Temple of Incense / Purple Rain, Radha, Sandalwood Extreme, Shakti

Temple of Incense Part 4
Temple of Incense Part 6
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Temple of Incense have such a large line of incenses that it feels like they come from different manufacturers in India or at least there are large variations in recipes. We’ve noted several occurrences where there is overlap with the manufacturers of Happy Hari incenses and yet Purple Rain and the Rose Absolute strike me more like Madhavadas family incenses. This provides for a great amount of variety, although from a reviewing perspective, especially after recent reviews on the Designs by Deekay and Happy Hari lines, it is easier to see that the tradition of western companies arranging for incense manufacturing from India and putting their own branding on it can end up being somewhat blurry. A lot of what we learn tends to be from analyzing various incenses that seem the same from brand to brand. We will note similarities in recipes, but may not always have the objective stance to do anything other than guess what lineage an incense comes from.

Madhavadas family incenses often tend to be dry masalas with a very similar base so whether you’re buying Primo or Pure Incense (or maybe Triloka or Ganesha etc), you will start to become quickly familiar with it. The issue with this base is it can be fatiguing in large quantities because it imparts such a similar scent to all of their incenses that they often smell similar even when the note changes. On the other hand this becomes less of an issue when the perfumes are finer. In a line like Temple of Incense, Madhavadas-style masalas are a bit more infrequent but they do occasionally pop up. With an ingredient listing of champa flower and blue lotus, Purple Rain is perhaps not surprising in that it is reminiscent of the Pure Incense Blue Lotus or maybe earlier Triloka lotus incenses, although it is not exactly the same. The champa flower oil seems to make this one quite a bit sweeter than the lotus on its own. It is an intensely floral incense but fortunately without any real off notes. I would guess this one could be easily cloying in larger quantities so it seems best used as an occasional. I do smell a bit of that base Madhavadhas like masala scent but the stick is thin enough to not overpower the perfume.

Radha is one of Temple of Incense’s several rose-fronted incenses and it lists Rose de Mai, Rose Wardia and Rose Absolute, so it’s absolutely no surprise that the Forest Fruits at the end get a bit lost in all that floral wallop even if the obvious intent was to make this a fruitier floral blend. This is a very gorgeous, full-rounded rose charcoal incense, and it feels like the fruitiness gives this a bit more of a cherry or berry-like sub-element, but even with all these strong floral perfumes, part of the base seems slightly more akin to some of the more attar-like elements found in other TOI incenses. I’ve probably gone on record on ORS that I don’t tend to lean to florals as often, but this is the kind of incense that could change my mind on that. I work (or maybe used to work) across from the California State Capitol Park Rose Garden so I have a pretty good idea of what it smells like walking through a garden of them, and while this isn’t exactly going for that kind of thing, it still has enough rose in it to feel pretty authentic. It’s very impressive, very beautiful and an absolute must.

And now we get back to the incense I spoke of in our first installment, the great Sandalwood Extreme that made me absolutely certain I was in a spectacular line of incenses. I will say it again or maybe just for the first time but there is no western Indian incense importer I know of doing better sandalwood incenses than Temple of Incense and it’s not just this one, which is the best of the three, but the other two (Sandalwood and Banaras Sandalwood) are nearly as brilliant (and much more affordable). The only way I can describe in words why these are better is because of the resolution of the oils, they have that “something else” that rises above the merely woody and demonstrates why distillation can often bring qualities out of of the wood that even high quality sandalwood on its own can’t. This is the ultimate sandalwood punch and even its charcoal format can’t get in the way of what a knock out this is, in fact this is one of the rare cases where the oils mask the undesirable elements of a charcoal nearly perfectly. Even the old Shroff sandalwood charcoal doesn’t have this kind of feeling of nostalgia, it just brought me immediately back to a time where I was just discovering incense. Mind you you’re only getting 12 sticks for maybe the highest price in the stick line, but it’s well worth it. Of course you’re not losing much at all going for one of the line’s other sandalwoods (and more of that in later installments). [9/10/21 NOTE: There is a near-equivalent at Absolute Bliss called Natural Mysore Sandal.]

Finally we get to the third of TOI’s thick baton style wonders, the stupendously purple floral Shakti. Rose, halmaddi and exquisite oils indeed. Just like Shiv and Ganesha this is candy-coated floral champa-like goodness at its very best. It sheds purple dust everywhere and is an incense so good I get mild anxiety over losing even a little bit of it. Honestly I think all of these thick sticks are really something of the same family, they all have an internal champa-like sweetness but vary in the floral profile. The rose here isn’t like quite as noticeable as it is in the, say Radha above or the line’s Indian Rose, but it mixes in with a whole scent profile that is tremendously pleasant. I sense some fruit in the mix, a bit of vanilla and a whole sort of floral range (violet? carnation? champa flower?) that would keep me busy for days. If you’re a traditional incense fan, moderns aren’t usually along the same lines but this is the kind of modern incense I can really get behind. Like the Shiv it’s almost akin to the old Dhuni Frangipani scent, an incense that nearly broke my heart when it vanished so maybe now is a good time to stock up. It is a sweet, sugary incense confection.

Anyway we will be taking a little longer of a break on the regular series of Temple of Incense line and of course coming back to them at some point in coming weeks. I believe Stephen will be jumping in as well. But hopefully the last five articles will have given everyone a head start into such a fantastic Indian incense line and these are by no means the end of the really great ones so there will be more to come. Please show this family your support and enjoy the many treasures they have to offer – this is the real deal.

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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.

Halmaddi available

Andrew at Equinox Aromatics has managed to source and bring into the US real Halmaddi.  You can check it out at the link above, It is a brown grey rather sticky substance that needs to be stored in water, so working with it will be “interesting”. You can expect to see incenses using it coming out fairly soon. At least in my case, and I am pretty sure in a number of others, they will be built around natural ingredients. The only problem with this is the cost factor of  of the essential oils and absolutes now days 🙂

OK, back to the laboratory..oh no, the musk ox is loose again!

-Ross

Top Ten, July 2011

I put these together based on what I have been most drawn to during the month, which tends to change to some degree as we progress through the year. I am really liking the incenses made by the smaller makers more and more. They can make small batches and take some chances that the larger companies will not. So you can find some really interesting offerings from them, plus many of them use “non-traditional” mixes or materials that produce some real winners. I am hoping to produce a listing of the “niche” or smaller makers, if you know of any that are not mentioned here at ORS, please let us know.

Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh: I actually hide the box of this from myself, so it will last longer 🙂

On a lot of different levels this is incense as art; it is also a masterpiece of its kind. You can see our reviews on it within the blog. It really is amazing. If you get the chance, just go for it. It is not going to get any cheaper. I do wonder why Baieido does not offer a sampler.

Tennendo”s Tensei: This is a really nice and also reasonably priced aloeswood blend. It is nicely balanced with a distinctive overall scent that somehow goes from a little spicy to smooth from moment to moment. I have been burning this a lot lately because, yes, it’s a great deal and also a wonderful backround scent in a room that can set up a nice focused environment.

Kyukyodo’s  Mukusa no Takimono: This is a set of five different mini sticks that mimic the scent of the classic five  kneaded incenses. They are distinctive, rich and very good. There is also some pretty serious Aloeswoods in these. Many people use them for the tea ceremony. I have heard that Kyukyodo is not making this set anymore and I do not see it in the current catalog, which means that this will be quite a limited time offering. Think of it as a real treat.

Kyukyodo’s Akikaze: This comes in a large wooden box, nestled inside is a stunning silk wrapped tube, done up like a scroll. This is sort of along the lines of Sho Ran Koh, but it is a lot more refined with the wood notes riding across the perfumes and a subtle musk note mixed in. Kyukyodo produces what are probably the best perfumed incenses going. There never seem to be any of the synthetic notes that most others have, which is most likely one of the reasons that they have a great reputation and are not inexpensive, but they are also worth it. Japan Incense might have a box or two of this and the Mukusa no Takimono above. But they go fast.

Kunmeido Reiryo koh (Aloeswood): The Aloeswood blend is a completely different animal from the Sandalwood take on this. It is a very rich woody scent with the distinctive greenish notes of fenugreek mixed in. There is a nice balance between the different layers going on and is great for meditation, it’s also nice to use at bedtime. A real winner at a good price.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo or Asuka: These two are the Reiryo Koh style taken to the height of complexity and nuance. There is a real art in the mix of woods and spices and herbs that compose these two sticks.. The Kyara Tenpyo pulls out all the stops and every stick reveals new aspects, the Asuka is very similar, it might come down to personal preference and how much you like this style, not to mention your bank account J

Baieido’s Kokonoe koh (Jinkoya Sakubei Series): This is a very dry and rich Sandalwood blend done in a style from the eighteenth century. It is very different from any other sandalwood I can think of and is a nice change of pace. It has a lot of presence and at the same time can really set the mood. It is great for meditation or quite moments.

Mermade’s Sanctuary Loose Blend:  Hougary Frankincense and white Sage make for a wonderful Spring/Summer mix. It’s clean and does a great job of cleaning out a space on so many levels. A one ounce jar that can last for a while with all the best ingredients.

Fred Soll’s Amber Honey:  Fred Solls makes some great incense at a great price. I really like his Amber Honey; it has a wonderful balance to it where all the notes are in harmony with each other. It’s also not too sweet or cloying. It is one of the very few incenses anywhere to use ambergris. I noticed that Solls has cut his line back somewhat because of the halmaddi shortage, which in one way is kind of reassuring, he is holding true to a high quality standard. We can only hope that a new source makes it to his doors soon. He really is so very good at blending.

Blue Star Incense’s Lavender:  These are very inexpensive and they rock! The Lavender scent is beautiful, fresh, very much like breathing in a large gathering of fresh lavender flowers. The sticks are thick (think Tibetan) and really you don’t need to use an entire one (however, don’t let me hold you back). Also the Rose is very nice to. Good, real floral note incense, that uses real essential oils, is not easy to make; nor is it inexpensive to produce. William does an amazing job, don’t miss these.

I notce in my internet searches that both Aloeswood and Sandalwood(in Japan) prices just went up somewhere between 20% to at least 30%. This, coupled with the decline of the dollar, means that incense prices are going to be going up, real soon. Sooo,  if there is something that you have been eyeballing for awhile you might want to go for it now, before the prices gets way worse or, heavens forbid we get formula changes to offset materials availability. That is the other thing going on, the woods are getting harder to source which also drives the prices up.

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.

October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

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.

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.

Nag Champa info

I did a search on halmaddi and came up with this page from what looks like the Incense Guru forum (I have yet to check if it’s an active one). Fantastic information on Nag Champa, how it has changed through the years and why.