Prabhuji’s Gifts / Chakra Series / Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara

The Western tendency to create correspondences with Eastern spiritual systems seems largely a side effect of systems like the Golden Dawn where everything from colors to astrology signs to elements to Hebrew letters to tarot cards were lined up with one another to link things up and create one sort of universal spiritual system. This has long permeated new age culture and you can see it here in this seven incense chakra line where all the packages have different colors and so forth and the scents have been created to match up with each chakra, as if working with chakras was a simple as burning incenses and holding the right crystal. But hey, marketing right? (There’s a new Facebook ad equating using their groups as a method for transcendence that is currently annoying me, but I digress.) For sure the packages are quite nice on these, and if we can reference the many gems of the Ramakrishnanda incense line (scroll a bit down after this review), then I was hoping there would be treasures to be found in these as well, as Prabhuji’s Gifts has created a lot of memorable and inexpensive incenses that have become favorites of mine. They have such a wide variety of scents and lines now that there should nearly be something for everyone. So anyway let’s start from the root chakra and bring the energy up, or at least see if these smell good.

The Muladhara Chakra incense lists sandalwood, khus, patchouli and clove. This looks to be of Bangalore pedigree with a heavily dusted, somewhat hybridized masala with charcoal, very similar to what you’ll find with Satya incenses. However, like most of the Prabhuji Gifts line the perfumes tend to be better. I think the idea here is that earthier herbs like patchouli and khus are meant to be grounding, but the mix of all four of these ingredients really tends to blend those types of earthier elements out. You end up with a sort of budget quality woodiness from the sandalwood with a bit of a cooling vibe, not at all what I’d expect from the “cover.” As the incense burns you realize it’s going for a sort of mild stabilizing effect and that you do get the clove and patchouli as milder notes in the background and so overall this is pleasant if not quite exciting. But that may very well be the point.

Svadhisthana Chakra is all about the sacral (aka tummy) chakra. It has a similar style to the Muladhara, but is perhaps a bit softer. The list here is vanilla, rose and vetiver. I’m always a bit skeptical of incenses with rose notes at this sort of inexpensive price range and the one here seems a bit odd in the mix. The company also tags this chakra with the water element where something like jasmine seems a better fit and it’s kind of odd to see something like vetivert here as well. So it’s a bit of an odd duck. Like most of these incenses there’s also an inherent woodiness to it that isn’t listed and you can certainly smell the vanilla, although it leans a bit to the less sweet. I can’t really identify anything too unpleasant or odd about the notes, but the mix of them doesn’t sit particularly comfortably for me. It ends up being close to a lot of incenses you find at this range where the perfumes didn’t quite make it.

So, up to the solar plexus level with the Manipura Chakra, this time with a more simple blend of lavender and sandalwood. The consistency here brings it back more in line with the Muladhara. The simplicity makes this a much more satisfying incense. It’s interesting after sampling the lavenders in the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense axis to sample this as the sandalwood presence gives this a much different feel that those, perhaps less obviously lavender but still soft and pleasant enough to not be offputting like in the Lavender Fields variant. It’s more that it just sort of moves the sandalwood over into a more pleasantly general floral range. So it ends up being probably the best incense in this line. But again I find this interesting on a correspondence level because lavender more often tends to be thought of as air element here and because of that it doesn’t feel like it matches with the fire correspondence listed in the back. For fire you’d likely want something spicier like cinnamon in the mix.

Anahata Chakra at least keeps the rose (and maybe geranium) associations of the heart chakra in place, although it does so with patchouli as the first note listed. It reminds me a little of the Temple of Incense Om Masala, although perhaps not quite as deluxe. For listing a couple of big floral notes, it feels like they’re dialed back in comparison to the earthy and spicy notes and there’s some level of halmaddi to it as well. But the price difference between this and the Om Masala is probably a bit telling in that this has less definition, especially in the perfume area, it is pleasant but in a somewhat muddier way. It’s the kind of incense that would have had a bit more presence in the “halmaddi era” but without the full recipe, it leaves it feeling pleasant but a bit generic.

The “oriental woods and amber” of Vishuddha Chakra create an incense not terribly different from the other sandalwood prominent incenses in this series. It’s quite dry with very little in the way of sweetness and doesn’t have as strong of an amber note as you’d like. Without any real definition of what woods are included, it actually matches the profile fairly well and doesn’t seem as sandalwood-heavy as the others, but this pushes it into a somewhat generic and somewhat personality-less area. I like that it’s a bit different and the cooling feel of it does seem to fit the color scheme here but again, this falls a bit more into the way Satya incenses can be kind of hazy in terms of what scent they’re trying to reach. It’s perhaps that feeling that this is reaching for levels of expense it couldn’t possibly reach at its price.

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about the jasmine and tulasi that matches up with the Ajna Chakra. Ideally when you’re moving up into rarified spheres you’d like the quality to bump up quite a bit, but after the Absolute Bliss/Temple of Incense Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom, this one falls quite flat. Whatever is going into this mix frankly isn’t cutting it and the perfume is off in a way that’s distinctly unpleasant. It could be that this is old stock and it has faded some but I’m not sure I’d risk another go with what’s left. This stick is more like something you’d expect out of Satya, either factory. And honestly I’ve tried one of Satya’s jasmines (I think it was the Bangalore “Jasmine”) that’s actually more defined than this one, so maybe part of the issue is the Tulasi? Hard to tell for sure, but simply nope.

And finally we get to the crown chakra with the Sahasrara Chakra and the lotus blossom that often signifies the mandala here. But just like with the previous incense, I’ve had Queen of Lotus/Lotus Flower, Floating Lotus Flower/Shiv and of course the devastating White Lotus Oudh Saffron out frequently of late, so I perhaps was not in the economy section when I sat down to review this. Fortunately it’s a bit nicer on its own than the Ajna, and there’s at least some level of attempt to get the floral notes right, but it’s not the same class, not by a long shot. It does have a bit of sweetness as a masala hybrid that helps it a bit, but it also verges a bit sour sometimes. Overall it’s really worth paying a few more bucks for something closer to the real deal, this is something I’d say is nearly always true when it comes to florals.

Now keep in mind as I close this that there are a few incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line I still like a lot, although one of their finest seemed to have been discontinued for a different recipe. But these days I’m fairly sensitive when I pick up a new line that doesn’t seem to be quite as up to the standard I remembered in terms of wondering if the original catalog might have shifted as well. While I might have put the Ramakrishnanda line ahead of say the Designs By Deekay line by a hair with some overlap, I’d put most of the chakra line a bit lower and maybe a step ahead of the Satays in most cases. We’re talking about the same sort of masala-charcoal hybrid style in the Satya family here, but for sure I’d stick to the Ramakrishnandas first. However, it’s worth checking out some of the enthusiastic reviews of these incenses at the specific incense’s web page, to get some different perspectives. After all at $3.38 a package there’s not a lot of risk here.

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Temple of Incense / Nag Champa Gold; Oudh Masala; Dhoop Cones / Absolute Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Lavender, Oudh, Rose, Vetiver

Temple of Incense Part 13
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Wrapping up the Temple of Incense reviews is everything else I managed to get that was in stock. After these reviews, the only things missing are the Palo Santo cones, and the Bakhoor aloeswood chips which I may review at a later date. Also, want to note that both Mike and I figured we had covered Nag Champa Gold but I’ll insert that here as we both didn’t manage to review the ToI version of this famous stick.

Starting with Nag Champa Gold, one of the flagships of the HH line is also a flagship here. This is essentially the same stick. For those unfamiliar, this is a very dry and astringent version of the famous nag champa scent. It has gold flakes/dust that comes from mica. I was told that this is actual waste from statuary production and since mica doesn’t tend to add anything to a scent it is purely aesthetic, like eating gold leaf. The stick itself is a yellowish bamboo core with a extruded charcoal-based masala dusted in tan and gold dust. The oil of the magnolia in this is exquisite and scents the stick before you light it. After lighting, the saltiness of the sandalwood and a touch of halmaddi/vanilla to give it some sweetness. My understanding is that if you used to like this stick a decade ago that it has a touch less halmaddi in it which makes it drier and more astringent. Overall, this is still one of the better Nag Champas on the market.

Absolute Sandalwood Dhoop Cone is an all black charcoal cone with oils added. This should not be confused with incense sticks of the same name because this is not similar in any way. This has some of the same oils I think go into Sandalwood Extreme, as this is a fairly good representation of Mysore sandalwood in all it’s salted butter notes. There is a touch of something sweet like maybe a hint of benzoin in here as well but it only seems to come out and play briefly before it gets coated in santalum smells.

Benzoin Prayer Dhoop Cone has a different format for cones, this is more like a thick cylinder that might be as big as 3-4 of the other sized cones. My biggest complaint on this is that they are harder to light without a graduated tip, but they give off a bigger smoke/smell and burn a lot longer. If you like the Benzoin Absolute stick that they make, this is a great continuation of that scent. This is a less sweet version of benzoin, while I’m still not an expert on the resin localities, this one doesn’t have the vanilla mashmallow scent and instead is something more like baking marzipan cookies and gunpowder. This is possibly my favorite of the cones I’ve reviewed in terms of scent.

Another in the cylinder format, Frankincense Prayer Dhoop Cone is different in that instead of being an all-charcoal base, this looks like pressed sawdust. This is a good representation of the boswellia sacra resin, it has a clean, citrusy scent that is a bit crisper and cleaner than the Frankincense stick they offer. Great for any application where you need 20 minutes of constant frankincense aroma, this is a room filler because of the thickness, and it has been a favorite in the family when I light one because everyone in the house smells it.

Lavender Dhoop Cone returns to the cone-shaped charcoal format and does a good job of bringing out a few different formats of lavender. Opening the jar, it smells like my favorite version of lavender oil, the one that captures a bit of the ‘green’ note like you’re in a field of lavender. When you light this, it becomes apparent that this oil is pretty much the only ingredient as you’re met with a mixture of both the fresh lavender and the more ‘warm’ lavender that I associate more like with soap and dryer sheets, the smell of relaxation. This really has a very clean feel to it and the marketing copy on the jar says it will ‘balance all seven chakras’ and I do enjoy how this seemed to have brightened the room a little bit.

Oudh Dhoop Cone is another cone-shaped charcoal formatted cone. Essentially, this is a cone version of the Oudh Masala, or at least, this is what my initial impression is upon lighting this black cone. It has a strong ‘cologne’ presence of oud here, where they are using distillation techniques that compress the scent into a much thinner profile without all the extra bells and whistles of the nearby plants and animals mixed into the scent. This is oud. Oud oud oud. As the cone has burned a bit, I can tell now that this is a bit different than the oudh masala, and it has a lighter, sweeter note than the Oudh, which is earthy and strong. Either way, I love how this scent is coming out and I definitely want a lot more of this.

Oudh Masala comes in a 60g Miron glass jar and is a powder meant for a electric burner or charcoal. I picked this up because of the name conjuring the HH reference and because I’m a huge fan of the stick. This is hard to describe, but if you’ve experienced Oudh and Himalayan Spikenard, this is like combining the best aspects of both of those and cranking up the intensity and the resiny goodness as loud as you can handle. In fact, if I put too much on at once, it gets overpowering because the oudh cologne scent is right there in the middle. If you enjoy powder incense format, this is so oily that you can actually just make a little pile and light it on fire. You won’t consume 100% of the powder but it burns most of the way by itself it’s so dense and resinous.

With Rose Prayer Dhoop Cone, we have another cylinder format, but like the Frankincense Dhoop Cone, this one isn’t made of charcoal, instead it looks like crushed rose petals and something like makko. Infused with what must be a mixture of oils, we get a fresh rose scent with a slightly sweet undertone like the roses are central to a bouquet that also includes something sweet like candied rose as well. Overall, this is a really good cone and the size of it means it burns a bit longer than the conical ones. This is good for people who really like the rose to smell fresher. That candied rose is under the central rose scent, which really is very good and reflected in the price point. It smells like rose petals and confectioners sugar. Really nice.

At Last, the Vetiver Dhoop Cone. Vetiver is always a wonderful scent when it is done right. My husband and I love vetiver essential oil and for many years used the oil as a perfume and received many compliments. This is a sweeter version of khus. This black cone seems to be charcoal with oils and I’m guessing they’re using all the best. There is a touch of what I detect as sandalwood in here, or maybe it’s just another note of vetiver I’m unfamiliar with because so rarely in incense do you get vetiver by itself for a conversation, most of the time it’s in a chorus.

Temple of Incense / Amber, Amber Supreme, Benzoin Absolute, Big Cleanse

Temple of Incense Part 6
Temple of Incense Part 8
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I am a relative beginner in the world of Indian incense. While in my incense journey, Indian style incense was the first I encountered, it was during that time period in 2013-2015 that, for the most part, Indian style incense was mostly overly bombastic with shrill single notes that chased me out of the room or had me putting it out hastily. Smells like burning hair and cheap cologne would have made many of my descriptions back then.

So recently, I encountered Happy Hari for the first time, years after the founder died. This opened a door and I quickly began searching for more, almost coinciding with Mike reopening ORS. Learning about Temple of Incense sent me in a scramble. My first order was for one of everything. I have not been let down by this exciting journey and I decided to share the reviews in alphabetical order, leaving out the ones that Mike has already reviewed.

Our first stop is with Amber. As someone who first encountered King of Amber, this is exactly the same. For those who don’t know King of Amber, this is an extruded resin stick. It has a thickness and a heaviness to it that makes it stand out from most other masala sticks(other than other resin sticks like it). It also takes a while to light, showing that there is more resin than oil to make this stick.

I’d love to call this ‘Amber Absolute’ or ‘exemplar’ of the amber scent but it is more like ‘Egyptian Amber’ in that it comes across more like the soft Egyptian Musk type of smell you can get in attars and even in multiple brands of incense sticks. However, I don’t want you to imagine the cheap and artificial smell that can come from those $5 perfume bottles. Rather, this is more that they took actual resins and oils to create this from natural sources, and the result is this amazing, bewitching, soothing scent that everyone in the family comments on when I burn it.

The best thing about this compared to so many other incenses with ‘amber’ in their name on the market, this never crosses the line into cloying. It maintains a atmosphere of mystery with the soft amber scent. Since amber is common in so many western perfume blends, my nose always picks up amber in many Indian incenses as ‘perfume’ yet here it remains solidly like I expect honey amber resin to smell, with that touch of something else that grounds it a little bit, perhaps labdanum or similar, and it adds that mystery and musky type of note that keeps this from getting too sweet.

Next is Amber Supreme. Instead of being a thick, extruded resin stick, this is a handmade masala finished with a light brown dust. The name makes me imagine that this is going to be stronger, faster, better than Amber, but supreme can mean other things, like restraint, discipline and regimen. In this case, this is a much more muted version of the amber smell, it is less sweet and has a little more of the ‘baby powder’ note of amber in it, but again, none of this is the artificial amber or perfume amber. This doesn’t cross into cloying, or sweet, it remains subtle and restrained, which is two words I rarely trot out in a review of anything Indian style. I also want to a address how different the sweetness is between the two. Amber has a sweetness like honey and this one has a sweetness more like confectioners sugar, which helps support the more bitter aspects of it’s scent.

I would suggest Amber Supreme for anyone who finds Amber to be too strong for their tastes, this also lacks less additional ingredients so it is more like ‘pure amber’ or ‘amber absolute’ than the previous entry. Definitely do not burn this on the tail of Amber because you will barely notice it.

Similar to Amber, Benzoin Absolute is a thick resin extruded onto a bamboo core. As someone who has loved Meena Supreme in the past, my initial hit off this was ‘Oh, so ToI renamed Meena Supreme to Benzoin Absolute’. But that lasted for just a moment as I realized this lacked the other perfumes and finishes of Meena Supreme and instead has a scent profile that would represent maybe 50% of the Meena scent.

What you get here is what I call the ‘Indian’ interpretation of benzoin, as this doesn’t come across as the burnt marshmallow note I associate with the plain benzoin, so either the locality or the processing is different here and this benzoin is less sweet and has a few more metallic and maybe even confectionery notes, like a bitter marzipan.

Big Cleanse is a thick charcoal stick with oils and maybe a bit of resin. The website sells it as a smudging stick and I think it might be good for exactly that sort of thing. It has a very herbal smell, reminding me of the German bitter teas like 7×7, and because of that, I like how this smells, though many who I have burned this with have commented on how they don’t like the bitter and acrid notes coming off it.

If the three sweet incenses reviewed here are yin, this has enough yang bitterness to balance all of them at once. While the purpose of this blog isn’t to wander as far into the spiritual nature of incense, this is clearly more for intention and cleansing than for sitting and pleasantly enjoying. However, I’m also someone who has spent years drinking bitter Chinese teas and similar kinds of things from Europe and so I don’t mind a little bit of bitter here and there, especially if you consider some of these sweeter incenses like Amber dessert.

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 / Krishna, Om Masala, Oudh, Perky Pandit

Temple of Incense Part 3
Temple of Incense Part 5
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I began writing this the day after I received my third order from the wonderful Temple of Incense folks across a country and an ocean and am posting a little after my fourth. As you go into the line you realize just how large the scope is. If you have been into Indian incense for a while then a journey through their catalog is like discovering new friends but also rediscovering old ones. I find as much pleasure out of this feeling that wow I have not smelled this scent in something like 25 years as I do coming across something surprisingly fresh and new. This is one thing you discover fairly fast with ToI and that’s this sort of modern approach from a traditional foundation feel. Even when the line goes into fruity incenses or perfumed incenses there’s still this feeling that nothing is synthetic or off, which often allows you to sort of reappraise some modern variations. I’m still sort of mindboggled they’ve managed a line that is well over 50 incenses now. We also continue to to be aware that Temple of Incense and the Happy Hari and associates have a lot of shared scents and will point those out whenever possible, but this gives people options in the US and UK. So onto batch four…

Krishna has a woods, vetivert and musk mix and it may be extremely close to what you would imagine for such a description. To me this is a dyed in the wool Indian traditional that feels like it’s stripped down almost to its bare essentials. In terms of the woods this does have something of a sandalwood presence, although not so much in the sense of the powerful sandalwoods used in the more specific incenses in the line, but a more lighter wood content. But it’s also background for the very clear vetivert and musk mix, a pair that do go fairly well together, earthy and sweet. So overall this is going for something of a more simpler, basic blend and overall it makes it a somewhat lighter and milder affair. It’s an incense that calms rather than stimulates.

In a lot of Indian incense reviews I’ll be able to go hey this one smells like Satya Natural or Honey Dust, or this one reminds me of Mystic Temple. It’s this sort of personal history of having known the masala style through numerous variations sold by all sorts of companies and recognizing similarities in not only recipes but often the dyed end of a bamboo stick that helps to solidify that connection. However, there are also times like with Om Masala where you are smelling something almost painfully familiar where memory just can not provide the link back to history. But this recipe too used to be a very common one and it just brings me right back to they heyday of all the really great champas. In fact Om Masala even has halmaddi resin as an ingredient along with strong woody overtones. So without remembering previous iterations I can say for sure this one is a classic reborn. Maybe it was something of a specifically named spice champa because you get this whole mix of woods, spices, musk and resin sweetness in the mix. But overall if you want to check out something that smells exactly as I remember it from 25 years ago this is a perfect pick. Highly recommended for sure.

I’ve mentioned before that some Temple of Incense scents have a very strong correlation with those in the Happy Hari Line and there’s no question their Oudh is right in the pocket there with the Happy Hari Oud Masala. This agarwood masala is undoubtedly impressive as long as it has this kind of complex oudh oil in the mix and I’d be splitting hairs comparing the two incenses. This is a brash, powerful, spicy and earthy scent that really has to be tried, whichever brand you pick, and unless you want to try everything you might only pick one or the other. But it’s unquestionably an Indian incense essential and while oud masalas are really nothing like Japanese aloeswoods they have a whole range of complexities that make them a different kind of joy. Think of a really high quality cologne with a strong woody profile and you’re getting close. Whether you pick Happy Hari’s Oud masala or this one, it’s an essential for the collection.

And after two blazingly powerful incenses, Perky Pandit and it’s single audumber note seems like a complete change of pace. This is apparently an aromatic from the Indian Fig Tree and it is a very quiet, mild aroma that is really utterly unique and not comparable to anything else. It’s something of a combination of dry, slightly woody, and mildly fruity elements and it really doesn’t remind me so much of the aroma of your regular fig except very fleetingly. It feels like it’s still based in a masala format with champa characteristics and has those elements but they’ve been toned down enough to fit the mildness of the top note. After a few sticks I’m not super sure about this one as while its unique in its overall tone, it doesn’t cut through so much with any sort of distinctiveness. Honestly I’d probably mostly recommend this to someone who wants a quiet more subtle scent, but sure enough if part of your love for incense is getting used to a wide variety of scents than this will surely be a new one for your nose.

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.

Temple of Incense / Himalayan Spikenard, Wood Spice, Bengal Beauty, Ganesha

Temple of Incense Part 1
Temple of Incense Part 3
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

So here’s the other half of my initial order, minus the samples, from Temple of Incense. I noticed there’s an “est. 2012” on the boxes which just made me wonder why news on these fantastic incenses took so long to spread. It does seem like there’s a substantial UK to India connection that really helps with the foundation to some strong companies there, so I’m sure there’s more hunting to do. Anyway in this round we have both charcoals and masalas (including a very familiar traditional) and another of the line’s baton size wonders that nearly makes me faint away due to the beauty of it.

Himalayan Spikenard acts as one of the high enders in the Temple of Incense catalog at nearly twice the price much of the range goes for. That’s because it’s not just a spikenard-fronted charcoal but because it has a something of a bakhoor-like oud scent in it as well as musk, oak moss and vetivert. The thing I really love about spikenard is you can experience it ranging from the sweeter notes found in Japanese incense or Greek monastery-styled incenses to musky, earthy aspects of it that feel a little wilder in the natural source. Here you have the full range of the spikenard note even though it’s essentially fronting a blended oil. It is a charcoal, so I do think the mix of these elements actually goes to highlight that in a way not everyone might like, but there’s nothing wrong with this mix of oils on their own, in fact it’s a bewitching blend with a bit of a erotic flair to it. And most importantly it has some aromatic elements I don’t think you will find in most incenses. It’s like having something familiar with a more exotic edge to it.

The Wood Spice is an intriguing (also charcoal, but not as obviously so as the Himalayan Spikenard) incense that reminds me of a couple different scents. The notes listed here are not specific, just flowers, woods and spices, and while I think the woods obviously take the central place, there seems to be a lot of other activity rotating around this center. It feels like it works on two levels, the woods blend on one hand and then some sort of tangy richness on the other with a powerful hit of spice that reminds me of anything from cardamom to clove or nutmeg. The spicy wood feels like it goes in a bit of an Oud Masala direction, but without the more expensive agarwood touches and with the heavier spice touches, the scent profile ends up being something like the old Maharaj or Maharaja blends of the original champa era, although to be fair I think this is more due to the oils than any sense of halmaddi at play. It just feels that there are dozens of ingredients and that the mix creates something that justifies the more general notes than being specific of just a few. The oil overall feels like it could work either as a perfume or cologne, depending on your definition or preference.

Bengal Beauty is one of the latest in the family of incenses that have a long history of lavender-ended goodness. My old favorite was the old Mystic Temple Honey Dust incense, which was a delectably sweet treat of honey and vanilla and I’ve seen it in the old Satya Natural and Happy Hari’s Yama Sutra and probably a few more lines I’ve forgotten about now. It may very well be the second most common traditional Indian masala next to Nag Champa itself, although it feels like this version may have shifted more to a charcoal or hybrid style than it used to be in the old days. And this is as good of a version that exists on the market currently. Part of that is the sweetness, another part is it’s a bit more balanced in a sandalwood direction and part of it is that its more obviously an amber as well (there are some similarities to ToI’s Amber Supreme as well). The other notes mentioned on the box are khus and rose and while I get the earthy notes of the former, the rose is far more subtle. It probably tends less to the sweet side than other versions, but that makes it a better balanced incense. This is a very friendly Indian masala and not a bad one to put on your starter list.

I don’t know what it is about these thick stick incenses like Ganesha, maybe it’s just that they feel like they’re frontloaded with a lot of halmaddi resin, but just like the Shiv this is a stone classic of a scent. The notes are lotus, lavender, eucalyptus and light florals, but the overall effect is like some modern candy fronted Japanese stick except in big stick form. It is super pink in color and in aroma in fact “Valentine’s Day candy champa” popped right in my mind as I wrote this in front of a burning stick. This is fairly well blended, sweet and feminine floral, you certainly get the lavender and eucalyptus notes in the mix but it’s so sweet that most of the rest of the floral notes just kind of converge into this big bouquet of hallelujah. It’s an incredible floral and because of the oils not quite as gentle as the Shiv is, but it’s no less impressive. I would love to see what a big batch of this looks like and smells like. More like this please!

Mermade Magickal Arts / Sanctuary, Pan’s Earth (2021) + Esprit de la Nature / Lavender Kyphi (via Mermade) (Discontinued)

Here’s another handful of Mermade offerings including one direct from Esprit de la Nature. One I almost missed and the other two newly arrived…

I bought Sanctuary a little while back so I’m not sure if what I’m reviewing here was the first or second batch as mentioned on the page. Katlyn lists the ingredients for this blend of sacred space as Copal Blanco, Copal Negro, Maydi and Sacra Frankincense, Breu Claro, Greek Sage, Palo Santo, Peru Balsam and Fir Balsam. So I think the one thing that this instantly brings to mind is the idea that this is something of a South American blend with a touch of the outside. Space clearing incenses often to tend to be resin heavy, so this checks the box, plus this has that sort of uplifting feel that copals frequently bring to incense especially when they’re high quality. Sanctuary is also a bit of gentle blend, much more so than resin mixes that are frankincense heavy, in fact the frankincenses here seem to have not so noticeable an impact on the overall bouquet. The Palo Santo is fairly obvious as it always is in a mix, and I very much like the way the balsams weave in here as well. Once again Katlyn’s skill at blending multiple ingredients and getting them all to face out in a noticeable way is quite apparent.

Be en Foret’s Lavender Kyphi (picture is just a sample container but cool enough to include – check out the final artwork at the link) is another one of her intriguing variations on the old Egyptian formula. Check out this amazing ingredient line up: “From the Garden: Salted lavender buds and Dominican Sage leaves from my garden, Spikenard root from the Himalayas, Violet leaf extract from France. Resins: Dark Frankincense, Tolu Balsam, Dark Benzoin, Labdanum, Kua Myrrh, Liquidambar, Peru Balsam. A dash of aged Ambergris in Sandalwood oil ● Bound with organic honey and raisins ● Rolled in Agarwood and Sandalwood powder.”

Gulp. That’s a whole lotta goodness there, as is common with labyrinthine Kyphi preparations. Be sets this at a very low temperature kind of melt so you really gotta get in there to experience how complex this is, but of course the lavender is in front just like the name implies. One thing I love about kyphis is there are multiple ingredients, multiple recipes, everyone does them differently, they’re aged and tend to have vintages even among single “authors” and so vary all over the place while still hitting these notes that remind me of the finest of wines or even ales. The second thing I notice off this incense is the honey and balsam scent, a lovely mix that also tends to highlight the spikenard which is a favorite of mine. I do tend to like my lavender as close to the plant as possible, so I appreciate that it’s the kyphi that tends to be sweet here, which is a really nice contrast. And yes this does have that almost thick, wonderful base of a kyphi, more noticeable as the heat progresses, which I always contribute to the raisins and the way they kind of infuse a bit of wine-like goodness to the mix. Anyway I hope you’re convinced on this one, Be has the kyphi juju down!

And if kyphis are a tradition going back to Egyptian times, Katlyn has made something of a vintage out of Pan’s Earth herself. This is one of Mermade’s perennial classics, an almost definitive pagan earth incense, a mix of divine resins with all sorts of herbal notes that furrow their roots deep into the soil. And like kyphi, repeated vintages of Pan’s Earth always seem to improve and get more deep and impressive, and honestly, this one’s even a bit of a quantum jump in how good it is, easily my favorite of all of the good scents under this name. So what’s in the 2021 version? Black frankincense; breu claro; copal negro; vetiver root; aged patchouli; agarwood chips, powder, and oud; Pan’s Earth Special Blend Oil; Arbor Vitae cedar tips; jatamansi; costus root; kua; and Yemeni myrrh. The first thing that always strikes me about Pan’s Earth, despite all of the high end ingredients is that patchouli and vetiver mix. That green, soil-rich earthiness is just right up my alley and has always been the feature that would draw out this god of satyrs (and to be fair jatamansi and spikenard also have a little of it). If you’re gonna talk about Pan you need something feral and dark, something that makes civilization vanish. However to my nose this is actually a bit more resinous than I remember previous vintages, and it almost feels like the aged depth of it actually highlights and provides a well-roundedness to the incense that reminds you that the mystery of Pan still remains and that matched with all that earth is the sense of the universal as well. Perhaps 100s of years from now, some future archaeologists and anthropologists will be trying to make sense of the complexity of Pan’s Earth. Because this great incense is now becoming a tradition like kyphi, where there’s so much to experience, a review may not be able to do it full justice. One subnote melts into another into another. Definitely don’t miss this!

Mermade Magickal Arts / Earthly Delight, Black Flower Lubana, Rite of Spring

First of all let’s just take a look at the remarkable piece of art adorning the little vial of Earthly Delight. What a tremendously gorgeous piece of work. The colors on this piece are really reflective of the sort of aromatic kaleidoscope that this incense provides. The ingredients are listed as Oman Frankincense, Crimson Kua, Yemeni Myrrh, Garden herbs and blooming flowers, Sandalwood and Summer Spices, and Orange Blossom Absolute. Special attention has to be paid to the summer spices as these pop through nicely along with the really beautiful orange blossom absolute. It’s the sort of orange spice mix you might find it a soothing tea and the whole bouquet just pops with freshness. Unsurprisingly the frankincense and two types of myrrh (the kua) make up the base of this incense, and this base has obviously been wonderfully crafted to bring out the orange blossom. I actually really love the way Katlyn modifies various incenses with frankincense to bring out the various citrus types associated with various types of resins. I’ll add that I left this one on overnight accidentally and when I came back into the room it was still quite aromatically active so I’m sure a little of this aromatic powerhouse goes a long way. I will of course highly recommend grabbing this wonder while you can, although I feel like I say this a lot!

From the highly complex to the devastatingly simple … Mermade has done a lubana or few over the years, they tend to be very mild due to their benzoin content and honestly even the highest quality levels of benzoin don’t change the scent profile of it too much. So it’s nice to see one with a healthy share of black Omani frankincense in the mix to highlight the powerful and alluring scent of vanilla in the Black Flower lubana. One reason I like the frankincense here is that the vanilla would probably get a bit thick if paired with benzoin on its own, given benzoin covers a bit of similar terrain, so the frankincense gives the vanilla ingredient something to contrast with and become something of a separate aromatic entity from its base. There’s a bit of a subtle tweak with the labdanum, vetivert and agarwood hints as well. Nicely done and my favorite lubana from Mermade yet.

It’s a fun synchronicity to sit down and review Rite of Spring after getting a nice complete box of Stravinsky with that work on it. Just off the fresh incense this is a deeply pink/red incense as you might imagine with ingredients like Rose de Mai. In fact this seems to have been arranged with love magick in mind and so it has a huge floral hit. What’s impressive about this incense; however, is that once you get past that rosy top, you’re left with the mix of herbs, linden blossoms and honeysuckle that really pay tribute to the spring vibe of the name. Once again this is an incense where the resolution of these ingredients is very high. Like with all Mermade incenses, the ingredients are just superb. There are really just no better floral incenses in the world and each new variation is a wonder. I just had to hold back on dumping the entire vial on my heater in order to see if the metaphysical effects would work!

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.

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