Mother’s India Fragrances / Arjava, Hansa, Lavanya, Om, Purusha, Sattwa, Yajna

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

Since the last installment on the newly released Mother’s Fragrances Nagchampa incenses, the company kindly sent me what I’m dubbing the “Nag Champa Construction Set,” which is a series of ingredients that go into making their fantastic bases. One thing I learned fairly early about incense is that information from the east on these treasures has actually been remarkably sparse and so I’m extremely thankful to have received a further education from the creators. Not only has the set helped to show me where the sandalwood works into the base, but in particular having a sample of halmaddi resin has really helped to narrow down just where this works into these incenses. And overall my already high respect for the creator of these incenses has grown when I consider what the base smells like compared to the finished product. These are just works of art on every level.

So I wanted to say a few words about halmaddi resin before getting to the “back seven” nagchampas (10/8/21 – This link goes directly to US distributor Mere Cie Deux now; however, there are no specific pages for each aroma). This ingredient is particularly interesting in that the actually fresh smell of the resin itself (almost like a combination of chocolate and turpentine elements) is completely different from the smell while it’s burning, which is floral (likely that element similar to the champaka flower), slightly bitter and very balsamic. Not only is this obvious from the resin, but also from the base stick. Even on its own this a pleasant scent but what struck me is how much of a chameleon halmaddi must be since the oils that go into the incense change the nature of the relationship. Also, the Mother’s bases, while soft, aren’t gooey like the resin or many of the incenses I used to burn 15 years ago and as I intuit from the oils, there’s a really impressive level of balance and restraint here.

I wouldn’t have even recognized the base stick in the Arjava Nagchampa, which is the first of four incenses in this group that was not part of the original 12 incense sampler I received months ago. If there is a slight wildness to the halmaddi, you wouldn’t find it in this incense, which has a level of gentleness that is quite surprising. Where the descriptions of many of the other incenses list as many as 5 or 6 ingredients, there is only one specific listed here: rose. It’s interesting in that this is one of the new 14 that really stands out as being quite different, there’s an unusual herbal note at the top that is quite exotic and unique. The central scent is almost akin to some of the herbal-rose combinations found elsewhere and this all lies on a wood level that has been turned up a notch, while remaining pillowy soft. While it could be said that this is another wonderful contrast of spice and floral elements, the results aren’t quite so piquant as they are in the other scents, leading to a very sublime finish. Particularly because when I burn this I feel like I’m always trying to reach a description of the end, one that’s essentially elusive and mysterious. Like all great incenses the final notes end up as part of one’s memories.

Hansa Nagchampa is similar to the Arjava only in that it also has a fairly noticeable woodiness in the mix, but essentially this is a scent that returns to the floral/spice mix of many of these incenses. A lot of the main players in the whole line are in this one, including kewra, vetivert and lavender, but as always the addition of other ingredients modify the aromatic contour substantially. In fact, of the entire line this is perhaps the incense I find the most difficult to describe as the ingredient combos seem familiar, but the overall scent has been changed enough to be completely unique. Perhaps part of this is the golden champa scent in what I’d describe as the fourth fifth from top to bottom.  The amber here isn’t as strong as it is in the Om Nagchampa but it definitely flirts with the attention around all the floral notes and in many ways actually accentuates these notes so one feels that the florals are dominant to the spice mix in the background. And overall it’s the Kewra and Lavender that make, incrementally, the boldest statements in the mix. But in the end it’s puzzling because perhaps the best word to describe this incense is kaleidoscopic, because at any different time it’s possible to see new interactions among the ingredients. Which means in the end any static description won’t do this justice, as the base and the vetivert that tie it all together are really the only constants.

Lavanya Nagchampa really clicked with me after a couple sticks when it became obvious that the central part of the incense is very evergreen and spicy. I’ve discussed some of the incenses that contrast florals with a spice that could be roughly described in the cinnamon/clove/hot area, but this seems to get part of its spice from the use of resins as well as cedar, so that the spice note feels more green than red. Users of resin blends may have come across those that are resonantly foresty and that would be the comparison here. But it’s only a beginning and a platform because what dances on top is the jasmine and ylang ylang, and like the Arjava the results are just so delicate. It constantly strikes me that among Indian incenses, many of which can be incredibly strong and aromatic, that these are among the most refined and gentle, something only a master perfumer could gauge so perfectly. In the end it’s almost as if your aromatic senses try to convince you of its floral nature as the bewitching, rich evergreen and liqueur like background bubbles underneath, creating an almost yin/yang like paradox.

In fact as you use these incenses it’s really hard to separate one masterpiece from another, but there’s something in the Om Nagchampa that has made it my fastest used incense in the whole line, I literally have trouble trying to keep from burning my stock up in a couple days. It basically presents a triangle of amber, vanilla and cassia that is simply breathtaking and close to my sense of aromatic nirvana. My idea of the perfect incense is something that manages to be dry and rich at the same time, hinting at sweetness without being cloying. The cassia in this incense is just so perfectly placed that it’s a sheer delight and the amber notes are virtually flawless. As this scent burns it becomes so sublime by the end of the stick that it manages to represent the concept of Om in a way that might evoke ain ineffable response in the user. In fact it’s even difficult to want to burn another incense after this as it leaves such a powerful energy in the air after the last elements go up in smoke. By a long shot my top incense of August and it could be a reigning favorite for a while now.

Purusha Nagchampa is another of the dominantly lavender incenses in the line, which follows the absolute success of the Ganesh Nagchampa. Mother’s uses a number of different lavenders, however, and in this case we’re seeing an English lavender at the front, a note that is probably the most dominant lavender scent in any of these incenses. But while sitting on the top, the ingredients from the base up do a lot to modify the scent. For one thing this is one of the few, if not the only incense that has a sage note, an ingredient that seems to be far more common in American incenses (specifically southeast or Native American blends). Here it’s used to modify the lavender, and the results seem to bring out some of the wilder, herbier elements the two ingredients have in common. I’m not as familiar with orris, but I suspect this has a great deal to do with the more unfamiliar middle subscents that help to give this incense its individual personality. Closer to the base, the patchouli blends with the balsamic nature of the halmaddi to help make sure the top notes don’t go overboard. In the end this is definitely on the sweeter side of the Mother’s range, but it’s got just that touch of wildness to rein it all in.

Sandalwood is a main ingredient in all these incenses but it perhaps makes its presence most known in the Sattwa Nagchampa. With kewra, lavender tuberose and vetivert in the mix, this is definitely something of a cousin to the Atma and Hansa blends, if you can imagine the biggest change to be an increase in the amount of woodiness used. The vetivert here also seems to be turned up enough to give the scent a pleasant and sharp subnote and adding this to the woods and halmaddi base helps to balance the florals without reducing the richness of the scent. Overall this is a very pretty incense with a lot of activity in the mix and it’s among the bolder scents in the line. And like its cousins, the mix seems gauged to reveal its complexity slowly over time, something a review really can’t account for without an excessively lengthy preparation period.

Continuing a number of incenses with a strong lavender element is the spicy Yajna Nagchampa. However, if some of the Mother’s scents tilt more to a floral side, this is a decidedly spicy incense with woody notes, nagarmotha oil, patchouli and oakmoss all combining to imply a spice that also reminds me of cinnamon toast. This is also a very woody incense, however the type of wood scent it reminds me most of is akin (but far superior to) Satya’s Patchouli Forest scent, with that sense of crystalline, green resin that that incense evokes. Not only is the Yajna spicy, but it’s also devilishly complex in that there seems to be a lot of elements that make up this level of the incense. The oak moss is particularly noticeable here, almost more than a subnote at times, and with the patchouli it grounds the scent as something far more earthy the fire-like. In the end as you notice all this spicy, grounded activity it makes the presence of the lavender on top such a surprise and delight.

I’ll have to admit nearly every incense in this line is at a level of intricacy that they’re very hard to do justice to in words. So many of them are like a puzzle, because I feel that in a lot of other incense lines you wouldn’t expect some of these ingredients to work together like they do and in the end appraising them is like looking at a beautiful painting and switching between the singular elements and the composite final work. I may have mentioned strongly how much I love the Om, but over time I have no doubt that I’ll switch from favorite to favorite because in the case of complex aromas like found in the Hansa or Yajna, you get the feeling that it will take at least 10 sticks to feel that you’ve got a full grip on what’s going on here. And in the end I think this is the real joy in the use of incense, that what you have has the potential to continue to surprise and elate you as changing circumstances provide the varying viewpoints to smell new facets of complex bouquets. Because in the end with this line of Mother’s Nagchampas, all 19 exquisite treasures, you have some of the finest incenses available, particularly at an affordability that is quite astonishing. And please do check out the previous article for buying options, as I suspect in less than a month’s time they should be widely available to most of our readers.

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Prabhuji’s Gifts / Devotion Line / Bhagavan, Krishna, Lalita, Radha, Rasa Lila

Ramakrishnanda Part 1
Ramakrishnanda Part 2
Ramakrishnanda Part 3

Since Ramakrishnanda (NOTE 10/8/21: Ramakrishnanda refers to the previous name of the line, which is now Prabhuji Gift’s Devotion line) released their first 15 incense blends a few years ago as well as three different sampler packs, they’ve not stopped there, trickling out a few other new blends that as of yet do not have an associated sampler pack. This review covers the five newest blends as of the current date which include one new premium Agarwood stick that costs about a dollar more than the usual 10 stick packages. The rest of the newer incenses follow in the durbar or flora styles used by the company and continue their experimentation with different ingredient combinations. As always the results are always unusual and intriguing, if not always successful.

Bhagavan is a durbar that combines patchouli and vetivert, given the listed concoction, however this is actually a stick that doesn’t particularly evoke either ingredient so much. In many ways this is an alternative to the types of flora incenses found under the name Golden Champa such as Sai Flora itself, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and several others, although in this case the stick isn’t quite as hefty. Any noticeable patchouli qualities seem to be lost in the mix or at least the oilier aspects of the scent are submerged, what’s left is more reminiscent of the brighter, foresty type of scent one might associate with Shrinivas’ Patchouli Forest blend. The Vetivert is less submerged but still floats more as a background note, and it’s difficult not to wish both aspects were cranked up a bit more. As both scents evoke sort of an earthy type of scent, I was surprised to find the earthiness mostly existed as part of the drier finish. However if one just forgets about trying to match up what their smelling with the ingredients on the package, you’ll still find this a very pleasant incense, particularly if you’re fond of any of the flora types mentioned earlier.

Krishna is a champa type incense that’s something of  a variation on Ramakrishnanda’s own Narasingha Dev. The ingredients given are vetivert, cedarwood and halmadi, but the strongest element seems to be the sweet gum like center, the aspect it has most in common with Narasingha Dev which opens the question whether that incense also has halmadi (which could be implicit in the champa part of its ingredients). It certainly has the strong vanilla aroma halmadi tends to bring with it, but again whatever vetivert is being used here doesn’t seem to overwhelm the incense as if it’s just being used as a note. The cedarwood, as well, isn’t as strong as it tends to be in Indian masalas but likely strengthens the forest like gum scents of the incense’s center. The entirety is a bit of a mix up, not as successful as Narasingha Dev, as if there’s just a bit too much going on and too many contrary scents cancelling each other out.

Lalita is a very pleasant sandalwood and musk incense with an incredibly attractive sandalwood oil at the center of the stick. As this is one of the newer Ramakrishnanda blends, it begs the question if some of the older packages are perhaps losing a bit of steam in terms of oil quality, as the scent here is very powerful and terribly attractive. It’s true one can detect a very nice topping of musk as a faint note with the incense, but it’s only a side note on what is a great sandalwood champa incense with an oil that’s pitched about perfect. Not a complex incense, but a very nice one, if there’s any other side notes it would be a touch of vanilla and maybe a bit of spice that reminds me of Indian masalas with chandan in the title.

Radha‘s ingredients are given as patchouli, cardamom and rose and had I not seen cardamom in the list I might have compared the interesting spice note in this incense to anise. The rose I’m not sure I detected at all, and given the track record with patchouli in this line, I’d say the company is using less of the obvious patchouli oil and perhaps more of the herb, because it never strikes you as overt. I’m left with the impression of a champa with quite a bit of sandalwood and benzoin in it with the vanilla touches not blending terribly well with the cardamom. There even appear to be some bitter or sour notes in the mix which are uncommon to Ramakrishnanda incenses which are usually always at least pleasant. One might chalk this up to an experiment that didn’t work so well, or perhaps by the time a packet was in my hand, the oils had faded considerably.

Which brings me to the last and newest of the Ramakrishnanda line, the powerfully scented agarwood incense Rasa Lila. Again one wonders at the level of oil dissipation (particularly when all of these incenses seem to be packaged very well) as in this case the oil levels are eye-stingingly powerful, although with an increased, premium price (as well as a gold sticker on the front setting it apart) perhaps we’re getting a bit more for the money. It’s a  rather thick durbar style whose primary scent is less the wood than the heavy citrus/orange/lemon that gives the aroma an almost furniture polish-like aroma in all the best senses. The agarwood/oud oil then floats as a background note behind this giving it all a nice three dimensional presence, taking the place that sandalwood tends to hold in most of the line’s incenses. It would be too much if it wasn’t for its resounding natural qualities which help to give this a very fresh and cleansing solar quality to it. It’s not at all like, say the Agarwood incenses found in the Mystic Temple line or the Absolute or Connoisseur versions in the Pure-Incense line, it really does have a unique and interesting quality all of its own. I’d probably chalk this one up as one of Ramakrishnanda’s more successful experiments.

Ramakrishnanda then has a total of 20 different blends to date and no doubt we’ll see more in the future. They also have a series of resin blends that I have not yet decided to spring for that may be of some interest to heater or charcoal burner lovers. Overall they’re a quality company with a lot of interesting scents, perhaps not at the apex of the art, but growing closer in that direction (I’d certainly like to see more in the way of premium scents). Perhaps the major downside is that they only seem to commonly retail 10 stick packages which means if you like any particular aroma you’re almost due for a restock as soon as you open a package. And I don’t doubt you’ll find at least one or two new favorites among the 20 scents they carry.