Shroff Channabasappa / Dry Masala / Bakhoor, Basil Amber, Cedar, Chypre, Kapoor Kacheri

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13
Shroff Channabasappa Part 14

It can’t be a secret how much I love the incense from Shroff Channabasappa, but it was in this batch (which will cover the next three installments) where the company has made some serious missteps in what they’ve been deciding to import (they’ve of course made up for this in the last two waves of wet and semidry masalas). In fact many of the larger packages of these incenses have already been cut to move and there’s good reason for it.

I find the sorting schematic for Shroff to generally be problematic, because even though all of these are listed under dry masalas, Bakhoor is a charcoal and most of the rest of this group aren’t nearly as perfumed or intense as most of the other incenses in the same grouping. Bakhoor means well but doesn’t perform well at all, almost entirely due to the charcoal base, which seems to be more offputting than usual for the style. It’s slightly thicker than these sticks usually are and as such it puts out an almost suffocating level of smoke, a level where it would be difficult for any aroma to fight over. You would think Shroff’s perfuming skills would help matters, but unfortunately this ends up being more reminiscent of synthetic perfume oils on cheap bakhoors (although to be fair there are a lot of true bakhoors like this) than deep oud woods or amber. Some of the elements here might have worked better with some adjustment but without an aggressive base, the charcoal ends up taking its place, something you don’t want. The results ring hollow, a sort of pseudo-bakhoor scent with weird citrus subnotes around the edges.

The basil (or tulsi) oil in the Basil Amber is quite nice, it brings out its vivacious green qualities, but the overall incense is a stranger fit. The base stick is sort of vaguely reminiscent of one of the other Shroff ambers, but only their least desirable qualities come out underneath the basil oil onslaught. There’s a bit of sandalwood or benzoin that gives the middle a weakness since it doesn’t seem to merge with the perfume. It’s almost worth owning if you really need a basil in your mix, but as an incense it’s mediocre.

Althought it’s hard to get excited about another Cedar incense, at least with this version we’re getting a new take. The qualities here are high altitude and evergreen, rather than the sweet Madhavadas style masalas. This brings it a bit closer in style to something Tibetan. Its slightly pungent in the end and feels perhaps as authentic as you’d hope, but it’s inevitable campfire associations will be evoked.

Of this batch, the Chypre is probably the most successful, possibly because it’s more akin to the original Shroff releases in terms of perfume intensity. In fact the closest previous Shroff to this style is the Parrot Green Durbar, sweet, sour and citrus, with a nice bit of breadth to it. I’ve found a lot of the sticks faulty in my batch, however, many of them going out at least once in the first inch and some going out later. But it’s essentially a unique enough aroma (it’s much more balanced then the PGD) to be worth checking out, however, it seems pretty obvious this is new enough that not everyone will like it.

The Kapoor Kacheri is a perfect example of how I feel like much of this batch was Shroff getting rid of cheap materials. It’s an extremely dull masala with a very basic campfire/wood scent that does little to distinguish itself from, say, natural masalas. It smells a lot like leaves burning and seems hastily thrown together.

The thrashing continues next installment…

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Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Ananda, Ganesh, Lakshmi (prev. Laxmi), Shanti, Vishnu

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

In nearly every article reviewing Indian durbars or champa incenses it’s virtually impossible not to mention that the style has undergone changes over the last decade or so due to the shorter supply of the resin halmaddi in these incenses. Nearly every company in existence has adjusted their recipes to some extent, although we’re largely left to guess over how it is they’ve done so. What we can generally tell is the soft, semi-wet durbars of yore have gotten drier over the years, the scents have often gotten just a little bit harsher and our expectations over reliving the old scents have diminished.

While Mother’s India Fragrances (10/8/21 – Link goes directly to Mere Cie Deux now; however, there are no specific pages for each aroma) seem to have been around for a while (I remember the small packs of masala incenses they do which I found in stores years back), it’s only somewhat recently they’ve started exporting this five incense series of Nagchampa incenses. I’m unaware of whether they’ve undergone a change in formula or if they are completely new incenses, but they seem to use an ingredient either unheralded in Indian incense or just not included in the recipes, a tree resin known as mattipal. And in doing so they’ve created what is perhaps the finest short line in all of Indian incense today, making me wonder just what it is about mattipal that makes it so uncommon in durbars when it seems like the use of it might enhance the durbar industry in general and at least push it back in the direction that made it one of the most attractive and accessible styles of incense on the market.

Mother’s India Fragrances’ (Mother’s for short) five incenses are really variations on a theme. Although it’s difficult to confirm, the “standard” Nagchampa appears to be the Shanti, and the Laxmi is a mild version of the same formula. The Vishnu is similar and adds saffron to the mix, where both Ananda and Ganesh are a little more distinct in their differences, the former a blend, the latter using French Lavender oil. All five of these incenses are breathtakingly good, long burning and very high quality durbars. They’re perhaps slightly different than what you’ll remember from the halmaddi days, but at the same time they’re a lot closer in style to the originals than most other current durbar reformulations.

Ananda Nagchampa is  described as a blend of sweet floral and herbal fragrances. The base on this one as it is in all five of these combines the typical vanilla and sweet notes of most durbars with a slightly piney or evergreen note that is likely to come from the mattipal. The combination gives it a soft and mellow tone and in this case, the ingredients add up to a fairly intricate mix. Like the Vishnu Nagchampa, Ananda seems to strike a middle between the deluxe, sweet and perfumed concotion found in the Ganesh blend and the dry spicy and more typically standard nagchampa scent found in the Shanti blend. Like most of the incenses here there’s a very strong cassia or cinnamon aroma in the middle, but here there are fruitier hints such as strawberry and orange, mixed with what seem to be greener herbal notes. It’s possibly the most unusual incense of the five, the most complex, and the fragrance that takes one’s nose the longest to adjust to.

Ganesh Nagchamp is virtually one of the finest durbars to have been created by human hand, it’s a triumph of the incense making art. One has certain expectations going into an incense that is supposedly “crowned with French lavender oil,” but here the combination is far more than the sum of its parts. While one easily notices the lavender oil as part of the mix, it doesn’t seem typical either bearing witness to a finer quality or just the fact that its marriage with the mattipal base is one of alchemical genius. Although it, like the others in the line, has a strong note of cinnamon as well, the lavender moves it to the sweeter end of the line. It’s so rich, decadent and astonishingly good that even one stick will have one reeling in amazement that one could hit such a perfect match of ingredients. Every incense lover owes themselves a treat such as this.

Laxmi Nagchampa, as I mentioned above, is the line’s mild nagchampa and in many ways is somewhat redundant to the Shanti. For one thing, the line in itself (apart from, perhaps, the Ganesh) is fairly mild as it is, so the muting of the Shanti scents is rather soft, perhaps taking out more of the base and leaving the oils to do more of the work. The spices are quite a bit mellower here, but overall it’s difficult to guess what reformulation caused this one to be so gentle. In many ways you only need Laxmi or Shanti and I think more incense lovers will move to and approve of the latter’s richer scent.

Shanti Nagchampa itself is indeed the incense that smells the most like classic nag champa, although fortunately in this case something more like Bam Champa or the original halmaddi formulations of a decade ago. Perhaps this is the one that lets the mattipal speak the loudest as it seems to not only have the greater evergreen note but is redolent of cassia spice, adding up to a certain dryness that’s quite attractive. It certainly has me fairly nostalgic for the champa scents of old, that wet and intensely aromatic smell I remember from opening the old Satya blue box when it useds to be good.

Vishnu Nagchampa is described as “accented with saffron and based on oriental notes.” The saffron note is quite light overall and gives the incense a slightly spicier scent. Like the Ananda it kind of sits between the Ganesh and Shanti in terms of sweetness and dryness although it’s probably a bit closer to the Shanti. It’s almost liquor like in a way, with hints of cognac, whisky or fine rum at times, probably due to the nature of the oil. Like Ananda it has a bit more of a learning curve but is ultimately no less fine than the rest of the incenses in the line.

The Ganesh is an absolute must try, and I’d probably suggest giving the Shanti a go around as a second pick, before moving on to the Ananda and Vishnu. Those that do love the line by this point should have no problem with Laxmi either and may indeed prefer its milder qualities. One does wonder however, with such a powerful incense line if Mother’s intends to expand and concoct more fragrances as they appear to be onto a good thing where mattipal is concerned. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a new durbar renaissance.