Happy New Year (including Gokula and notes on Mermade Magickal Arts)!

I just posted the last two articles for my Gokula series today as Gokula is running a 20% off sale through 1/8, so I figured if you hadn’t checked the line out yet now is a perfect time! There are some definite goodies in their gigantic line and there’s actually a whole back half I didn’t review that are Mahavadhas sourced, so if you come across any of those that are good, do let us know in one of the Gokula post threads! Anyway, this takes us nearly to the end of the reviews stored up from last year, there may be a couple more to trickle in. More on this in a sec…

As I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays, I haven’t had too much of a chance to review or evaluate anything, but I did want to mention a few more Mermade Magickal Arts goodies. These aren’t intense reviews as I basically love all Mermade incenses which definitely all deserve deeper dives, but Katlyn tends to always be really busy during the holiday season and releases quite a few new vintages and I wanted to get in my thoughts before they’re gone. It was really nice to see Baccy Claus again, it’s at least the second vintage but I would guess the batch I had previously was before we started ORS up again. This one seems an improvement, never a surprise with Katlyn’s work, almost as if the middle had been brought up to match that peppery herbal note that makes this a scent unique in her catalog (think a mix of tobacco and herbal with the greener evergreen notes cradling this top scent). This one even has some unique elements in the mix with a touch of Amanita and Sativa, I’ve had the pleasure of an incense or two in the long past where Kat will mix something like this in and the results are always special and a bit different from the normal catalog. So certainly this is one to add to your cart right away.

Also checked out was her latest vintage of the Classic Kyphi, as I have long stated on these pages the Mermade kyphis are always well worth checking out, although I have been really unable to plumb the depths of this one quite yet. It’s really impossible to evaluate something this complex after just a sitting, but this will certainly be out right next to the heater over the next month. Some of the most recent kyphis strike me almost like drier wines compared to the sweeter ones, if you need an overall take. Forest Honey seems like a new experimental merging of two of her lines (say Sweet Medicine and Wild Wood for example) and is quite a bit different from Kat’s usual green holiday mix and a welcome variation. As always you get that great balance that allows you to experience both sides of the scent. But once again, I still need to dig out the time to really sit with it. Similarly with the Jasmine Dreams. I spend a lot of time both reviewing and evaluating and largely getting really fatigued by jasmine incenses over the last year, so it was great to get back to one that really highlights how good it can be. Perhaps part of the reason is this has a lot of green frankincense and repeat customers generally know how high quality this frankincense can be from Mermade. But this has a real nice peach note (resin seems to help bring this out) that you can often get out of the better jasmines and it seems like a perfect match with the better frankincense. So overall and as usual, it’s impossible not to recommend all these new treats, not to mention that it looks like Mermade has several Esprit de la Nature goodies in as well which always go really fast. I haven’t tried any of these but they’re always great as well. I would bet Bonnie probably has more at her site!

So with that said while there are probably a few more reviews in the wing to go, we’re reaching the end of the current “season.” This year is unique particularly in that there’s also very little in the current queue to review as well. I think we’ve debating internally that there are things like Satya incenses that I’ve sort of had on the table, but with less time to really review things of late it can be difficult to force yourself to take a look at incenses better worth avoiding. There’s a Review Information link at the top left if you’d like us to review your incenses, just let us know. Happy New Year everyone!


Gokula Incense / Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

This is the second of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

My general impression of flora/fluxo incenses is they usually come with an orange dipped stick (either full or just the end). And Gokula’s variant (one of them really) is actually called Flora Fluxo. I have reviewed or burned so many of these types of incenses in the last couple months that they probably feel more redundant to me than they actually are, but if you’re not familiar with the style then usually the standard version (kind of like how blue box Nag Champa is – or maybe used to be – the standard for those incenses) is the red package Sai Flora and it’s a reasonable baseline although it is heavily perfumed and often stronger than those I have reviewed lately. Gokula’s version is somewhat muted and not quite as bright and brassy as Sai Flora. Most floras and fluxos have earthier levels in them but they’re usually much more buried than they are here, which tends to give me an August, almost Dionysian vibe like prunes or grapes. I am not sure the balance maybe quite works for me on this stick, but I would not take that as gospel because most are just minor tweaks from one to the other and if you like the style, you’re likely going to search for the one that works for you. This is certainly a reasonable quality take.

Floral Bouquet actually does what it says it’s going to do and presents a floral mix that’s very pink and sweet. It’s a bit of a masala although still fairly firm but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t feel like it’s battling charcoal but is more of a blend with a bit of woodiness. I’ve gone on record many times the pitfalls of presenting general florals, but this one has no bitterness or off notes and it’s probably friendly enough to be kind even to incense muggles. It actually reminds me a little of some of the old Dhuni incenses, perhaps in a more manageable form than that, but approaching that kind of pleasantness (I keep being reminded by the sadly lamented Dhuni Frangipani for some reason). It feels like it has something like pink Valentine’s candy at heart, but the structure of it seems to balance it out in a good way.

Gold Sandal seems to be a cousin to the Agar Sandal we reviewed last time, but like a lot of midline Indian sandalwood incenses, they really don’t smell a lot like sandalwood. There is some inherent woodiness to the incense but there are bitter/sour off notes as well as some really strangely placed fruity notes like peach or apricot in the middle. One wonders if this was an attempt to build a sandalwood out of a different set of ingredients. The Agar Sandal actually felt a bit closer to me in getting to that note or at least it ended up being more genuinely woody than this one. Certainly, the overall bouquet of the Agar Sandal is much more coherent, so I’d suggested starting there before heading to this one.

Even though I am going in alphabetical order, the next three incenses share quite a few of the same ingredients and operate very closely in style. The Jasmine and Lotus (and according to the description juhi, kewra and parijata) is an interesting blend for sure in that you’d expect that to be tilted way over into jasmine when the noticeable lead aroma seems to be something similar to the blue lotus that’s part of the Madhavadas catalog. It’s a very pretty, powdery sort of scent where if you can imagine it, the jasmine kind of faintly provides a background color to give a bit of complexity to the lotus scent. And honestly I think that is where jasmine is at its best. So after introducing some incenses Gokula imports that may be wobbly, this is one that I think has a rather distinct sort of mix I haven’t turned up in other catalogs and that is indeed what one often looks for in an incense.

And better yet, the Jasmine & Nag Champa may be one of Gokula’s best. While I’m not sure either aroma is dead on, they are both close and the juhi and lotus they meld with work well together. Whatever one has in mind for a mix like this, it’s going to be a bit different than you expect. While the champa perfume isn’t the classic style you get on something like the AB or TOI Gold Nagchampa, it does have a much more powdery bottom to it that evinces maybe a bit of halmaddi in the masala. The top note is very pretty and while you can kind of sense jasmine in there somewhere it’s not unlike the previous incense where it seems to mostly come out in some aspects of the bouquet as part of a merger. And overall, it leans over into pink florals a bit.

Finally the Lotus & Kewra is a very interesting experiment. This stick is a lightly dusted charcoal, but even moving back from a more masala like approach this still seems to have the same sort of warm and gentle powdery qualities of the last two incenses, which I like very much. The charcoal does spike a little through it as is always the case with floral charcoals but the perfume mix is quite nice nonetheless with what seems like either a balsamic or vanilla like quality in the middle. And yes there is even a distinct kewra note through the middle! Screwpine is definitely an aroma I’d like to see more often as it’s such a distinct and different scent to anything else. While the lotus isn’t quite as distinct as it is in the incense above where it’s paired with jasmine, and this may be because of the kewra, the resulting merge is certainly worth it. The incense description also describes the blend “in a sandalwood base with swirling notes of champa and marigold.” The powdery quality is certainly champa-esque and the marigold can be faintly ascertained but to my nose I don’t get any sandalwood and nor would I think you’d need to. Whatever the case this is definitely a Gokula winner.

Holy Smoke / Bloom, Cardamom, Dammar, Free Spirit, Nag Champa

Holy Smoke is the name of a domestic incense creator that can be found on both Etsy and its own website. The company states, “All our ingredients are natural and directly from nature. We try to source the best ingredients to produce the finest products. Our incense sticks are hand-rolled using honey, gum resin, botanicals and pure essential oils. Each stick will burn for an hour or more.” This in particular got my attention because even some of the best Indian incenses (and Holy Smoke sticks are Indian-style for sure) out there can be completely charcoal based which has never really been one of my favorite bases for a scent. And one must admit Holy Smoke present their incenses in a very attractive way at their sales sites. So I was very interested in checking out some of their scents.

First of all I was a bit disappointed in that the incenses I received did not have the bright colors that the presentations on line hinted at. This is of course not a deal breaker for a scent, but it IS part of what had me scrambling for a purchase. The incenses do vary a bit in color but one must come to the impression that the lighting may be bringing out what you see a bit more than the reality and in fact if you look at my own pictures in this review, the flash is definitely helping some on that account. In my experience a lot of Indian sticks that use colors may not impart any scent variations through the colors themselves but there is often something psychological about using them and I once raided the Vedic Vaani catalog trying to find the brightly colored ones and this often led to some of their better incenses. So be sure to temper one’s expectations from the pictures.

So that lovely purple color on the Bloom picture at the Holy Smoke website I don’t really see at all in the actual incense, it turned out to be much redder. This is described as a mix of rose, musk and patchouli, but what you immediately notice is just the overall blast of scent coming from the stick, it’s literally drenched in perfume oils. In fact I did not mind at all letting these sit for a while hoping to temper the power of them a little and even in doing so they still strike me as strong and powerful, perhaps even too much. So it’s probably worth setting one’s expectations that a stick like this at an hour burn and this powerful is likely something you don’t want as close to your space. The other issue, which not all of the sticks have, is that the combination of the oils being used often reminds me of air freshener type scents rather than any of the specific ingredients. As we know getting a legitimate rose oil from an essential is virtually impossible at this price range, but the overall floral scent does seem to be largely drowning out whatever is being used as the musk and patchouli. You can certainly sense both in the mix at some level but the combination still adds up in a way that reminds me if your levels on your CD are too high.

The Cardamom is very different to the Bloom. It was actually nice to see this rarely represented spice in an incense and the overall levels turned down a bit. Cardamom is a fairly unique spice but tends to appear as drier in incense which matches a bit better with the honey and resin base. But it does appear that there is more in play than the just the spice (as well as the question of how much of the spice is the actual spice and how much is in the oil). I wondered a bit about some of the natural resin in the midst of it coming through as it seemed somewhat basic quality, perhaps a touch gravelly, but it wasn’t ultimately problematic with the top note. There is some level of a floral feel to this as well as if the base or additional ingredients contribute quite a bit to the overall aroma. It’s an interesting and fairly unique aroma overall, very different to the others I sampled from the catalog. But once again, the sheer strength of the overall stick feels like it gets a bit overwhelming during the burn, something that might be mitigated by burning half sticks.

Part of the issue with incenses whose essential oil mixes are this loud is they tend to resemble household products and that’s the main issue with Dammar, an incense with a resin whose lemon-like tendencies push the overall aroma into furniture polish territory. The thing is, where in the Cardamom I could detect some level of actual resin burning here, the lemon characteristics supposedly coming from this resin all seem to be on the oil level. The issue is that it feels a bit chemical on some level in the sense where fruitiness in an air freshener or cleaning product ends up being too cloying. This also runs into having a bit of a bitter edge to it. Unfortunately, it has probably been a while since I tried the actual resin to see how close it is but it seems like here there’s much more going on than just the resin. I don’t mean to doubt the creators claim that these are all natural but sometimes the mixes can still perhaps not work quite as well.

Free Spirit is a blend of Nag Champa, Lotus, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. One thing that originally struck me about this mix and the plain Nag Champa (below) is that it seems like the company may use a Satya-sourced Nag Champa oil or something very similar as it has an extremely familiar scent to it. The difference in base, then, is made more obvious by contrasting it with this oil which does make you notice the honey and resins a bit more. This is a bit of a drier mix but it still feels a bit crowded with florals and one starts to come to the conclusion that not unlike Madhavadas sourced incenses, the base of these tends to be aromatic enough to be part of every aroma in a way that makes them all somewhat similar. There’s a fruity sort of scent that seems common to all of these incenses that tends to mute all of the specific named notes. And so the mix ends up being quite a bit different from any one scent and in a largely generic sort of way.

Nag Champa on its own is a lot more familiar, and maybe here you can mostly sense what this base is all about as it’s easier to mentally isolate that one note. What it probably does the most is show what this sort of oil smells like outside of the usual halmaddi and sandalwood mix, that is, it’s quite a bit different without those notes and with what is the unique Holy Smoke honey and resin mix. But like the Cardamom, not having the extra oils is a bit more pleasant to my nose. But overall this doesn’t really smell all that much like a traditional Nag Champa so much as the use of that scent in this format.

Overall, with all of these incenses getting some idea of whether you like their base is going to be key where you fall with any of their aromas. But even if you like the base, the predominance of certain oil mixes is very likely to overwhelm if you are not careful. So I might recommend checking one of their samplers first, if available.

Absolute Bliss, Happy Hari / Absolute Sandalwood, King of Saffron, King of Sandal, Oudh Saffron, White Lotus Oudh Saffron (new versions)

Absolute Bliss has recently gotten in a big restock and while I’m not entirely sure if this covers everything with significant scent differences (I am told there is also King of Musk which I would have absolutely jumped on had I known), it definitely covers five sticks that range from slight to significant improvements in aroma.

The first, Absolute Sandalwood, was enough of a trainwreck that I didn’t review it originally. Corey at Absolute Bliss is basically as aware as we are when something ships over that is not up to snuff, so in that sense I don’t really relish a blistering review of something we all know isn’t good. The new version of Absolute Sandalwood may not be the greatest sandalwood every extruded but it presents a really unique sort of woodshop-like take on it. Where the previous version did not get this mix right in the slightest, this new one actually really started to intrigue me after a few sticks. Think of that mix of turpentine, glue and fresh wood dust you’d get in a shop and then kinda bolster that with some level of sandalwood in the mix and you’re onto what this one smells like. I’m sitting here with my third stick from a 10g package and actually really starting to like it, in the sense that it’s actually complex but the complexity is almost like these specific woodshop elements one at a time. It has a strange quality of richness with these elements that elsewhere might not be to a lot of people’s tastes. So while I’d probably caution one not to go hogwild, I would also highly recommend checking out a small package of it to see if it’s your speed. I’m actually starting to love it.

King of Saffron is not the King of Saffron I remember from many years ago when Paul Eagle was running the shop – that stick I remember being brown and very different from this one. The current King of Saffron should be familiar to those with some experience with Indian incense as it’s essentially the very thin, extruded, yellow dusted stick often called saffron sandalwood or some other name in plenty of catalogs through the years. I probably came across 3 or 4 versions of the same incense in the Vedic Vaani catalog this year except Absolute Bliss’ version is definitely better than all of those, and incredibly reminiscent of when the Mystic Temple version was a classic. The only other incense I’ve tried in the last 25 years that reminds me of the glory years of Indian incense is Temple of Incense’s Extreme Sandalwood. King of Saffron not only has the dryness, the saffron spiciness and a level of wood but it has that incredible floral finish that these incenses used to have but have usually just disappeared. It also has a wonderful camphor thread through it which has always been one of my favorite things about this particular scent. And remember these sticks are thin enough that 125g of this is likely to have has many as two times as many sticks as you usually get by that weight. So this is one you want to jump on for sure.

The King of Sandal is also very different from previous versions and it’s not really so much a pure sandalwood stick now as a sort of sandalwood champa type mix and a really beautiful one at that. It’s actually not easy to balance the sweet and woody of these two elements, and I come across plenty of these mixes that are off in some way. This new stick is halmaddi rich and probably leans in the sweeter direction but it’s rather perfectly balanced for a sandalwood top note and not only that it’s a very accessible scent. In many ways it’s not unlike the Oud Masala in this sense, where the sweeter base really creates more of a blend than say a charcoal with oil would. I actually was kind of wondering if part of this is that the sandalwood here isn’t turned up too high where the woodier notes might conflict a little more. Needless to say this is another highly recommended new find.

The last two incenses, the Oudh Saffron and White Lotus Oudh Saffron are now in a different format, moving to a bit larger of a charcoal masala base than the previous versions. These are incenses that are largely carried by the oil mixes on top and when they are, the mixes tend to vary a little from batch to batch. This is my third batch of the White Lotus and it’s largely the same incense, just maybe a little bit different. The second batch may have been a tiny bit more dialed back in the woodiness where this new batch turns it back up a bit. The Oudh Saffron however, actually strikes me as quite differently formulated. I am not sure how to explain this except that this new formulation seems a bit more complex and rich than the prior one. I think that the inherent woodiness in Indian oud incenses is generally pretty rare because there usually isn’t any real oud in them and so the approximation doesn’t account for the deeper and richer aspects you’d find in wood or wood-heavy aloeswood incenses like you’d find in Japan. Instead Indian oud incenses tend to approximate that a bit and go for more of those spice tones you tend to find at the top of ouds. Saffron itself is also pretty multifaceted, even among incenses called saffron sandalwood that stretch beyond the one I reviewed above, the note can be anything from floral to spicy and all places in between. Here I think it ends up pushing the usual Indian oud spice mixes into something a little richer. It still has the same sort of almost licorice like middle in it the previous stick had, but of course when the batch is fresher you’re likely to catch all of this more up front.

So ultimately a stock well worth going back for. As always, there are no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. Please note that currently Absolute Bliss only ships to the US.

Pure Incense / Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk, Connoisseur Musk De Luxe, Vintage Catuhsama Oud Musk, Connoisseur Opium Intense

In this second, recent, installment of Pure Incense reviews, I’ve sorted this group essentially into the musk category, even if the Oud Musk is probably more of an oud with musk touches and the Opium may or may not have it at all, but the latter does seem to have some real similarities to the Musk De Luxe stick both in color and perhaps more partially in scent. Second, two of these incenses, the first and last listed, were part of the samples a kind reader sent to me some months to check out (the third sample is currently out of stock, so I did not get to grab that one but certainly would have) so this is a group I like a lot. In many ways when you’re really looking into ouds and sandalwoods and so forth it can be a breath of fresh air to move to incenses that tend to differ from more or less any other creator’s output and are great without needing any woods to complete things.

The Connoisseur Blue Lotus and Musk, unsurprisingly, is essentially just a slight variation on the Connoisseur Blue Lotus. As most Pure Incense appreciators know the Blue Lotus is certainly one of the line’s most original and dependable aromas and it ranges across the entire Pure Incense spectrum, although for my nose, I prefer to have the quality of the perfume cranked up as much as possible, as it is on this stick. Lotus oils vary so much in incense that it can be fairly difficult to really describe what a lotus scent actually smells like other than the flower itself, but in the Pure Incense Blue Lotus incenses, it has always been something of a powdery, gentle and distinct floral scent that is so unlike any other lotus incense that it’s an essential stop for increasing the variety of your scent collection. It is, for example, completely different than the lotus incenses in the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari/Temple of Incense range, and as far as I know I can’t think of any other line producing the quality of either manufacturer that’s still in business. The musk added here seems to be very slight in comparison to the main Blue Lotus incense, it’s certainly tangible and perhaps moves this into a different kind of sweet territory but it doesn’t have the power that the musk does in the De Luxe below. But for my nose after retrying the regular Connoisseur Blue Lotus recently, it feels like this is of slightly higher quality overall and it reminds me more of the first time I tried and reviewed it than the most recent box I tried. And yes here, the vanilla of the base I think really compliments the perfume. It’s a really friendly and wonderful incense.

The Connoisseur Musk De Luxe is also the type of aroma I think is relatively uncommon and could be quite novel to readers’ noses. In a lot of ways it’s a similar issue to lotus perfumes, musks can vary a lot and of course they can also be sourced from animal or plant sources. Often when it is not expressly stated that it’s a plant-sourced musk, it’s because it isn’t, but in this case if you pop on over to the Pure Incense Nepal Musk page, you will see the language affirming that Pure Incense musks are plant based. Anyway this brick red color stick is kind of a sour-sweet marvel that is really an aroma of its own. The vanilla feels a bit more dialed back here compared to many Pure Incense sticks, which I feel was a good move (or maybe the musk obscures it) and the musk has a very pretty center note that really sells it. I like its tanginess, the almost definitive sweet note and just the overall power of the stick. In fact this is often the case in the Pure Incenses that have the perfumes dialed up. It is not at all the kind of refined musk scent you’d see in, say, a Kourindo incense which would have the sweet center note up more in front.

The Vintage Catuhsama Oud Musk is described as “two parts of musk, four parts of sandalwood, three parts of aguru or saffron and one part of camphor, when mixed together, form catuḥsama.” I would still probably class this closer to the ouds in the previous installment however this has a much mellower wood sort of scent which I would assume is due to the dialed up presence of the sandalwood. The vanilla in the base is also pretty noticeable here, partially because it tends to come out a bit more when there’s more sandalwood oil in the mix. For an oud scent this is probably closest to the Egyptian Oud from the previous installment in that it has a healthy bit of spice to it as well, not to mention there are no really overtly strong agarwood notes in this (although definitely enough to recognize its oudness). It feels a bit more of a balance of a number of aspects than any one thing. I remember some musk sandalwood masalas from the past that were kind of roughly in this area, so if you remember those, think of what that would be like with a spike of oud in the middle somewhere and you’d be fairly close.

Finally, the other sample that I received prior to this order, the Connoisseur Opium Intense. In my experience Opium in an incense tends to be more related to the perfume with that name than the poppies or the smell of opium itself. However here the scent comes from opium essential oils which “have been used to create a masterful wondrous scent that is like a rich sultry Ambery oriental woody fragrance with dark exotic notes.” I like that description, can definitely get the amber out of it and overall I just like how this is another great scent that doesn’t really smell like any other, and for sure it’s better than any opium perfume on charcoal stick I have seen offered. But naturally I can’t really side by side this with the real thing nor do I have any valid memory or what that might be like, and if I did I’d still wager this is probably a lot prettier. And you really gotta love the end of the description: “Lose yourself in dreams of other realms far away from the concrete and iron civilisation all around us….to a place with a variety of trees and bushes and flowers and birds and bees and swans and parrots and all manner of colourful flowers and scent and birds and creatures!” Wheeeee!

Incense Works / Rare Essence Incense Collection / Frankincense Deluxe, Lavender Fields, Moon Goddess, Patchouli Supreme, Rose Absolute, White Lotus

Incense Works is an incense company in Salt Lake City that has a banner “celebrating 50 years in the world of fragrance,” but strangely if you look at any of the individual incenses sold on the site there doesn’t appear to be a shopping cart system anymore, nor any indication of whether it still survives. Rare Essence is also sold via Sensia and Incense Warehouse (I’m including Sensia links, but if any are unavailable I’d check Incense Warehouse or even start there if you’re inclined, both have always been reliable), so perhaps Incense Works has gone purely distributor. Way back in 2008, I reviewed four of Incense Works’ own Rare Essence Incense Collection here. Before I reopened ORS earlier this year, I made a couple orders to grab some Indian sticks and managed to get most of these again, including some of the ones I previously reviewed and I honestly notice no substantial differences from what I remember last, except for one in this bunch. Even when I first started with the Incense Works incenses I felt that they had some reminiscence to incenses I liked in other lines, although even by 2008 any semblance to the old school composition was gone and what you end up here is something like a Bangalore masala lineage a la Satya but maybe slightly higher quality. This has always made me feel there is a Satya factory or something similar that contracts with US companies to create incenses that are a little higher quality than they offer in the usual boxes. When I wasn’t sure what was left on the market, these still felt like old standbys, maybe not the best Indian incense you can buy but certainly not unpleasant (I actually might start with the incenses in the first review over these). I only include a picture of the boxes because quite frankly if you’ve seen one Bangalore provenance masala you’ve practically seen them all except for some thickness or shading changes.

As an example of an incense that reminds me of the old days, Frankincense Deluxe is really the only remaining incense I know of on the market that resembles a stick that used to be called something like Frankincense Champa or Golden Frankincense back in the earlier Mystic Temple and Incense from India lines. Those had a sort of crystalline, resinous but somewhat peppery top aroma on the old halmaddi base and of course this is just a more modern shifted version of that stick, because it feels from touch that it’s still a heavily dusted charcoal or masala hybrid. As always the bases these days aren’t quite like they used to be, but this is aromatically way different from frankincense sticks in any other line. There’s about the same amount of real frankincense as any of these others, and while it may not be as true to the resin as Happy Hari’s King of Frankincense, I like it more because it’s also trying to be a bit of what passes for a champa these days and it doesn’t have the King’s more bitter tendencies. This aroma used to be a great incense and isn’t maybe quite that good anymore, but I still find the general aroma to be enough to my liking for this kind of style. And there’s enough for me to enjoy the nostalgia of it too.

Having the superb Temple of Incense Lavender Supreme on my mind lately, it’s going to be fairly unlikely to find one that beats it for a great lavender scent. I’m not sure if Rare Essence Lavender Fields is going for the same profile, because again it feels like its really going for a more lavender-fronted, champa-like scent. In comparison to the Lavender Supreme this doesn’t seem like it has as authentic a lavender scent, although saying that it’s possible this box is old enough to have lost some of the oil on top. Overall it feels less lavender themed and more of a muddier floral blend that is fairly typical of modern Bangalore-provenance champa-cum-charcoals, at least on top. In the middle there seems to still be a lot of spicier qualities you don’t often find matched with lavender that makes it slightly more intriguing. At least in terms of its lack of definition it’s not super unpleasant (it has a slight off note on it that’s mostly buried) and has a bit of tanginess I like, it’s just not really doing what it says on the box too much. It’s one of those sticks that makes me wonder if it would be more balanced in a halmaddi base.

Moon Goddess appears to be the only incense in the line that doesn’t really list a note of any kind. Given the sort of haziness of blends at this price point it’s actually fairly difficult to describe because like the Lavender Supreme this is sort of a mix of floral oils and spicy qualities. It feels a bit softer to the touch and more masala-like, and has some powdery and perhaps jasmine-like qualities to it. There’s the usual underlying woodiness to it as well, the usual bit of sandalwood sticks like this come with and overall it’s actually quite pleasant and you do feel on some level there’s an attempt to give this a bit of a nighttime feel to it. However, it has virtually no resolution when it comes to ingredients and I’d guess there is some use of synthetics in the perfumes. Overall this is one of those “decent enough” sticks in that the positives and negatives sort of balance themselves out.

I’m not sure if I’m misremembering this, but I seem to remember that the Patchouli Supreme used to be fairly old school and resembled sticks that were called Patchouli Champas except it wasn’t as sweet as this current stick. Once again I am wondering if there’s some old stock where the note has faded off the stick as this barely smells at all like patchouli to me, although it may be there in the background a bit (it’s more noticeable if you walk out and back in the room). It’s a reminder that expectations can often be the guiding hand at evaluation because if this was named something else I might think differently about it, but as a patchouli it’s just working in a completely opposite and muddier direction. There’s something a bit cloyingly sweet about the overall aroma that I’m not even sure would work on its own if it had a different name. Only a bit mind you as this isn’t entirely unpleasant, but again, it’s a good example of an incense that maybe doesn’t know what it wants to be.

It’s something of a truism that a $4 box of a rose incense is either going to attempt to imitate a rose and fail miserably or blend some minor rose note into a floral backdrop and if lucky come up with a pleasant incense. Rose Absolute probably leans a bit more to this latter option and relies on the base with its sweetness and bit of spice to come up with something approaching a fruitier rose. If you’re willing to spend a few dollars more and go for a Temple of Incense of Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari incense I’d just say stop reading and do that. But for a $4 box this isn’t a bad incense, but even for that there are still some edges that feel cloying or overly perfumed, just not overwhelmingly so.

Finally there’s the White Lotus which has a lot of the same issues the Rose Absolute does in terms of having very little in the way of an identifiable floral note. Like if you were to compare it to the AB White Lotus Oudh Saffron you just wouldn’t notice it had anything in common. Again, you do wonder if maybe the incense is just old and has lost its oils, but even so you’d still notice some stamp here. Instead what’s most notable is the masala base with the vanilla and sandalwood feautured most prominently. Now this doesn’t have any of the overly perfumed issues that the Rose Absolute does but where I can’t really notice a lot in the way that’s unattractive, I can’t think of much to say to promote it. In this sense it’s not unlike a lot of Satya incenses except without the fairly common off notes.

Anyway it’s hard to tell if this is just a line at the end of its stretch, given that you can still find these fairly easily still. But it feels like they largely rise or fall on the strengths of their top perfume and many of these feel a bit faint.

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.

Temple of Incense / Lavender Supreme, Lotus Flower, Myrrh, Orange Blossom & Lemongrass

Temple of Incense Part 10
Temple of Incense Part 12
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

In my fifth Temple of Incense installment, we are looking at more florals with one resin stick. The quality here is so high that it’s hard to say that I don’t like something because even if the scent isn’t my favorite, I can tell that all of these are best in class.

Starting with Lavender Supreme. Part of me wanted to include this in my last review to have a Lavender vs Lavender challenge but the issue is that unlike Amber/Amber Supreme, this is the clear winner. Like in the story with the tortoise and the hare only the hare never took a nap and just smoked the tortoise THEN took a nap. This Lavender Supreme is a handmade masala made mostly of charcoal with a brown powder finish. For a 20% price hike, you get at least 75% more quality.

The scent here isn’t bothered by the ‘burning hair’ scent and instead there is a pleasant wood underneath the floral, salty enough to make it’s presence known. On top of it is at least three different kinds of lavender. There is a lavender absolute that actually makes it smell like you’re cutting fresh lavender. There is a lavender oil that is giving a huge middle presence like you’d get from annointing your pillow with lavender essential oil. There is something like spike lavender or similar giving it a bitter, green edge, that I associate with the varietal. (The oil of spike lavender to me has always smelled like someone crossed lavender with juniper.)

Overall, I’d suggest this over Lavender Fields unless you’re either pinching pennies or are a fan of the dipped incense style. Lavender Supreme is also sold as Vedic Lavender at Absolute Bliss.

Lotus Flower is an extruded dark charcoal-rich agarbatti on a bamboo stick finished with a fine tan powder. This is also sold as Happy Hari’s Queen of Lotus. This is a soft, sweet powdery entry for lotus, with a front that really has that soft lotus note with only a few hints at other things, the box mentioned jasmine and florals but I don’t quite get jasmine in here as much as I get the lotus, a sweet vanilla scent and then more lotus with a tiny hint of something like maybe sandalwood to ground it and give it a bit of saltiness. This is almost the same scent as ‘Floating Lotus‘ or ‘Shiv‘, which is the larger sized thick incense with lotus as it’s central scent.

If you’re familiar with King of Myrrh, you’ll know that Myrrh is the same stick. This is an extruded resin agarbatti with no powder finish. This is a very sweet interpretation of myrrh, very fruity, like they found a locality of myrrh that is sweeter than opopanax. If you like the sweet sorts of myrrh, this is going to be a favorite for you. This is a slow burning, sweet, grounding stick. The box mentions there is a ‘balsamic’ smell but I’m going to say it’s more like the extra sweet flavored balsamic. In fact, I kind of wish there was a balsamic vinegar that tastes like this smells. There is a touch of something, maybe just the myrrh that grounds it and brings a little bit of gravitas at the bottom of the scent. This has been one of my favorites, even before I met ToI as King of Myrrh was a high rotation incense for me.

Wrapping up this quartet with Orange Blossom & Lemongrass, a handmade charcoal masala finished with a tan powder on a natural bamboo stick, we have a scent that is strange and different. Strange in that it doesn’t mention musk, but there is a musky interplay between the two headline ingredients. You can smell the lemongrass, it’s a bitter, acrid, herbal scent that represents more the cooked scent of lemongrass rather than lemongrass growing fresh. And the Orange Blossom is timid and shy, but when you catch a glimpse of it, it’s a decent if maybe musky interpretation of a very delicate flower that is currently scenting my driveway since the neighbor’s orange tree is in bloom.

Overall this comes across as a very fresh scent, but as it builds up in a space it does get a little bit soapy, but stepping back and sniffing from afar, it goes back to the more fresh scent. I do like how there feels like a hint of musk in there someplace. While I don’t find myself really enjoying the scent profile, I know this stick will find it’s home with people who do enjoy lemongrass, as I can tell that this is still a quality crafted stick.

Absolute Bliss / Floating Lotus Flower, Oudh Saffron, Patchouli Khus, Red Blood Dragon, Vedic Lavender, Vintage Jasmine

Before I start to go through the large amount of treasures that Corey Topel has recently stocked at Absolute Bliss from the same Indian group that makes the Happy Hari line, I just wanted to make the note here that the use of Absolute Bliss in the subject headings at ORS is meant to indicate the importer of the following incenses rather than indicating that it is a branding and so I will not be adding this as a category. But other than this group of incense’s similarities to those in the Temple of Incense line, Absolute Bliss is the western point of origin. Also, there is no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. I will also encourage those who are interested by saying that my experience is that many of these scents are at peak freshness and well worth trying as soon as you can.

This first group of incenses that Corey sent me samples of I wanted to get up first because I’m already aware of their matches with Temple of Incense lines. Please note that when I say this, the match ups are not 100%. Indian suppliers who use natural ingredients in their scents will also find fluctuations in those ingredients that are generally enough to cause some slight variation in batches. But I do want to note that these incenses are still similar enough that it’s likely customers in the US will find better prices with Absolute Bliss and avoid the shipping costs from the UK (as well as vice versa with Temple of Incense). And of course just as inversely true with Temple of Incense, there are some AB incenses here that are not in the Temple of Incense catalog, many of which we will get to in further installments. But these six are a match…

Floating Lotus Flower is more or less completely identical to Temple of Incense’s Shiv which I have previously raved about and recommend oh so highly, although it feels like the dusting on this one is more consistently applied, perhaps as if it was added when less dry (or maybe the dust gets shaken off a lot crossing the Atlantic). In fact you could almost compare the lotus in this description with the amber, patchouli, musk and rose listed in the Shiv review, as if, perhaps, that combination of ingredients tends to point the way at a lotus type of scent. And if you were to compare this to the Happy Hari Queen of Lotus or the TOI Lotus Flower then the similarities are pretty much immediate. But make no mistake, this rich, luxury thick stick is a big step up on that scent and about as good as it gets, well worth putting out the extra money for. Like all thick sticks, they’re easily put out to relight for a different session. It’s just tremendously beautiful with an almost amber-vanilla-frangipani sort of scent that is lovely, warm, and gentle. Truly one of my 2021 favorites in either version, the quality of this incense during the burn is consistently striking.

Oudh Saffron [9/16/21 – Upon revisit I thought the differences between the Wood Spice and Oudh Saffron to be much more different than I originally noted down here. So I rewrote. – Mike] is a somewhat similar incense to Temple of Incense’s Wood Spice although for my nose it felt like the oudh is much more noticeable in the AB stick, in fact it’s more comparable to both lines’ Oudh (Masala). The TOI stick also does not list saffron and nor did I really notice it as much, but it’s certainly very noticeable in the AB Oudh Saffron. I would also say that the TOI Himalayan Spikenard is also fairly close when it comes to this sort of family of incenses. They are basically lightly dusted charcoal sticks with a tremendously rich, woody and spicy oil. I will say that all of the incenses in this family are the types of scents where you may notice the charcoal base more, as if some of the more hardy ingredients compliment it. But on the other hand the ingredients are still truly impressive and this is a whole area where some of the best uses of aloeswood in Indian are apparent. After spending some time with the White Lotus Oudh Saffron, while that is an incense on its own level, it will also make you appreciate just how great this blend is on its own.

The AB Patchouli Khus (aka Green Patchouli) and ToI Patchouli Woods are nearly exact matches. Unlike the previous two scents, as of writing this I do not have a review up for the ToI Patchouli Woods, but suffice it to say this patchouli/khus mix is one of the driest, least sweet and almost herbally dank and green patchoulis you will find on the market. Where so many patchouli incenses are sweetened up for western noses or resemble the sorts of patchouli oils you used to be able to smell at Grateful Dead shows, the oils in this seem to portray the most earthy aspects of the oil, the vegetable and sort of clay mix of both of these herbs. As such, even if you’ve tried other patchoulis, this is very likely to be different from anything you own. I was almost startled when I first tried the Patchouli Woods because the initial hit is so unique and not super user friendly, but over time as I acclimated to the scent, I found it as interesting as any other patchouli I’ve tried and probably one of the most authentic. If you want to learn this scent, this is well worth checking out in either version.

AB’s Red Blood Dragon is an almost exact match to ToI’s Dragon’s Blood, the latter an incense that also has not been reviewed yet here yet. Both have that incredibly fruity, red dusting on charcoal aroma that seems to be a lot more stylized than what you might think of with the classic dragon’s blood resin. As a charcoal, the fruity aroma is quite a bit more intense than it is in some of ToI’s more gentle fruit scents, but at the same time this is probably what you would call a very user friendly scent even to those who may not be familiar with the usual arsenal of incense aromas. And perhaps not surprisingly there’s some level of spice content, for example cinnamon, that probably help to bolster the incense’s redder and firier qualities in order to help provide a bit more reason behind the name. It should be said that there really is no other incense quite like this unless you go into dipped incenses and those aren’t nearly as likely to have as pleasant of a perfume mix on the stick. And so if you’re looking to expand your collection’s range this is a good stick to have, but do keep in mind this is the kind of aroma that can get a bit cloying in too high quantities. It’s very much almost like a berry or fruit punch sort of aroma, not unlikely say opening a pack of powdered Kool Aid.

Vedic Lavender is a very close match with TOI’s Lavender Supreme. This is another one of those cases where you have a particular ingredient whose natural oil distillations can vary a little bit depending on the batch. Language can be a little difficult to capture the differences when the general style of an incense is more or less the same. But essentially the lavender oil mixes in both the Vedic and Supreme are very pleasant to my nose, certainly a step ahead of cheaper lavenders that often smell more like what you would get in bad, synthetic air fresheners (the low end TOI stick and cone both fall into this category). A decent lavender mix has a nice bit of complexity to it and is a little warmer and less sickly sweet, with some hints of the actual herb itself. I would guess, of course, that your affinity for a stick like this comes entirely from whether you like actual lavender itself, which I definitely do when it’s right. The Vedic I think actually probably leans a little bit more to reminding you its an oil than the TOI does, but both have a nice sort of freshness to them that really don’t have any off notes. Nonetheless it’s likely this may remind you a little of air freshener or cleaner products anyway since lavender is used so commonly in them.

And finally the Vintage Jasmine is super close to the TOI Jasmine Blossom, although I would descibe the AB as being a wee bit fruitier and the TOI being a little bit more dry flower in comparison. But other than that they are virtually the same stick and it would not surprise me if it’s just because the AB is a bit fresher. But I am finding myself increasingly enjoying this style of masala, it kind of feels a bit like a jasmine infused champa to some extent (no halmaddi though, just the sweetness in the oil mix) and it presents the floral in a beautiful way, one of the best I’ve experienced in a stick to be honest. Outside of the way Mermade weaves in jasmine into loose incenses, this is about as pleasant a jasmine experience as exists.

Temple of Incense / Purple Rain, Radha, Sandalwood Extreme, Shakti

Temple of Incense Part 4
Temple of Incense Part 6
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Temple of Incense have such a large line of incenses that it feels like they come from different manufacturers in India or at least there are large variations in recipes. We’ve noted several occurrences where there is overlap with the manufacturers of Happy Hari incenses and yet Purple Rain and the Rose Absolute strike me more like Madhavadas family incenses. This provides for a great amount of variety, although from a reviewing perspective, especially after recent reviews on the Designs by Deekay and Happy Hari lines, it is easier to see that the tradition of western companies arranging for incense manufacturing from India and putting their own branding on it can end up being somewhat blurry. A lot of what we learn tends to be from analyzing various incenses that seem the same from brand to brand. We will note similarities in recipes, but may not always have the objective stance to do anything other than guess what lineage an incense comes from.

Madhavadas family incenses often tend to be dry masalas with a very similar base so whether you’re buying Primo or Pure Incense (or maybe Triloka or Ganesha etc), you will start to become quickly familiar with it. The issue with this base is it can be fatiguing in large quantities because it imparts such a similar scent to all of their incenses that they often smell similar even when the note changes. On the other hand this becomes less of an issue when the perfumes are finer. In a line like Temple of Incense, Madhavadas-style masalas are a bit more infrequent but they do occasionally pop up. With an ingredient listing of champa flower and blue lotus, Purple Rain is perhaps not surprising in that it is reminiscent of the Pure Incense Blue Lotus or maybe earlier Triloka lotus incenses, although it is not exactly the same. The champa flower oil seems to make this one quite a bit sweeter than the lotus on its own. It is an intensely floral incense but fortunately without any real off notes. I would guess this one could be easily cloying in larger quantities so it seems best used as an occasional. I do smell a bit of that base Madhavadhas like masala scent but the stick is thin enough to not overpower the perfume.

Radha is one of Temple of Incense’s several rose-fronted incenses and it lists Rose de Mai, Rose Wardia and Rose Absolute, so it’s absolutely no surprise that the Forest Fruits at the end get a bit lost in all that floral wallop even if the obvious intent was to make this a fruitier floral blend. This is a very gorgeous, full-rounded rose charcoal incense, and it feels like the fruitiness gives this a bit more of a cherry or berry-like sub-element, but even with all these strong floral perfumes, part of the base seems slightly more akin to some of the more attar-like elements found in other TOI incenses. I’ve probably gone on record on ORS that I don’t tend to lean to florals as often, but this is the kind of incense that could change my mind on that. I work (or maybe used to work) across from the California State Capitol Park Rose Garden so I have a pretty good idea of what it smells like walking through a garden of them, and while this isn’t exactly going for that kind of thing, it still has enough rose in it to feel pretty authentic. It’s very impressive, very beautiful and an absolute must.

And now we get back to the incense I spoke of in our first installment, the great Sandalwood Extreme that made me absolutely certain I was in a spectacular line of incenses. I will say it again or maybe just for the first time but there is no western Indian incense importer I know of doing better sandalwood incenses than Temple of Incense and it’s not just this one, which is the best of the three, but the other two (Sandalwood and Banaras Sandalwood) are nearly as brilliant (and much more affordable). The only way I can describe in words why these are better is because of the resolution of the oils, they have that “something else” that rises above the merely woody and demonstrates why distillation can often bring qualities out of of the wood that even high quality sandalwood on its own can’t. This is the ultimate sandalwood punch and even its charcoal format can’t get in the way of what a knock out this is, in fact this is one of the rare cases where the oils mask the undesirable elements of a charcoal nearly perfectly. Even the old Shroff sandalwood charcoal doesn’t have this kind of feeling of nostalgia, it just brought me immediately back to a time where I was just discovering incense. Mind you you’re only getting 12 sticks for maybe the highest price in the stick line, but it’s well worth it. Of course you’re not losing much at all going for one of the line’s other sandalwoods (and more of that in later installments). [9/10/21 NOTE: There is a near-equivalent at Absolute Bliss called Natural Mysore Sandal.]

Finally we get to the third of TOI’s thick baton style wonders, the stupendously purple floral Shakti. Rose, halmaddi and exquisite oils indeed. Just like Shiv and Ganesha this is candy-coated floral champa-like goodness at its very best. It sheds purple dust everywhere and is an incense so good I get mild anxiety over losing even a little bit of it. Honestly I think all of these thick sticks are really something of the same family, they all have an internal champa-like sweetness but vary in the floral profile. The rose here isn’t like quite as noticeable as it is in the, say Radha above or the line’s Indian Rose, but it mixes in with a whole scent profile that is tremendously pleasant. I sense some fruit in the mix, a bit of vanilla and a whole sort of floral range (violet? carnation? champa flower?) that would keep me busy for days. If you’re a traditional incense fan, moderns aren’t usually along the same lines but this is the kind of modern incense I can really get behind. Like the Shiv it’s almost akin to the old Dhuni Frangipani scent, an incense that nearly broke my heart when it vanished so maybe now is a good time to stock up. It is a sweet, sugary incense confection.

Anyway we will be taking a little longer of a break on the regular series of Temple of Incense line and of course coming back to them at some point in coming weeks. I believe Stephen will be jumping in as well. But hopefully the last five articles will have given everyone a head start into such a fantastic Indian incense line and these are by no means the end of the really great ones so there will be more to come. Please show this family your support and enjoy the many treasures they have to offer – this is the real deal.

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