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.


El Incenses and Fragrances / Capture, Sunflora

You’d have to go back about 10 years in the ORS archives to find an article I wrote called Floras and Fluxos. I was not only reminded of this in receiving very generous samples from this new Indian incense company, but the night before I wrote this I was burning Temple of Incense’s Krishna and thinking wow this smells like a flora too. I like these convergences in my incense use patterning because it helps me focus down on what I want to say. We talk a great deal about charcoals and masalas and champas when we discuss Indian incense here but floras are really something of their own category. Perhaps the most famous of all of these, at least in the West, is the ubiquitous Sai Flora. I originally came across incenses like this in other catalogs where they were called Golden Nag Champas, well before I saw any actual Nag Champa with gold flakes on it.

Floras are incredibly brash, highly perfumed and loud incenses usually. They have so many ingredients in them that talking about any in specifics can be a little difficult. They are powerful ways of fragrancing ones space. Most of them have a bit of an earthier element and I see patchouli in the ingredients in both of these two (curently of four) El Incenses. I think it’s important to note some of the bottom end because the mix of perfumes and florals is something of the oppposite to that earthy low end. One thing I did notice about both of the El incenses is that they’re a bit warmer than most floras, they’re a bit more akin to something like a good amber masala, that is the not the red colored ones, but the more champa-like tan colored incenses. I think having this kind of warm base in both of these incenses helps to tone down the harsher elements found in other floras.

So there is some level of difficulty in talking about the perfume oils on top of both Capture and Sunflora, not only because they are a conglomerate of different sources but because they differ in both incenses. One thing I do like about both of them is they remind me a lot of some of my initial experiences buying incenses at Cost Plus when I was a teenager and what it smelled like to wander into that section and smell something exotic. That is there are some perfumes in the mix here that you don’t tend to find pitched at the Western market and that is refreshing, especially when you are looking at something different. We actually get a reasonably good description of the ingredients too (they are the same in both scents): spices, herbal oils, essential oils, sandal oil, patchouli oil, resinoids, bamboo sticks, coconut and sawdust sourced from the forests of South India.

It feels to me that the incenses are both similar in all the initial make up, so how do we describe one apart from the other when the top scent is so complex? For sure in Capture, we are talking about a more floral-dominant mix, but it’s not one that is masking the sandalwood, amber and patchouli of the base. I’m reminded of a lot of different floral blends from previous use, not only rose but Night Queen, Mogra, Shroff’s Amber Flora or Sugandhi Bathi. Like with Sai Flora you can definitely sense resinous materials in the mix, it’s an element that tends to give floras a sort of sparkly or crystalline middle to them that is much rarer in champas. Sunflora is not dissimilar but there isn’t as high a concentration of the floral top note which seems to highlight the base and the spices much more. To me this shift kind of highlights the amber-ish base and leads to an even warmer scent than the Capture. The thing about floras overall is they are meant to have a lot going on them and both of these really do. They are usually some of the strongest incenses on the planet, so in comparison to others El’s versions are a bit more restrained, which is a nice take.

In spending some time with these incenses I was sort of tackling how to explain the perfume notes in these because the same element that reminds me of encountering Indian incenses in Cost Plus is a note that feels something like the way florals do in soap. It’s not overwhelming and you smell it more on the fresh stick than during the burn, and it really does have an exotic feel that pushes these a little more in the unfamiliar direction, which is something I welcome. But it’s a note that often tends to show up in more inexpensive floral mixes (it’s a bit more apparent in the Capture as that one feels more intentionally floral) and had it been turned up even a fraction more it would likely be too distracting. I will note here that while these incenses are not currently imported to the US, the price at El looks like a bit under $3 for a 50g box. Should that hold in the US that’s a good deal for incense at this quality level and both of these feel different enough from not only other incenses, but other floras, to be worth checking out. I am hoping to see El expand their line and flourish as a new business.

Shoyeido / Horin Series / Shirakawa

Shoyeido’s Horin series has been a long time favorite of many here at ORS and has some real winners in its line up. Recently Shoyeido brought out a new member of the series called Shirakawa, which apparently is named after the White River Valley in Japan.

If you like Hori-kawa’s (River Path) amber scent then this will  be right up your ally as it also has a big amber based scent, along with the addition of a vanilla and slight coconut note across the top. There is a sweet quality to the over all profile and it reminds me a bit of a perfume called “Pink Sugar”.

Like Hori-kawa, it is very strong; even a quarter of a stick will pretty well fill up a 12 X 12 room. This incense relies heavily on oils and perfume influences and while I think there might be some sandalwood in the base it is pretty hard to tell. I did notice that this seemed to be better as a first stick of a burning session, although burning anything after this is going to require a wait. This incense would be great for scenting large areas like gallery’s or showrooms.

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.

Nikhil / Coconut Champa, Musk Champa, Patchouli Champa (Discontinued Line)

[This line appears to be discontinued – Mike, 6/18/21]

Apple Champa, Banana Champa, Cherry Champa

This is the second segment of three, covering Nikhil’s dipped Nag Champas, all of which are only available in large 100g batches, which cost approximately $7 each. While we’re not given much information at all on the ingredients involved in these incenses, I’d easily guess that the company takes their general Nag Champa incense and dips them liberally in oil, and probably synthetic oils in most cases.

The reasoning for this is that in some of the cases across the line, there are no natural oils for the particular scent, meaning they had to be created in some way, and while this can be done by mixing natural oils, there are some, two in this installment, that have the hallmarks of synthetic oils such as a lack of depth and only an approximation of the scent. Now I wouldn’t take that to mean they’re unpleasant, as they also lack one of the prime indicators of synthetic oils, they don’t seem to be, at least in normal use, headache inducing. The champa base also seems to be reasonably good, although having tried some of this line about eight years ago, I would add that they’re definitely not as good as they used to be, probably due to the usual halmaddi shortages.

Nikhil’s Coconut Champa is the first of the two that probably used a synthetic or approximate oil for the dipping. For one thing, the smell of fresh coconut has an appealing dryness that is often lost when used in lotions and oils, which seem to accentuate the scent’s closeness to vanilla. Using an oil and a champa strengthens this association twofold, the former resembling vanilla extract and the latter a common part of the base. The combination of the two evinces perhaps too strong an oil content in that later in the burn one notices oily and even citrus like aspects to the scent that while not terribly unpleasant unveil the incense as not being as authentic as one might like. The thing is, of course, there’s really no perfect version of such an incense to compare it too and quite frankly I’ve rarely seen coconut work in any incense and can’t think of one better than this. But I can’t wait for the day I try one that gets the scent of shredded coconut right.

The Musk Champa ends up with some similarities to the Coconut in that it has the same issues with the oil, it seems a little too strong overall with the same, possibly synthetic, extract or citrus-like issues later in the burn. Of course with anything musk related there is no particular standard of scent and indeed with this one, it’s the almost typical dusky, slightly spicy and sweet herbal musk tones that show up rather than anything powerful or memorable. Indeed I remember this one being much more successful in times past and I’d wager that part of the issue is the champa base doesn’t give it the depth it used to have. Blue Pearl’s version of the same scent is a much better example of how it can be done.

Patchouli Champa is the most successful incense of the three which is not particularly surprising when you add up the costs of natural patchouli oil, inexpensive with no real need to use synthetic oils. And sure enough the extract-like issues with the Coconut and Musk are totally absent here leaving a much drier and pleasant incense. Unfortunately, however, it also fails via comparison in that Patchouli durbars found in lines like Mystic Temple or Incense from India are far more successful, with the earthier and leafy tones giving the scent some definition. Here there’s only the lightest touch of the oil, more or less what you might pick up at a local Phish show, and it implies that if the oil isn’t synthetic it’s definitely not a premium oil like, say, Fred Soll uses. But at least it’s an affordable bulk incense.

Eventually up, the final trio which includes Pineapple, Strawberry and Vanilla..