Champacopia – Contemporary Nag Champas

Back in August 2007 I left one of my rare (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 »


Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Kanhaiya, Natraj, Neelkant, Shri Krishna, Super Sandal

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

There’s no particular rhyme or reason for this batch of Shrinivas incenses, in fact they’re sort of close to the bottom of my personal barrel in that they’re the second to last group to review of the ones I currently own. Of all the incense companies out there Shrinivas have changed the most by far since they started changing their recipes. At one point their Blue Box Nag Champa was the virtual standard for the style, nowadays that it could be the very worst of the style will be the anchor for a survey of champas I plan on getting to in the near future.

In fact Shrinivas have been quite busy of late, releasing a stream of new incenses (and lines), but they’re really not the same company they used to be and with the wave of great incenses reaching these shores of late, I’m not in any hurry to survey them. The next group of reviews I’ll eventually cobble together (and I’m not at all in a hurry to do so) are a number of incenses that are basically perfumed masalas, likely synthetic, that seem like a concerted effort to move away from the company’s almost patented champa style, which has really taken a hit over the years. To say the least, the popularity of the company’s incense undoubtedly rests more on reputation than on quality at this point.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya have a line of incenses that are mostly available in 100g packages. Sporting names that will be likely unfamiliar to the Western consumer, they’re very difficult to get a grip on scentwise and I’ve seen very little information on these at all. And the reason for this, I believe, is because many of these are what I’d describe as slight tweaks to their popular champa formulas such as the blue box Nag Champa, Satya Royal, Satya Natural, Super Hit and others. In fact they’re so slight as to defy description for the most part. The first four incenses in this group come from the 100g batches, the masala Super Sandal I’ve thrown at the end on a whim.

Kanhaiya is easily the best of this quartet if at the very least it has the most overt distinction, being a highly fragrant combination of floral and resin notes, all mixed in a durbar style. There are perhaps too hints of frangipani or lavender in the mix, although it’s difficult to tell whether these scents come from the oils or the collison thereof. In fact I’ve often wondered just how old this sample is as it seems to have a bit of overt halmaddi in the mix, yet the incense is at a strength that implies it would have faded much more than it has over a decade. Overall it mixes the qualities of Satya Royal, Super Hit and Beauty and is quite pleasant, although I can’t imagine being able to pick it out in a blind Shrinivas scent test.

Natraj on the other hand is what I referred to earlier as a small tweak on the Nag Champa scent. It’s easy to get the vanilla and sandalwood aromas as it is in nearly any durbar style, but other than that it’s very difficult to say much about, except that it’s perhaps slightly musky. In many ways it’s a posterchild for how difficult it is to say anything about so many of the 100g scents.

Neelkant is perhaps a little more distinctive than the Natraj but not by much. It’s extremely sweet and powdery with some similarities to Satya Nectar (although it misses that incense’s power by a long way) and also seems to have a little more sandalwood scent, but the differences are so minor I’ve often thought it would be just as easy to imagine the differences as note real ones. One wonders how quickly the oils or perfumes have faded from the stick.

My Shri Krishna sample was noticeably more potent than the previous three and I believe it’s quite a bit newer, but the freshness doesn’t help at all to distinguish it from the usual vanilla, sandalwood, sweet and musk mix typical to this line. Like the Neelkant the sandalwood might be bit more intense, but whether that’s age or intent is difficult to gauge.  At this point it’s difficult not to long for scents that mark themselves out by their obvious notes or distinction from other incenses.

Super Sandal is a great deal different from the previous four, of course, but as a sandalwood masala in an age where we’re provided with fantastic sandalwood masalas from Shroff, Pure Incense, and Purelands, it comes up quite flat. The sandalwood scent seems to come almost entirely from an oil that doesn’t seem authentic as much as it does a substitute or inferior perfume. The stick is extremely smoky, more so than all of the previously mentioned sandalwoods more than inferring its origin, and the scent only holds a dimension or two, including an orangey subnote that tends to be absent in better versions. Honestly it’s easier to get purer sandalwood hits out of many of the company’s champas than this masala.

Overall, it’s hard to recommend any of these incenses, perhaps only marginally the Kanhaiya, but be sure to check out a sample first rather than going for 100g, I can imagine being very disappointed in getting a large stock in something you know you won’t burn much. The rest of these just wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, particularly at a time where you can get much better incense without necessarily paying more money. Shrinivas themselves actually have much more interesting incenses than these anyway, with none of these being truly central to their more popular items.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Satya / Celestial, Midnight, Patchouli Forest, Sandalwood, Sunrise, Trishaa

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Previous Shrinivas Sughandalay/Satya Sai Baba products reviewed at ORS:

Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom
Beauty, Milan, Supreme
Aastha, Ajaro, Vishwa Shanti, Fantasy, Valley of the Roses
Hari Om, Rajdhani, Ratha Chakra, Sai Ram
Royal, Geet Govind, (T.T.) Loban, Shivshankar

The current batch represents the new product released by Shrinivas Sugandhalaya maybe within a year before Olfactory Rescue Service was born. All but Trishaa are packaged in boxes that are meant to evoke the classic blue box Nag Champa graphics, and if I remember correctly Sandalwood followed a little later than the others. Trishaa is packaged uniquely in two different formats, and the others are all available in 15g and 40g packages.

All represent the “post halmaddi age” reformulating of the champa style, but, unfortunately in a couple cases the incenses are fairly redundant. Like is often the case in Shrinivas’ 100g bulk packages, it can be difficult without visual cues to tell one incense from another in aroma. When I first ran into these incenses right after they came out, I had taken the inner packages of both Midnight and Sunrise out of their boxes and got confused as to which package went in which box. I apparently guessed right in the end, but I wasn’t sure of it until I got another sample of both. And, really, this is the case for Celestial, Midnight and Sunrise. All three are virtually the same incense, particularly once the perfume oil fades over time, and in my experience the oil fades pretty quickly indeed.

Celestial could introduce the base style, only vaguely similar to the wet, halmaddi champas of yesterday. Its got plenty of sandalwood and vanilla aroma and is dry and woody with hints of marshmallow. The perfume on top is very mild, maybe slightly floral, but for the most part fairly difficult to identify. Unfortunately the result is quite generic.

Midnight fares little better. The perfume is perhaps slightly stronger than it is on the Celestial and a bit more sultry. It seems to be going a bit for that slightly jasmine like nighttime/moon scent, but I fear in saying that that I’m reaching for a description because, again, the dominant tones come from the base: vanilla and sandalwood.

Patchouli Forest fares much better and is one of two in this batch that are quite good. Patchouli tends to scare many people off for fear of that oily, earthy smell often sussed out at Grateful Dead concerts, but the patchouli in this blend is a completely different thing. This incense has a very forest-like, crystalline, high altitude and fresh scent, reminiscent of the better aspects of the fresh herb and similar in ways to evergreen resins. Unlike several of the others in this series, the perfume oil actually competes with the vanilla and sandalwood base and makes a difference. I did notice, however, that since I bought the box a few years ago, the perfume has faded quite a bit and isn’t as strong as I remember. I reviewed a few Mystic Temple scents a while back that I’ve had for much longer where the fade hasn’t been nearly as severe. Satya product often seems to have a limited life span, which probably accounts for why I run across so many dried out husks in stores (a problem not as apparent with the on line suppliers).

Sandalwood (note: a different incense entirely to their Super Sandal) seems to have a different base than the others, unusual given how much sandalwood is in the base for Celestial, Midnight etc., and the stick is a bit darker in color. Strangely this strikes me as being a bit less sandalwood infused than some of the other incenses in this subline, instead it has more in common with some of Satya’s more common durbar incenses, almost like a typical, slightly sugary champa. The base and oil (which holds most of the sandalwood content) don’t exactly clash but they don’t complement each other either leaving the stick somewhat generic.

Sunrise, as alluded to previously, is one of the three here that includes a pale and barely present perfume on top of the vanilla/sandalwood like base. If Midnight was slightly sultry with a hint of jasmine, Sunrise is brighter with touches of orange, although in many cases good sandalwood can emit such an aroma due to the resin. Overall it’s hard to see a reason for the existence of this incense, it’s certainly OK, but doesn’t do much more than another dozen similar Satya products.

Trishaa, on the other hand, is something of a triumph for Satya and one of their better incenses. I started thinking of this as spikenard champa after I first bought it based on its similarities to a spikenard resin blend a friend had sent me, it has the same caramel, sweet and slightly musky and herbal tones I associate with this fabulous ingredient. It’s also interesting that not only is it packaged differently than the preceding incenses but it’s a lot more strongly fragranced. If there was a downside it’s that the perfumes Satya use, in general, can verge in a slightly synthetic direction, but I don’t think in this case that distracts to strongly from a nicely pitched incense, sweet and spicy and perfect for a durbar.

So overall, I can recommend the Patchouli Forest and Trishaa which are not only the best in the batch but probably among the top 10 of all Satya products. However, it’s hard to find a rationale for the rest of this line, at the very least the perfumes were never strong enough to linger for long, reducing the half life of these products to about two years max (and this is probably true for Patchouli Forest as well). No really unpleasant scents here, but certainly lengthening the list of Satya’s duller formulas.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Satya / Royal, Geet Govind, (T. T.) Loban, Shivshankar

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Previous Shrinivas Sughandalay/Satya Sai Baba products reviewed at ORS:

Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom
Beauty, Milan, Supreme
Aastha, Ajaro, Vishwa Shanti, Fantasy, Valley of the Roses
Hari Om, Rajdhani, Ratha Chakra, Sai Ram

With this review, I believe I’ve covered most of the core Shrinivas Sugandhalaya/Satya Sai Baba products, that is, the scents that are most commonly found in stores, their longest running and most famous products, and the standards one tends to see in multibox samplers. There are also a large range of 100g box scents to be found that I hope to get to at some point (if I can ever manage to tell many of them apart) and, of course, there are a number of modern lines that have shown up in the country in the last five years. And there are at least a couple of new lines that have shown up in Europe and should be just making these shores this year. More disturbingly are a number of new incenses that buck the ever diminishing durbar style Satya are famous for and are basically perfumed masalas.

It’s quite clear that the halmaddi shortage in India has really hit the incense world pretty hard. As I’ve (slowly) awoken to this, I’ve noticed that the once wet durbar/champa style has grown increasingly drier, giving way to much harsher scents in order to try and approximate the smell. And where the most obvious change was in the blue box Nag Champa, I don’t think there’s a single formula among about 80% of Indian lines that hasn’t changed to something, unfortunately, less quality. That’s not to say what’s left doesn’t have much to offer, but so many incenses are not what they once were. And with growing aloeswood and sandalwood shortages, we may be at the tail end of the golden age of incense.

Satya Royal is one of many incenses that seems a bit drier than I once remembered, but remains roughly the same in scent. It’s a pleasant old school blend, soft and mellow, and certainly not as bright or loud as many a champa variant, including the blue box. It has a lot of confectionary notes in the mix, marshmallow, caramel and powdered sugar among them, with something of a resinous edge to give it some body. It’s definitely more perfumed than I remember it from a decade ago, but the oils are mostly sweet and woody and not at all floral or even spicy. There’s a bit of liquor or wine like aroma in the mix along with the usual sandalwood, honey, and vanilla. As such, Satya Royal is one of those incenses that varies quite a bit in scent. In the smaller boxes, I’ve noticed quite a bit of drying and age. My latest sample is in one of the longer yet still relatively small quantity boxes and it seemed fresher, although not as soft as it once was in the halmaddi age. Overall, even now it’s one of Satya’s better scents, finishing with a small evergreen or pine like scent, sweet and accessible.

Geet Govind is another of Shrinivas’s vanilla and sandalwood heavy durbar mixes (Ratha Chakra and Hari Om come to mind as similar if not exactly so). It’s dry, spicy and fairly generic, with a floral perfume in front as part of the mix. Overall, possibly due to the oil mix and ingredient adjustment, the recent Geet Govind comes across as fairly monotonous (I’d use “square wave” in snythesizer terminology), with the typical, slight fruity hints mixed in (maybe apricot in this one) and the florals (roses) on the outside. Like several Satyas it’s almost like it’s doing too much, trying to be durbar-like, fruity and floral all at once and not particularly suceeding at any one.

(T. T.) Loban is a scent found as T. T. Loban in smaller boxes, but Loban alone in the 10og box. Nonetheless they appear to be the same incense or close enough. It’s actually something of a classic durbar style, found as Amber Champa (or maybe even Frankincense Champa) in the Mystic Temple line and (I think) Golden Amber in the Incense from India line. As  the name suggests, the dominant ingredient is benzoin, although most of this is the firier benzoin siam rather than the more frankincense-like benzoin sumatra. It adds up to a fairly hot stick, benzoin siam is one of those resins perhaps better in smaller quantities (as it is here), as it’s a very choking smoke when too prevalent, but when it’s tempered by other ingredients it has a very pleasant amber vanilla like scent. I suspect the Shrinivas version here uses some perfumes to temper the scent, but probably still adds up as one of the most unadulterated incenses in the line. It tends to be less gravelly or harsh than many a loban stick or powder, the durbar style making the scent a little more pleasant and sweet. Certainly an incense that will solidify one’s knowledge of the more common Indian durbar styles.

Shivshankar is also a fairly generic Satya scent, in this case it’s actually fairly close in style to the blue box Nag Champa. Again, like Geet Govind, this one has strong vanilla and sandalwood notes, mixed with a fruity perfume and a touch of herbs, although in this case the results are less floral and more in the pear or apple direction fruitwise. The oils are fairly cologne like in some ways, possibly due to the heavier wood presence, although this can be mitigated as this is yet another stick that varies quite a bit in quality from box to box. At its best and freshest, it’s quite nice, but loses its appeal with age very quickly.

Next up Shrinivas-wise is a batch of newer incenses that hit these shores 2-3 years ago, most of which are modelled on the Blue Box graphics line: Celestial, Midnight, Patchouli Forest, Sandalwood and Sunrise, and a lone new product, almost like a spikenard champa called Trishaa.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Hari Om, Rajdhani, Ratha Chakra, Sairam

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Previous Shrinivas Sughandalay/Satya Sai Baba products reviewed at ORS:

Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom
Beauty, Milan, Supreme
Aastha, Ajaro, Vishwa Shanti, Fantasy, Valley of the Roses

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya are one of the world’s most visible incense companies due to their blue box Nag Champa, probably the most famous incense on the planet. However where Shrinivas used to be at the apex of the art, a constant stream of ingredient changes, including a large reduction in the amount of halmaddi, the sweet resin responsible for the aroma of great durbars, has diminished the quality of the product to where the durbar fix is often best found elsewhere. For instance, both Mother’s India Fragrances and R-Expo’s Bam Champa both seem to use halmaddi prominently in their incenses and the difference is vast.

However halmaddi alone doesn’t make an incense and Shrinivas still have a number of durbar and champa type incenses well worth exploring. The main issue in reviewing many of their products is that it is often very difficult to tell what ingredients go into making the various styles. All seem to be dipped incenses, which means the masala rolled sticks have added perfumes, most of which are quite mysterious in origins. In fact among the four incenses in this review, there aren’t really any common traits, except that these are four of Shrinivas’ older blends and thus are perhaps more traditional in scent than many of the moderns coming out today. Thus most of these should appeal to those who like their champas both sweet and spicy.

My memory is telling me that the Hari Om box, which is a reddish box with Hari and the Om symbol is actually different from the 100g box that is often seen in catalogs as Hariom. Those 100g boxes are very difficult to evaluate which gives me some reservation in making that statement; however, I’ll be concentrating specifically on the red box here. This incense is one of Shrinivas’ many spicy and woody durbars with a particularly noticeable sandalwood oil anchoring the middle. It’s not quite as dry as most sandalwood heavy durbars, with a sugar/spice cookie giving it some balance and making it a most accessible incense. But even with such sweetness the finish ends on the dry side which gives it a sort of elegance. It does have the sort of linearity that many perfumed incenses have, but overall this is one the better Shrinivas incenses and probably quite apt for meditation.

Rajdhani bears the hallmarks of patchouli heavy durbars, although seems a bit different in aroma than, say, the Patchouli Champa of Mystic Temple or Golden Patchouli of Incense from India. The difference is in the perfume oil, which seems a bit on the fruity side, with hints of apples and pears. While it’s not a bad incense overall, the two aspects clash to some extent, or at least I find the combination of sweltering patchouli oil and fruitiness to be dissonant and at odds. Some might find this combination to be quite complex, however, and the results are certainly intriguing – it’s certainly unlike any other incense in the Shrinivas catalog.

Ratha Chakra has a paler base that has more in common with Satya Nectar. It’s both woody and powdery as a result and much drier than the average champa incense. It bears a strong vanilla oil which matches up with the sandalwood, reminding me of a number of different vanilla and sandalwood masalas and durbars. Compared to the two previous incenses this isn’t quite as rich or deep and also has a slight hint of marshmallow to the scent. Overall it’s a bit on the generic side.

Sairam is something of a cousin to the famous Super Hit champa blend, with a sweet and friendly aroma, however it’s more in an orange spice direction than the somewhat generic perfume oil Super Hit exhibits (Super Hit is one of the durbars that took the hardest hit with the ingredients changes). Like Hari Om, there’s something of a sandalwood oil in the middle which tilts this scent to the traditional side and prevents the sweetness from being too cloying. While I wouldn’t say it’s particularly similar to Ratha Chakra, it does share something of a vanilla tint in common; however Sairam is far more rich. Overall it’s a very pleasant incense, although one where the perfume oil doesn’t go quite deep enough.

As always with Shrinivas incenses, blue box Nag Champa is sort of the ground zero, “vanilla” scent and certainly the first one to try from the company. However those who want to go deeper into the catalog will probably find the four here to be quite pleasant, in fact I’d rate these over the more popular Super Hit and Satya Natural, particularly if you’re into more spicy blends. Do keep in mind however, that with this company you will encounter variation in scents depending on the age of the box and I’ve also found that quality tends to be better in larger quantities.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Satya / Aastha, Ajaro, Vishwa Shanti, Fantasy, Valley of the Roses

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Most people’s initial experiences with incense, including my own, tend to Indian durbars thanks to Shrinivas Sugandhalaya’s super famous Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa aka “blue box.” It would be difficult to find a store that sells incense that doesn’t include Nag Champa. My thoughts on this incense have changed quite a bit over the years, I’ve reviewed it (slightly) earlier on this blog and also have a much more thorough review of it over at Amazon. It’s the gateway incense for many people and one that changed my way of looking at incense at the time. However, it’s an incense that has also been plagued with ingredient changes that move from the natural to the partially synthetic and the scent has suffered from it. Before I found out that this had happened, I remember friends and I trying to rationalize why one box could be so different from another. At the time, we thought some of the boxes must have been old, but in retrospect I wonder if it just wasn’t the change. Because since then, I haven’t bothered to stock it, although part of this reason was stretching out to many other durbar and champa style incenses in other companies.

In reviewing these five incenses from Shrinivas Sugandhalaya (SS), I was constantly struck by the comparisons to other Indian incenses in different lines, most notably Ramakrishnanda (RK) and Shroff Channabasappa (Shroff). Because there’s something about the bases of just about all SS incenses that makes me slightly uncomfortable. Despite the fact that I have my favorites (and two of them are in this review), I’m finding the product from this company to be off just a bit. There’s something of a harshness in the base, whether it’s cheap wood, a synthetic musk equivalent or something else that leavens the scents in an analagous way to charcoal based incense. It’s a quality that’s absent in RK and Shroff incenses, whose bases seem to have a much more natural finish. It’s fortunate that most Indian durbars are heavily perfumed, as these weaknesses can often be covered up, but if you’re like me, fresh off runs of Japanese and Tibetan incenses, the perfumes themselves can be somewhat overwhelming. To this day I tend to find many of these scents to be a bit overperfumed, or at least they are for more intimate settings. And in many cases, SS perfumes can be quite inferior. Read the rest of this entry »

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya – Beauty, Milan and Supreme

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

There’s really not many incenses harder to review than the plethora of (wet) masalas, durbars and champas that come from India and are all offshoots of a sort of the classic Satya Sai Baba blue box Nag Champa, probably the most famous incense, if not in the world, certainly in head shops and new age stores.

I’ve mentioned in the past, but Satya incense either doesn’t age very well or it’s subject to variation in creation. Months ago I mentioned the difference between two different boxes of Satya Ajaro incense and a similar experience happened to me with one of the incenses in question here, Satya Beauty, about 10 years ago or so. One form of Satya Beauty I’m very fond of, but I’ve found boxes with what seem like totally different incenses. And of course there’s the risk of old incense, dried out and losing potency as it sits in warehouses somewhere.

I’m not sure how long these three incenses have been available but I remember thinking of them as new ten years ago or so. In fact, SS’s latest batch of new incenses (including Midnight, Celestial, Patchouli Forest, Sunrise and Trishaa) may be the first new blends in quite some time. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to review these new blends, but except for the Patchouli Forest and Trishaa, which are quite distinctive, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between these champas.

With Beauty, Milan and Supreme, you’re dealing with incense obviously catering to the modern user, with the designer boxes. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear that the three of them were based on perfumes, as the oils on all three are very rich, at least if the incense is fresh. And, naturally, all three are fairly similar so it may be of some use to concentrate on the differences. Both Supreme and Milan have sticks similar to the classic Nag Champa. Beauty is a much paler color on stick and in some ways is closer to Satya Natural or Satya Nektar, although more pungent than the former and less than the latter. Supreme reminds me of SS’s Satya Royal blend and of the three may be the highest in resin content (it also reminded me fleetingly of Ramakrishnanda’s Narasingha Dev, although not quite as good). It’s heavy on smoke and possibly a bit too rich. Milan is the least distinctive of the three and fades into the background of various other undistinguished durbars. Like Beauty it has a rather perfumy top note and like most SS incenses it’s difficult to detect any specific ingredient and, in fact the perfume note tends to be pretty level with the base durbar, the oils, woods and muskier ingredients found in Nag Champa.

I’ve got a soft spot for Beauty, which I pull out occasionally, but it’s unlikely I’ll miss Supreme or Milan when they’re gone. These incenses are perhaps just a little too overwhelming, too fragranced to have or give notice to any sort of subtlety. I haven’t linked to any of these three incenses as they tend to be all over the place in catalogs, but it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble finding them at the usual places.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya/Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom (was Incense (7)/Satya (1))

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Well, rather than doing the whole line in a group, I figured I’d nibble it off in chunks instead. I’d much rather talk about incenses after getting an idea on the variation even within a brand and style. I’m leaving links off as I’m still not quite decided on the perfect mail order place at this point, but you should be able to find these anywhere that sells incense.

Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa – I’m not sure when the original Nag started becoming available but I know it was an incense (and style of incense) that I did not know about for quite some time and was a revelation at the time. In retrospect after sampling dozens of variants and the like it’s become almost like vanilla ice cream. For a perspective on the rest of the blends, you really do need to check this one out, though as it seems to me many of the Satya blends are just slight variations, maybe a different essential oil or two.

Unfortunately this is one of the most variant incenses on the planet and is so overstocked that you’re more likely to find an old crusty box that has been sitting on a shelf than a fresh one, and the difference between the two is vast. Aged, Nag Champa loses a lot of its luster, fresh it’s rather glorious. Apparently it’s a mix of sandalwood, musk and a bit of the champa flower that gave it’s name. Sometimes it can be a bit sharp or tangy, but when those notes aren’t overpowering you just get that mellow, warm and almost overpowering rich and sugary nature, at times almost like baking confectionaries.

Super Hit – I’m not sure if this is Satya’s second best selling brand of incense but it’s definitely the one I see the most often after the blue box. Super Hit comes in black boxes and is also extremely variant. When I first tried it it went rocketing to the top of my favorite incenses, but since then all the sticks I’ve owned seem to pale in comparison to this memory. It definitely doesn’t have quite the tang of the blue nag champa and seems like it might be a little more friendly to western noses, but it’s a fairly close relative of that and I only wish I had a fresh box to remind me of what I liked so much about it.

Satya Natural – I was first introduced to this champa style through Mystic Temple’s Honey Dust (renamed Vanilla). I know has special arrangements with this company, so I always wondered why Honey Dust seemed slightly superior to Natural, but overall it’s virtually the same. All the names seem to point to various qualities in the incense, although I smell the honey sweetness in this stick more so than the vanilla hints, which tend to come out more in other types (that is I don’t see vanilla as the dominant note). As a champa it’s mellower than the usual without many of the sharper and more pungent tones. The kind of incense that tends to impress me on first light and then becomes somewhat forgettable later.

Satya Nectar – It may not mean anything, but the packaging of this variant is very close to Satya Natural and Nectar seems to be as rich and intense as Natural isn’t. It happens to be one of my favorites in the entire line, a mixture of oils on the champa base that I haven’t seen duplicated by any other lines, reminding me of exotic florals. I think this one only comes in the big sticks, so this is only for those who want it loud, in fact they don’t get much louder. But it’s as complex as it is loud.

Black Blossom – And just to shake it up a bit I chose this charcoal based oil stick by Satya as a comparison. This is not a champa and I’m not a fan of charcoal sticks dipped in oil as this seems to be, and unsurprisingly there are off scents under the oil that cause me a little discomfort at times. The exotic floral oil that makes up the black blossom is very unique and strange, but intensely overpowering. Lots of charcoal sticks will lose their oil scent pretty fast but I’ve never had a box of BB that didn’t overpower nearly everything in the room. Worth trying out for those who like roses, jasmines and other florals, but as more of a resin and wood type, it’s not a particular favorite.