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.

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Temple of Incense / Fruits of the Forest, Guava Guava, Indian Express, Indian Rose

Temple of Incense Part 8
Temple of Incense Part 10
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

This next grouping of Temple of Incense happens to be some of the sweeter entries in their entire catalog. If you like sweeter incense or even have a sweet tooth, these are some sticks to consider.

Starting with Fruits of the Forest, an extruded tan agarbatti without a powder finish, we have an incense that proclaims on the box to have “scent of wild strawberries and blackberries”. I expected this to be a dipped charcoal type of incense for those notes but instead this is a charcoal heavy masala using what I’m guessing are absolutes. The scent is quite nice, and while it can cross into the “Hi-C” type of ‘mixture of fruits’ where you really can’t discern the fruits, there are moments where I feel I can pick out a wild strawberry or blackberry, more specifically the flower of the blackberry than the berry itself, I think.

Either way, this is a very sweet stick and for me, it is pleasant and has enough interplay that I can enjoy it but others in my household don’t like it and say it’s rather cloying with the single sweet note. I happen to like sweet incense after a meal almost like a dessert of sorts, and this, Guava Guava, Pineapple, Pratyahara Sutra, Forbidden Fruit, and Dragon’s Blood are all on high rotation for this position.

Guava Guava looks so very different than Fruits of the Forest, it is a handmade charcoal heavy masala finished with a tan dusting. It is thicker and heavier than Fruits but when you light it, you get treated to a sweet dessert sort of scent. If you have ever spent time in the tropics around guava season, the guava trees start to drop their fruit and as you approach, it will smell sort of like this. The only thing missing from this smell to make it ‘authentic’ is the acrid tinge of fermentation happening to the fallen fruit.

While I mentioned about using these sticks as a ‘dessert’ of sorts after a meal, this one in particular is tricky because it does have a smell close enough to the food that I get hungry if I haven’t eaten and I’m smelling this. One of the things I’m starting to get curious about is that here in Hawaii, there is a combo called POG juice, and the POG stands for Pinapple, Orange, Guava. I’m starting to wonder if this will pair nicely with the pineapple and orange sticks ToI offers. I’ll check in about that in a later review.

Indian Express has a box that says ‘A scent playing with the sweet and layered fun of paan’. I had to look up what paan is and it’s a slightly addictive betel leaf preparation that is often chewed and spit out. The stick is an extruded charcoal blank that has been soaked in scent compounds. This type of dipped incense tends to get the lower ratings here but I think this is another one of those exceptions. While I haven’t experienced paan, I do know I’ve experienced the geranium, rose, rosemary and kewda before and those florals come across nicely in different layers, some of them powdery and sweet and others acrid and bitter. The nice thing is that for a dipped incense, there is so much interplay that this doesn’t get cloying with a single note. I know I’d love to revisit this scent when/if I ever experience paan.

Finishing out this round is Indian Rose, a hot pink agarbatti that looks to be machine extruded onto natural bamboo with no finishing powder. It burns like a charcoal because of how the ash forms. This is a sweeter version of rose than some of the other entries, and there isn’t as much movement between the different scents of rose, but what sits front and center is something like a rose buttercream frosting, it has a sweet, creamy note that carries the rose scent like a petal resting on a pillow. According to the box, this is a blend of different rose oils. What I’m guessing is that there is a masterful recipe blending these because many times this kind of ‘rose oil’ on incense ends up smelling like Vaseline Intensive Care.

Again, when I experienced this as a sample, I wasn’t as interested in it. I have a feeling that the freshness of this particular stick is important because I get the feeling that the first run I had was far older as I could barely suss the rose and what I did smell smelled like ‘stewed’ roses. I get none of that scent here, the rose is fresher, and comes with a sweet scent that sometimes smells like powdered sugar and sometimes like butter cream frosting. Good for people who like sweet and rose scents.

Temple of Incense / Bombay Blues, Coconut Dream, Dancing Sufi, Jaipur Joshi

Temple of Incense Part 2
Temple of Incense Part 4
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

This next quartet from the Temple of Incense line shows some interesting variations. As you explore the line, you find a really wide range of different scents that leads one to expect that there’s nearly something for everyone in the group. This group contains basically two (somewhat similar) charcoals and two very sweet and almost confectionary-like incenses. It has been truly fun to go through this range, there’s a surprise at every bend.

Bombay Blues is a really well-named incense. The given ingredients of patchouli, mint, geranium and khus push this aroma much more into cooler regions than a lot of incenses. The base feels like maybe a notch north of a charcoal in the direction of a masala. The khus and patchouli both provide a bit of a clay-like base note but they’re also co-responsible along with the mint for the incense’s overall smooth and chilly top notes. There are surprisingly few green notes like you’d expect from these sorts of ingredients. Even though it is not mentioned in the ingredients there seems to be a bit vanilla note in this as well, which may be the only warm thing about it. The geranium seems to be much farther in the background as a subnote. It’s a very interesting scent overall, it certainly sets a mood and atmosphere quite different than any I usually expect from an incense. Overall it’s probably not as much to my taste but please don’t take that to mean the artistry isn’t still at its usual high level here and if the ingredients list is attractive to you then you’ll certainly want to see if it’s to your taste.

I was working through some Ramakrishnanda incenses recently and noticed that the company had changed their Govardhana incense away from the original loban and coconut aroma to wood rose and vanilla. As someone who felt that the stick was one of the most successful coconut scented incenses I had tried, I was disappointed to see it go, so perhaps it’s fortuitous to try a new coconut incense with Coconut Dream. As I mentioned in my original Govardhana review, I have smelled some utterly disastrous coconut incenses in the past and find it’s a pretty bad idea to formulate one purely on a dipped oil as its likely to smell more like suntan lotion than real coconut. Unsurprisingly Temple of Incense does create a very nice “coconut champa” incense here (although this is scent is still largely charcoal-based) which has enough of a woody base note to make sure such a sweet scent doesn’t get too cloying, and rather than suntan lotion, this smells more like a coconut cream pie with hints of toasted coconut and a lot of vanilla. It even has the kind of grassy subnotes real coconut has, which I think might have the side effect of making your stomach growl. Don’t get me wrong, anything this delectable is probably something you want to use judiciously, but I can see coconut lovers wanting to eat this one up. It’s very nicely done.

Dancing Sufi is an extremely close cousin of Happy Hari’s Niyama Sutra which I have effused elsewhere about. In fact if you have done a deep dive into the Temple of Incense catalog and noticed that they too have a Gold Nag Champa with flakes in it, it’s hard to not feel that both lines share the same recipes or creators. This appears to be an incense with a top note so delicate that it may begin to age really fast as I notice it a bit more in the fresh Niyama Sutra than I do here, but they’re both extraordinary incenses in my book. The notes here are vanilla, kewra, amber and rose absolute. I remember kewra (aka screwpine) from old Shroff incenses and you can smell its particular and unique subnote here. The vanilla and amber are also really obvious, but it’s curious to imagine what gives the top note a sort of like nutella hazelnut or caramel sort of aroma because that’s really what makes this particular stick pop gloriously. Well, that and the beautiful rose note, which is a wonderful secondary bit of complexity. Definitely put this one on your shopping list if you haven’t tried it, it is a particularly fine incense. However US customers might find it more price conscious to go for the Niyama Sutra. You really don’t need both.

Jaipur Joshi is not terribly far from Bombay Blues. It’s perhaps a little more obviously charcoal-based but they both share a mint background that give both incenses a bit of similarity. The other notes in this incense are amber, woods and musk and this mix is certainly less earthy and cooling than the Bombay Blues. The amber here is unlike how it is in most of the other Temple of Incense line and more reminiscent of the charcoal “royal amber” types due to its more perfume-based transmission. The musk is particularly strong here and the woods are very similar to the way they feel in the Wood Spice incense. So in some ways if you’re familiar with some of the rest of the line, it’s difficult not see this as a bit of a hybrid, a combination of elements from other incenses in a new mix. But where the coolness of the ingredients tend to mask the charcoal base in the Bombay Blues, the base is a bit more obvious here. Temple of Incense do respectable charcoals for sure, but I find it to be a bit of a limited format and while this never gets too harsh it feels like it pushes in that direction a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda (Discontinued)

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

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

[Recipes may have changed and review may not be relevant anymore. Further research needed. Mike 6/17/21]

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

That is, when nagchampas were made 15 years ago or earlier, the incenses were so full of the gum that the sticks remained so wet you could easily pull them apart. The Mother’s Nagchampas (10/8/21 – This link goes directly to US distributor Mere Cie Deux now; however, there are no specific pages for each aroma) don’t aim for a similar effect and while the incenses are still quite damp, often visibly through the inner packagaing, they all have a uniform consistency that follows the original five scents to what is an incredible 14 new scents. And for those of you already well familiar with the original five, these are going to surprise and elate you as in most cases they have brought the form up to a new level of complexity. Almost all of these incenses have as many as five or six different oil or material sources not even counting the halmaddi/mattipal and honey base. The results are so impressive that it’s difficult to feel that even after sampling several sticks of them that the full story has been told.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nippon Kodo / Yume-No-Yume (Dream of Dream) / Bamboo Leaf, Butterfly, Fern (Discontinued), Fiddlehead Fern, Goldfish, Horse-Tail Plant (Discontinued), Japanese Morning Glory, Maple Leaf, Pink Plum Flower, Whooping Crane)

Nippon Kodo seem to be the largest Japanese incense company, especially when looking at all their various lines and collaborations. From their very inexpensive Morning Star Line all the way to the Most Exceptional Quality kyara line, the company has a wealth of different incenses, being one of the few Japanese companies to also have a bamboo stick line. In fact only Shoyeido has a similar wide range in styles and tastes.

As incense is generally a niche interest in the United States and usually allied with new age shops, there tends to be strong trends towards smokeless incense and all natural incense. From research, I think it’s very difficult to tell where a company diverges from using all natural ingredients to using organic if not entirely natural ingredients all the way to the art of perfumery where synthetic oils and ingredients are often taken for granted. Having wandered too often into the wake of mainstream and heavily synthetic colognes and perfumes, it’s easy to get turned off by the idea.

As far as I can tell one of the identifying features of an incense that has a healthy share of synthetic ingredients is how strong a stick smells without burning it. Natural ingredients by their lonesome don’t stand out very often from Japanese sticks, especially sandalwood and aloeswood heavy sticks, which is a far cry from sampling fresh Indian masalas. Nippon Kodo’s Yume-No-Yume line is a good example of an incense whose fresh stick could nearly scent a room without lighting it.

This line is rather elegantly presented for the modern consumer. The gift packs come with incense and a porcelain holder (both also sold separately) that mirrors the packaging art, usually a white background with slight Japanese art that reflects the nature of the incense. Yume-no-yume also comes in both stick and coil form, and while I haven’t tried the coils yet, the scents do seem eminently suited to that form (if maybe too much for smaller rooms). The only thing to watch out for in the packaging is the plastic holder that contains the incense and mini burner, it’s far too easy to cause a spill opening the holder (counterintuitively) the wrong way. Other than that bit of warning that becomes mitigated once you get used to it, I actually really like the packaging.

If I remember correctly, Nippon Kodo’s Fragrance Memories phases certain incenses in and out every so often and I believe they do something similar with this Yume-No-Yume line as I’ve happened across one incense that seems deleted (for now). Currently the line has nine different blends and the least impressive of these incenses is fine indeed.

Pink Plum Flower contains key notes of white plum, red plum and willow leaf bud. This listing of the ingredients will automatically give one the impression there’s something different at work here, as I don’t have a clear idea of what each of these three notes might be like. Like the whole line, the stick is strong and pungent, far more so than any natural Japanese plum flower incenses, most of which I’ve tried have been very mellow and light. In fact that sort of subtlety is what prevents me from being totally behind this blend, it may be the least distinctive blend in the range.

Goldfish is the other incense in the line that doesn’t quite come up the rest. While I’m generally very impressed at the way certain notes are blended for effect, I find it pretty hard to get used to the mint/watermelon/jasmine blend, especially with the whole water motif at work here. I’d almost forgotten jasmine was involved but the other two are quite strong. It’s definitely unusual, but a bit like a symphony not quite in synch.

Butterfly was the first blend I tried and won me over fairly quickly. Here, the key notes, geranium, vanilla and cinnamon all blend almost flawlessly into a scent that reminds me more of amber than any of the other blends. Part of it is not terribly far from Shoyeido’s Horin/Nijo scent, but as a far more perfumed scent this is much stronger in impact and not as subtle.

Bamboo Leaf might be my favorite of the whole line, it appeals to my taste for sweet/green and patchouli-esque hints, despite the fact it doesn’t appear to have patchouli as an ingredient. The green tea is way out in front and surprisingly the yuzu citrus and lemon flower notes don’t really give that much of an impression of a lemon tang to the tea, I get the impression they mostly add to the complexity. This is probably the one I’d start with first if you’re new to the line.

Maple Leaf is another favorite in the line, its hints of persimmon, tonka bean (think vanilla), and ambergris blend perfectly into a rich and somewhat fresh scent. While this doesn’t strike me as quite as amber-like as Butterfly, it’s obviously by ingredient in that general class, but the name of the incense isn’t misleading either, with some hints that will likely remind you of a pancake breakfast, partially due to just how sweet it is.

Whooping Crane might be the least intense blend in the line and you can see why the choice is made. With a winter/snow motif, there’s a very slight mint hint to what is a rather perfectly blended combo of camellia, musk and frankincense. I detect the musk at times, but frankincense can often be a tough call since quality can vary so much. As far as a packaging theme to incense scent relationship, this is about as spot on in the line as it can get. Very sultry.

For fans of fruit scents, you can probably do no better than Fiddlehead Fern, which takes berry intensity into its own level. Lots of fruity incenses strike me as pretty synthetic or unsatisfying, so it’s kind of a jolt to find out that the one I like the best might be the most synthetic in the bunch. Very fruity and rich with the raspberry middle almost, if not quite obliterating the black currant and leaf bud of peach notes. Quite impressive overall.

My second favorite in the line is probably the Morning Glory, partially as it strikes me as YNY’s most exotic blend. The green banana in particular is fabulous and the vetivert gives it most of its Eastern tinge, almost musky and dense. I’m used to bergamot as being slightly citrus-y, but it’s kind of hard to detect here. Above all, the oil scent is just a little unusual and it really adds quite a bit of character, although at the odd time it might seem like everything clashes – only for a moment.

The strangely named Horse-Tail Plant is not likely to win over the western consumer, but it ought to as it’s the weirdest incense in the line. For one thing, it’s the only incense with only two named notes, strawberry flower and oil-seed rape blossoms. Neither name gives any hint to the blend involved here which is almost beyond description. The small print says “Fruity-green. The refreshingly bitter scent of new leaf buds in the moning dew.” Bitter might be the only descriptor that resonates with me, but again it’s a bitter I’ve not quite experienced before.

The deleted line is called Fern, and I assume Fiddlehead Fern was its replacement. You can see why in some ways as other incences in the line capture similar qualities better. The notes are maple leaf, yuzu-citrus and bitter orange and if you scroll up you can see all but the latter note in other blends. Here they don’t seem to blend quite as well, although I may think differently after another sample or two.

Overall, this is a really neat line. Whatever you might consider synthetic, the scents here are clean, smooth and not headache inducing in any way, they’ve certainly changed my mind about the potential of the meeting of perfumery and blending arts. And they’re also very affordable, a package of 12 sticks or 5 coils (without holder) running you about $6-$7. I’m actually looking forward to the next switch out to see what they come up with next.