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.

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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.

Dhuni / Citronella, Hari Om, Kashi, Khus, Lotus Flower, Moksha, Nag Champa, Special Amber (Discontinued Line)

New incense company Dhuni came to our attention a while back thanks to our friend Hamid and then not long after the owner Piers dropped by Olfactory Rescue Service and kindly sent some samples along. What was immediately clear is that this series of incenses is one of the few lines in Indian incense one might consider connoisseur or gourmet. Like with the Mother’s India Fragrances line we recently covered, most of the Dhuni incenses have a distinct halmaddi presence, although I don’t detect so much the honey pairing as not all of these scents are sweet.

The sticks are generally a bit larger than your usual champa or durbar style and both Kashi and especially the Special Amber are almost what I’d call flora style and even evince some of the wonderful aromatic attributes of those incenses. These are all extremely rich and quality scents and I have the distinct wish, like I did when Mother’s used to only have five fragrances, that there are plans to expand this line. Like that venerable company, Dhuni’s incenses are virtually at the apex of quality Indian incenses and are essential for those who love good champas.

Citronella could almost be classified as a lemongrass champa, with the citronella oil content combining about equally with the halmaddi and base. It’s a very cooling incense with few surprises, after all citronella oil tends to have a very linear profile. What’s immediately noticeable is there’s enough halmaddi in the mix to feature a very strong balsamic back note. I’ll admit, I’m not personally huge for citronella incenses, but my experiences have almost all been with oil based charcoals and Dhuni’s version is far superior to any of these with a much better balance of base and oils. In the end it might be the finest citronella incense you can buy.

Hari Om is the first of Dhuni’s classics and the first of several here that remind me of the glory days of halmaddi champa incense. Like several of the blends here there are usually so many ingredients involved that it’s really difficult to get a sense of the single elements involved. With Hari Om the halmaddi and sandalwood are particularly noticeable here and there’s also a nice tough of vanilla in the mix reminiscent of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa. But this vanilla element takes a much different direction due to so many of the herbal elements coming from the oil mix, including what seems like a light touch of patchouli in the mix. In the end this has a scent profile much more complex than a few sticks might be able to imply meaning this should have a long and interesting learning curve.

Kashi is very much a thick stick version of a scent you may be familiar with as Honey Dust (Incense from India), Vanilla (Mystic Temple), Satya Natural or Shanti (Purelands), but this is much more like what the aroma used to smell like before Indian incense went through so many ingredient changes. It’s quite a bit more complex and now it’s pretty easy to see how the halmaddi lifts the whole thing, most likely because the balsamic elements help to make sure this doesn’t get overly cloying. This evergreenish quality, like in the Citronella, helps to make this a cooling sort of incense. It still has the honey and vanilla characteristics typical of the scent but the whole profile feels much more balanced and friendly. If you’ve never tried any of the incenses mentioned as similar, be sure to start with this one and don’t look back.

Vetivert isn’t generally a scent you’ll find in an incense range this small, but Dhuni’s Khus embeds this wonderful scent in a champa for startling effect, in fact this could be my favorite of the whole group. I’ve already mentioned that both Citronella and Kashi are cooling, but the Khus brings that element to an almost arctic level. Naturally this has a green, leafy and calming vetivert note on top that’s really beautiful and it melds absolutely perfectly here with the ubiquitous balsamic halmaddi content. It’s a very grounding incense and truly one of the market’s finest vetiverts, although I suppose half of the battle is won with such a great base. There’s even a very slight note that is reminiscent of forest resin blends.

Lotus Flower is a very different incense and like almost every Lotus incense you can name, this is completely unique. It’s a soft floral-fronted champa incense whose base seems to be fairly similar to the Kashi. In general it’s soft, sweet and friendly and if there’s any criticism to be had it’s that over the burn there’s perhaps too much linearity which leads me to believe it’s a stick best taken in smaller doses. This is a fairly common issue with floral champas, although again, the ingredients here are so quality that it’s probably only an issue of taste.

Moksha isn’t terribly different from the Lotus Flower in that it also has a floral top note that’s simialr, but this incense isn’t quite so linear and is a little more intricate. There’s a touch of citrus in the mix as well as some herbal qualities that are difficult to identify but which help to ensure this has something of a wilder streak in it. The sandalwood content also seems to be a bit stronger here than in the other line’s incenses. It’s perhaps a little too close to Lotus Flower to be in such a small line, but I’d have to pick this one between the two as it’s a lot more interesting.

If I was to recommend one of the many “vanilla” nag champas on the market, it would have to be this one as it’s easily the most authentic Nag Champa I’ve come across in the modern age, even more so than Shantimalai’s red box version, which is perhaps this scent’s closest equivalent. No doubt this is due to the halmaddi content in the mix, which if it isn’t high enough to make this gooey like in the old days is certainly high enough to give the scent the balsalmic backdrop it needs. Overall this is a nag champa that tends to a much drier and less overtly sweet bouquet with a distinct sandalwood strength to help bring out its richness. This one’s essential.

Special Amber is Dhuni’s thickest stick and it packs an incredibly scent wallop like most sticks of its sizes. This is really unlike any amber you’ll ever try and even though a lot of the incense is apparently created from ground up amber resin, the scent also seems to have a powerful perfume oil on top to give it some similar qualities to incenses I used to see referred to as Triple Amber, in that these qualities tend to come from three different angles for something exquisitely deluxe. In fact of all of Dhuni’s scents this could be the most intricate, even after several samples I only felt like I was surveying the surface of what is obviously an incredibly deluxe amber.

The verdict is more or less simple, this is a company that Indian incense shoppers will need to add right next to their Mothers, Shroff, and Pure Incense lists. I really can’t wait to see this company expand the line to more scents as this is an audacious start. And for US customers, you can also now find these at Essence of the Ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nippon Kodo / Ka-Fuh / Hinoki + Naturense / Inspired Mind

Aside from the kyara ladder which Ross reviewed in part a little while back, I’m probably not the biggest appreciator nor perhaps the true end user of Nippon Kodo product. Even their aloeswood incenses strike me as weaker than just about every other Japanese company and their moderns can often be bitter and very synthetic smelling. This latter observation could be a good reason why they tend to have a lot of affordable incense lines, but I’d prefer to shell out for quality in just about every case. Of course with every rule there are exceptions.

I’m setting this up because except for their premium incenses, I’ve not bought a Nippon Kodo incense in a very long time and probably don’t see myself doing so in the future, even to complete the two lines that I’m going to be featuring one incense each from in this post. But fortunately, I think I’ll be able to post this “odd and end” review on a high note as these are two of NK’s more pleasant scents.

I’m also not really the end user for smokeless lines. I’ve tried one other Ka Fuh scent, the Aqua, which I more or less reviewed in its smoke version in the New Morningstar line a while back. It’s a apparently a popular incense, but not really my style, even in its smoky version it’s a bit light and unimpressive, perhaps incense for those who find most incense offputting. The Hinoki (Cypress) blend on the other hand is actually quite good, in fact I’ve found myself enjoying it more with every stick. For one thing, I think Cypress tends to be a lighter, evergreen sort of scent so it works well in smokeless form, in fact the best Hinoki incense, Baieido’s version, is also low smoke. It’s a scent kind of hard to pick up if you’re not close to the burn but very pleasant when you pick it up. In comparison to the Baieido, the Ka Fuh version could possibly be slightly more synthetic but it really doesn’t come off that way overall, in fact it may just be slightly sweeter. Overall it’s difficult to say more, it smells like cypress without much of anything else and while I’d say start with a roll of Baieido Hinoki if you can afford it, this is much cheaper and only barely inferior. Unlike so many Morningstar scents, this seems to have some authenticity to it.

A company says a lot about the contents of their line when they set two aside as being natural incenses, it’s almost as if it explicitly casts the rest of their lines as being at least in part synthetic. The Naturense line is one of the two lines Nippon Kodo have labelled as natural, the other being NK Pure. Based on Inspired Mind, a lemongrass and orange scent, as well as the comparable but higher end Kohden line, Naturense seems to be an essential oil mix on wood base blend that bears a whiff of base as much as the oils, even in an oil blend as strongly scented as lemongrass and orange. It does indeed smell natural, not far from a mix of a standard inexpensive sandalwood incense and what you’d smell if you combined lemongrass and orange essential oils together. The lemongrass is dominant like it always is, but the orange does come through, lessing the pungency of the overall scent, probably a smart move. If you’re like me, you won’t need more than the occasional lemongrass incense every so often to mix things up and Inspired Mind does fit the bill as far as this is concerned.

So I think that wraps up almost every NK incense I own, apart from a Morning Star Gold sampler, a range which could be the posterchild for why the cheaper end of Japanese incense isn’t always a good idea and one that might take some time to build up the urge to comment on. On the other hand it won’t be long before I can resist a box of Tokusen Kyara Taikan.