated as Satya Natural, Incense from India’s Honey Dust, Mystic Temple Vanilla, and Purelands’ Shanti, the sweeter honeyed version of the classic Nag Champa. Ramakrishnada, interestingly, names the ingredients here as Vanilla, Myra and Tulsi. One assumes Myra is Myrrh in this batch and Tulsi Holy Basil, so no overt honey presence is noted, while two listed ingredients seem fairly buried (although one may be able to eke out myrrh floating in the background). Details aside, this is one most incense appreciators are likely to be familiar with already and as it’s pitched right down the middle, be sure you’re not already fully stocked in another version of the scent before purchasing this (and besides, the Ramakrishnanda version will likely be on the expensive side for this formulation).

Matsya is an incense I found virtually repulsive when I originally tried it and made notes about it years ago. Since then I think my appreciation for charcoals has grown a bit, but not enough for me to find this pleasant in any way. The ingredients (and likely oils) listed are jasmine, rose and tulsi and to my nose they clash like a poor house cleaner or deodorizer. It’s not only harsh, but it evokes all the off notes of synthetic products, hairsprays and bad perfumes. A much better alternative for the same sort of style would be something like Shroff’s Sugandhi Bathi, that combines a number of florals and woody oils while remaining very pleasant and perfectly pitched.

On the other hand Narasingha Dev is either the best or one of the best incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line. Described as a Frankincense Champa, it’s actually fairly unlike that scent found in the Incense from India or Rare Essence lines, where the frankincense actually comes through with its more citrus-like tendencies, here the result is more similar to Surya’s Forest Champa where the melting of resins gives the background a sweet and pleasant gummy aroma. The typical vanilla and sandalwood scents common in the style merge quite nicely with this central scent for an incense that is quite attractive and at times perfect for the moment.

Shyam is also quite impressive as many flora or durbars tend to be with the levels of fine sandalwood oil cranked up. Here the description is Sandalwood Supreme and it does indeed evoke the incense with the same name done by Rare Essence, while being quite different in shade. Perhaps the slight floral oil also in the mix tends to taper the finish off a little early, but it also helps to set it apart from other sandalwood durbars, if only just enough.

Overall, one gets the impression that Ramakrishnanda is perhaps, if only at times, playing the incense game a little too safe. I’ve noticed in reevaluating these scents that a lot of the initial intensity of the incenses has been lost since the batches were initially created and it may be slightly responsible for a more modest second evaluation. At the same time, I noticed frequently that the ingredients given in the description, while present, were often blunted or combined into aromas that perhaps didn’t work as well as one might hope. With lines like Shroff, Pure Incense, Mother’s Fragrances (at least their champa quintet), and Purelands easily available now, it’s easier to see Ramakrishnanda as an incense line that is perhaps best in a grouping along with Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, Nitiraj, Blue Pearl, Mystic Temple and Incense from India, all of which do very good work at times, but also produce aromas that get lost in terms of distinction.

Prabjhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Ganga, Govinda, Hari, Jaganatha, Mayapur

The second group of Ramakrishnanda incenses (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line) can all be found in the Kurma variety pack, the most affordable way to sample all five of these incenses. However, I’d almost put quotes around the word variety as in the case of four of five scents here you’re talking about extremely similar incenses and the variety pack tends to confuse the similarities a bit more than the packages would on their own. That is, in the packages the similar oil strengths tend to be more vivid and defined, while the conflict in the variety package makes them a little harder to tell apart (I will say, however, that the internal packaging is intelligently done in the samplers with a separate inner packet for each of the five aromas – it’s less an issue of bleed through than a lack of aromatic concentration).

Ganga might have belonged more naturally in the previous sampler pack with the other flora incenses as it’s of the same style. It features a cinnamon, lavender and jasmine blend and like one or two other Ramakrishnanda incenses with three listed ingredients, one, the lavender, appears to be a bit lost in the mix. Perhaps this is not a surprise when cinnamon is involved, a presence that is practically dominant here, but like Gopinatha, the jasmine does manage to come through as part of the lower end of the stick’s overall scent. In the end it’ll be up to the user’s opinion whether such an unusual blend of spices and florals actually works. I like some of the drier qualities involved but there’s a part of me who thinks a tweak or two might have rendered this a classic rather than another very nice incense.

Govinda is the first of four incenses here that move the style distinctly into the champa genre. Unlike some of the better champa styles incenses we’ve seen recently imported (such as the Shroff and Bam versions), the variations here are rather par for the course and only slightly improved on the modern Shrinivas formula where the disappearance of a solid halmaddi content has given way to more sandalwood and a less notable base. Govinda’s listed ingredients are sandalwood, sage and lavender, but the overall effect doesn’t particularly surpass any average champa incense. While the sage adds a slight bit of pepper to the bouquet, the lavender is again lost (perhaps it fades quickly with age in this line) and there’s a rather strong scent of vanilla that cuts through the entire scent.

Hari lists amber and sandalwood as ingredients, but again the sandalwood ingredient more than strengthen’s the scent’s entry into modern champa style. Unusually, the amber here is somewhat dry and perhaps a bit salty, more reminiscent of true ambergris than the sweeter amber scents you tend to find in Indian masalas and it gives Hari a slight touch of the unusual. Unfortunately it really isn’t enough to set it apart from many a generic nag champa. Again it’s difficult not to estimate that there’s a limited shelf life at work here, as if the oils would be stronger very close to the initial creation date.

Jaganatha describes itself as a botanical flower blend, but again it hangs right with the other champa styles rather than the more attractive floras in the line. As such blends go, there aren’t really any stand out single subscents, rather the typical sandalwood and vanilla of the champa style stand out the most here, with a mild, slightly sweet floral oil in the mix. Unfortunately it seems to have little overall personality, perhaps yet another casualty of the sampler package (although I would say my impressions have remained the same over two sample packets).

Mayapur has been given the description of Nag Champa Supreme, although it’s a stretch to see this as some sort of supreme improvement on the Vrinda Devi, the scents only seem to slightly differ due to the oils used. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s difficult to see this as much more than a slight variation on all the durbar-like formulas in this particular variety pack, in this case it’s the typical vanilla and sandalwood mixed in with, perhaps, a slightly fruity subscent. Of the four champa scents in this variety pack I might prefer this the most, slighty, but I’d honestly be hard pressed to tell them all apart without knowing the ingredient list beforehand.

Overall, I’d recommend the Kurma variety pack (10/8/21: the sampler appears to be discontinued) as a cost conscious way of being able to sample all these scents, but I’d give the caveat that one’s opinion of these is likely to be improved by checking them out as single scents. When I first sampled these a year or two ago, I used the sessions as a buying guide to what I might like and out of this package I believe I only went on to try the Ganga on its own, so it’s a bit of a conundrum – the samplers making it difficult to distinguish the champas from one another and thus perhaps obscuring what might be better incenses on their own. Fortunately Ramakrishnanda keep the prices low enough where one might pique their curiosity to go on and try 1o packs of all of the eventually. But unfortunately, while the Ramas compete quite nicely in their flora styles, they’re certainly falling behind in the champa race.

Prabhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Gopala, Gopinatha, Mukunda, Vrinda Devi, Yamura

The first time I got a whiff of Ramakrishnanda (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line.) incense was when walking into the local new age store one afternoon. The use of ingredients and oils in these scents was so potent that you could tell new incense had been added as soon as the door opened even with the incense at the very back of the store. While Ramakrishnanda have a few different styles within their catalog, including charcoals and durbars, their most common scents tend to be in the flora category. Flora incenses (perhaps the  most famous is the Sai Flora blend created by Damodhar, which is the genesis of the Golden Champa style most commonly found imported to the US) are heavily aromatic Indian incense masalas, however in the case of Ramakrishnanda, the thickness of the sticks tend to be much closer to the typical durbar style rather than the extra thick size of the Sai Flora type blends.

However, they do have in common with Sai Flora and the like an oil mix which is probably the root of the flora style, a mix usually so complex it’s difficult to parse into its elements, but it imparts not only a heavy perfume but a marriage with a sweet base that makes them quite attractive and accessible. In four of the five incenses in this group, all of which can be sampled in the Dhanvatari Variety Pack, there is a distinct similarity in the base of the incense which only tends to be modified by the top oil notes. It, perhaps, made them a little difficult to review as I found myself a bit blurred out by the time I reached the fourth stick. At the same time, the first three of these are actually some of the best incenses in the line.

Gopala is described as a special flora, and as such appears to be one of the few incenses in the line where specific ingredients haven’t been provided. Like all of the incenses here there’s a very sugary, sweet and heavily oiled base at work, however due to the thinness of the stick, the scent isn’t totally overwhelming, and it gives rise to a very pleasant top note that is like a mix of orange, spice and earth, a scent that’s somewhat accidentally a lot like earlier champa blends. There appears to be quite a bit of clove in the mix and it reminds me a bit of spiced tea. Strangely enough and very unlike most flora incenses it’s quite the fast burn, however like most floras the scent is quite long lasting.

Gopinatha, described as a mix of Iris, Daffodil and Jasmine, isn’t terribly different in style from the Gopala although it does indeed lose a lot of the hotter and spicier qualities. As such it’s perhaps a bit closer in style to the classic Sai Flora/Golden Champa style, but as usual, thinner sticked and mellower overall. The entire incense seems to be anchored by the jasmine element, which blends nicely with the sugary base with the iris and daffodil elements playing somewhat drily on the outside. If anything it might suffer from being too indistinct at times, an issue for many flora incenses that hit you with all the ingredients at once. But this problem isn’t quite so pronounced here.

Mukunda‘s patchouli and spice blend doesn’t render the stick closer to the typical mix of patchouli and champa elements, in fact the patchouli’s more wilder, earthier and controversial side seems to disappear into the blend, leaving only its drier and, thanks to the base, sweeter qualities. It’s also not unlike Gopinatha, once again reminding one of how similar the bases of all these flora incenses are. Of the group here this is probably and marginally the closest to my personal tastes, but in saying so I almost wish for some of the wilder more feral elements of the patchouli to come into play, this is something of a safe mix as a result.

Of the four floras, I’d say Vrinda Devi is the least distinct, but as the line’s straighter nag champa, I wouldn’t initially consider this with the preceding floras if it weren’t for the base being so similar. Perhaps the lack of the creamier and more honey/vanilla side of the champa is what’s missing on this one, or perhaps entries such as the Bam and Shroff eclipse this one in power and presence by comparison. What I described earlier as a mix of oils and sweetness at base seems to move this in a direction I’d say isn’t generically champa like and it even has a dryness I find unusual. Not a bad incense on its own merits, but as a champa it’s distinctly uncompetitive.

Yamuna is the odd one out here being a charcoal and oil mix and I’m not sure if Ramakrishnanda have improved their charcoal mix or if my nose has grown further accustomed, but this strikes me as being a lot better than it did when I initially tried it out a couple years ago. As a mix of vanilla, copal and amber it’s something of an unusual blend and possibly why I appreciate it more now, particularly as you rarely see copal in a charcoal blend. But amazingly all three elements are fairly apparent in the oil blend (the vanilla the dominant note) and it’s something of an attractive mix. An interesting comparison could be the Pure-Incense Hari Leela in either Absolute or Connoisseur lines, it has that back and forth way of both impressing with the oil mix and slightly detracting due to the charcoal.

I recently modified our Hall of Fame list for Incenses from India, removing the Ramakrishnanda incenses in this sampler from the list. However this is more an attempt at improving the quality of that list than a general slight on the Ramakrishnanda line as these are all actually quite good, particularly the first three, in fact perhaps the major change is that at 10 sticks per package these aren’t quite up to what is being imported now compared to what was on the US market two years ago. But if you’re looking to expand your Indian stick pallet, you definitely need to stop here and considering you can check out all these scents for an affordable price, there seems little reason not to.

More New Incense (+ Ramakrishnanda 3)

The first note of interest is my recent restocking of Satya’s Ajaro blend. It’s moments like this that I wish I had a digital camera (well other than on the cell phone) to take a picture of the Ajaro stick in my current box compared to the ones in the new batches I received. The former is dark without any powder and a white stick, the latter very powdery with an orange stick. Even the scent is slightly different. The former came from the 10g package, the latter from a 15g package that looks a bit older. Right now I feel a tad disappointed as it seems the new one doesn’t have the deep resinous tone that made me restock it in the first place, but I need to burn more to be sure. But it goes to show you that Satya can be very inconsistent even under one brand. I’ve seen an even more egregious example of this with their Beauty line, where I’ve encountered two totally different incenses. Fortunately experience shows, something you loved and lost usually shows up again under a different name.

Got in a few aloeswood blends. The first and the best of these is my first Kyukyodo incense, a 50 stick sample of their Shuin (5th item down the page) stick. A very aromatic stick even without burning it, this aloeswood blend has hints of cherry and rhubarb in it and is quite delightful even if it doesn’t have the depth of some of the more high enders.

Two lower grade aloeswood incenses from Nippon Kodo also came. The cheaper of the two, Kangetsu (second item), seems like it’s a slightly more deluxe version of their Mainichi-Koh Kyara Deluxe stick, which is about as bottom line an aloeswood incense as you’d imagine, if kyara is in it, it’s probably a microscopic amount. These two sticks are kind of interesting in that on one hand they’re not bad at all, but on the other they strike me as being a bit cheap. The grade up, Zuiun (fourth item), is a bit better, drier and without a heck of a lot of presence. Both are very affordable, with full bundles around $5-6. Neither are very exciting, although the Zuiun strikes me that it might be a part-time standard if I end up liking it more.

The other aloeswood blend was Baieido’s Tokusen Kobunboku (second item) and to be honest it’s more a sandalwood stick with a little aloeswood. But it has a rather lovely depth and complexity to it with all sorts of subscents wafting off the smoke. A very nice and also rather affordable incense.

I’m finding Nippon Kodo’s Kayuragi line to be rather good overall, and just received a box in of their Osmanthus line (towards bottom of page), one recommended to me via a local store. This is a very nice and friendly floral/fruity incense, honeysuckle-like in ways and perfect for contrasting with denser sticks. It definitely seems to be one of the best in the line so far and I can’t think of too many other sticks with the same qualities.

And onto the Cafe Time cones (all at top of page). I was pretty impressed with the Cassia and Mocha cones, so some of these others were a bit disappointing. Cafe Time cones are rather expensive in the first place at $5-7 for 10 cones (2 different kinds, 5 each) and only a few are up to that price. The first I ordered as Cherry and Green Tea, although it came as Sakura and Green Tea. I’d have thought it was the translation, but the cone struck me as being too floral and a bit on the synthetic-seeming side, like running across some standard cone kit in an incense store. The Green Tea on the other hand, was very powerful with extremely intense and strong tea oil, in fact it reminded me so much of Salvia Divinorum it started tripping me out a bit. In fact I used the same burner for later cones and most of them ended still dissipating the green tea oil that had leaked onto the burner. It has some similarities with the Yume no Yume Bamboo Leaf, but with a much more authentically green tea aroma.

I was pretty intrigued by the Lotus and Wine cones and I was about to start griping about the Lotus when the cone started releasing some of its complexity. IIRC you can’t really extract Lotus essential oil (or it’s too expensive, I forget) so Lotus bouquet’s tend to vary from incense to incense. This one was quite nice, with that bit of sweltering floral hint the best ones have. The Wine cone on the other hand, well I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea, but at least one whiff made me think of long night drinking sessions and that’s not particularly good. It’s another one made from a bouquet of various incense-friendly scents, I thought I detected berry and cinnamon among others. Overall, I didn’t find it particularly interesting or pleasant.

Both the Lime and Mint Tea cones didn’t do much for me. Lime is actually quite similar to the Fragrance Memories blend Tequila Sunrise and I wouldn’t be surpised at all if there’s a little aloe and bergamot in this one too. The Mint Tea, well I may have kind of spaced my concentration on this one doing something else, but it barely struck me as minty and didn’t have the powerful tea oil of the Green Tea.

Now onto the worst incense in recent memory. As I’ve been lauding, Ramakrishnanda make fine durbar blends, some of the best, but the two charcoal based lines aren’t anywhere close. Matsya stinks like hell, in fact just to burn off one stick in full (yeah I should probably have tossed it and its partner, but I’d rather pass them on than do that) took me three to four tries. Incredibly smoky, it just goes to show that charcoal based florals tend to be very overwhelmed by their base and this was basically air pollution. Quite a shame as the rest of the Varaha sampler is brilliant.

Jaganatha struck me as a very nice floral champa style, reminiscent of something I can’t quite place now, a little on the fruity side.

Govinda, a blend of Sandalwood, Sage and Lavender, struck me as being not too far off from the Mayapur Nag Champa I mentioned earlier.

Ramakrishnanda Incense (2)

Wow, this is one mighty fine line. I may have mentioned before but there are definitely similarities between incenses in various companies and lines and so there have been times where I’ve completely lost track of an old favorite only for it to show up again in a new stick and package. And fortunately that just happened again.

And that would be the Gopala, a special floral blend. To back up a bit, one of the more well known Indian imports is a gold on red packaged incense called Sai Flora, which is probably about the thickest durbar out there. I mentioned it earlier, I think, Mystic Temple call their similar blend Golden Champa and it’s a very heady, earthy stick. Anyway there’s a smaller company called Shantimalai that, at least used to do their own Sai Flora and it was this incense I used to adore. Like Sai Flora but not as earthy and more fruity and sweet, just a flat out classic that would be on my top 10 had I had a stick in years. But in a way, now I do. The Gopala isn’t as big or thick as a stick as any of the previously mentioned but as a bouquet it is very close to what I remember as the Shanthi Sai Flora, and the fact that it’s a regular stick is probably not a bad thing. It may be that my packages are just super fresh or maybe the whole line is this perfectly scented, but this incense is basically superb and highly recommended.

Backing up a bit, I did finish off the Yamuna stick that I spoke about yesterday. As much as I liked the idea of a vanilla, amber and copal blend, the charcoal-like stick that holds the Yamuna manage to only portray the vanilla part and given how fresh everything else is, it’s hard to imagine that the amber had already gone. Unfortunatlely it just reminds me of a Primo floral like jasmine or yellow rose. Since the samplers come with two sticks each, I’ve got one more but I doubt I’ll like it anymore than I do now.

As an amber, sandalwood and cinnamon blend, the Hari wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Extraordinarily floral for such a combination and quite a floral at that, almost heady in its scent. In fact I’d forgotten this had a cinnamon part, because I don’t remember that so much. But given the whole impression of this is quite new, I like it.

Mayapur is presented as Nag Champa, but for such an appelation it was a bit of a let down, not really anything like Nag from my perspective, close to the Narasingha Dev blend with its sweet resiny overtones, and maybe a bit too undistinguished in comparison. For some reason I thought this was the Nag Champa Supreme when I burned it so my expectations might have been a bit too high for it.

Shyam is something of a Sandalwood Champa and is similar to the Rare Essence blends Supreme Sandalwood and Precious Sandalwood, not as dry and woody as the former or as deep and oil-rich as the latter, with a hint of floral at the front. I love these blends in general so I found this to be quite good.

I also gave about a centimeter burn to the Mukunda and Gopinatha blends, both of which are fairly similar despite the former being patchouli and spice, and the latter iris flower and jasmine. Both dark sticks with very heady oil, I get the impression I’m going to like both a great deal. In fact I’d say with these two and the above-mentioned Gopala, the best of the three sampler packs may be the Dhanvantari, although the presence of the Yamuna weakens the overall a bit. But I’ll leave talk on these two after some more experience with them.

Ramakrishnanda Incense (1) plus

Took a quick drive past the local new age store (East-West) yesterday to be greeted by an entirely new display of incense, none of which I’d encountered before. You could tell immediately how fresh it was coming of the display, and since many of them were obviously in the durbar/masala category, I figured I’d check a few out, three samplers and three other packages I thought I’d like right off the bat.

Now the name is going to be resonant of Indian incense and stylistically it definitely is, although the lack of a “made in India” insignia made me wonder if these were handrolled in the US. Nevertheless, they’re beautifully done and fresh enough (at least this batch was) to make the eyes sting, giving me nostalgic feelings several times of old forgotten sticks. Anyway I haven’t had a chance to check out all 15 scents yet, but have checked out a few…

Balaram is maybe what you’d call a clove & lemongrass champa, a blend I’ve never experienced anything close to before and quite impressive, the clove the top note, the lemongrass the bottom. I wish I’d brought a full package home, but I couldn’t imagine how well balanced this was going to be just reading the package. But it’s got a spice feel to it I really like and it reminds me of the since deleted Blue Pearl Spice Champa to enough of an extent to be reminiscent.

Ganga is one I did pick up a package on, its deep red stick and hints of cinnamon did the trick. Balanced with lavender and jasmine, neither strong enough to overwhelm the spice, it was about as good as I hoped and expected. I find it hard to find a perfect incense with a strong cinnamon sense, so it’s kind of nice to be on my third so quickly. Gorgeous stuff for sure.

Gokula is like a deluxe Satya Natural in style and it brought out in my memory the distinct myrrh note to this fragrance, one I’d never considered before. Whatever you call it, Honey Dust, Natural, etc., this is a pretty standard blend, but the Ramak. version may be the best one, or at least it’s fresh enough to seem like it.

Narasingha Dev was subtitled Frankincense Champa which I interpret as “buy me” every time out. But like every incense with this description it differs and I’ve actually never had an incense quite like this. It doesn’t actually have the citrusy, resinous nature of frankincense so much, more like it deepens the essential base of the incense, so that it comes off more like a deluxe Nag Champa. Overall it had a depth to it that was very promising.

The rest are here, and the best part is I have eleven more to check out and I can see that at least five of them are likely to be excellent or better. The one I checked out but didn’t go into above, and which I need a little more time with, was the Yamuna, which seems to be a charcoal/dipped stick and reminds me by similarity of some Primo styles, not a recommendation in my book. But this seemed like it was a little more intricate, even if I’m still not likely to rate it highly.

I also picked up some tibetan incense on a lark, including the alluringly named Red Crystal, which turned out to be very thick sticks created from 23 different ingredients that only ended up smelling like really good white sandalwood. Not bad at all, but not what I need at the moment. Also checked out a gift pack by Green Tara, which includes that incense and several others. The two I checked out, the Green Tara and the Kalachakra (I probably have this spelled wrong), both seemed to have that kind of sour agar-ish quality I tend to like, so they seemed promising if not particularly exciting.