Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Song of Rain and Sea of Clouds

Sea of Clouds

The unlit sticks of Sea of Clouds smell dry, bitter and woody with a hint of borneol that adds its customary energetic uplift. I think I smell a sprinkle of dry white pepper and a hefty amount of sandalwood. The burning stick initially smells vanillic sweet. Then creamy sandalwood waltzes in, smooth and wavy and very light on its feet, smelling of mellow woods and coconut. It’s so strange that I can’t smell the camphor at all. I imagine it’s the invisible charioteer, content to drive the gently drifting and weightless wood skyward without contributing a scent of its own.

When I smell sweet agarwood incense I’m always charmed and feel as though I’ve rediscovered something very wonderful, however the bitter sticks are the ones I come back to again and again and again. Sea of Cloud’s bitterness is tempered by age-earned ease and gossamer grace, a welcome, unburdened bitterness that makes me feel determined and secure as I enjoy it’s meditative flight.

Sea of Clouds is an agarwood kiss, a breath of wood spirit, a floating puff of sylvan stillness. It takes me away, not on a wild adventure or a child’s fanciful daydream, but on an intent, silent pilgrimage made in earnest joy.

 

Song of Rain

As soon as I removed Song of Rain from its plastic sleeve I was really surprised! I wasn’t expecting to smell such strong, thick, sweet spiciness! The unlit sticks smell very ambery- lots of caramel (is that benzoin?) – accompanied by cumin, turmeric and cassia. A bittersweet chocolate makes me wonder if patchouli is the source of the herbal element. Before it’s lit, Song of Rain reminds me of a gourmand-smelling zukoh, but while it’s burning the sweet and spicy notes recede and woody and subtly animalic notes become much more prominent.

This is not the song of a suburban Spring shower. I smell the rainforest after a stampeding downpour, the sweet loaminess of sodden earth, the sour bitterness of fungus-laden bark and the damp thickness of heavy air. It’s easy to imagine green crested lizards scurrying beneath sinking rocks, birds of paradise seeking shelter under the spreading canopy and the drenched gray coats of squirrel monkeys glistening silver with sun-warmed droplets. While many amber incenses are way too sweet for my personal taste, Song of Rain balances sweet spiciness with herbal, earthy and plum skin agarwood notes. It’s a rain I’d happily sing in and a song I’d happily sing!

 

 

Song of India; Incense from India / India Temple; Damascus Cedar, Golden Sandalwood, Shimmer, Russian Rose

Incense from India may very well be the largest line of Indian incenses in the US market. Their website claims to have over 200 different fragrances. I first discovered this line of incenses in the mid 90s and while my tastes have changed quite a bit since then, many of my early favorites came from this line. To name a few that used to be at the top of my list but that I haven’t ordered since I started in on Japanese incense: Enchanted Garden (like Shrinivas Sugandhalaya’s Valley of Roses but much better), Golden Frankincense (resiny and peppery), Honey Dust (like Satya Natural) and Snow Apricot (a slightly fruity durbar). I’ve probably forgotten more scents from this line than I currently remember, but five came in as samplers a while back and I thought I’d log my impressions. But be assured that I don’t consider the incenses in question here among the line’s best by any means.

Incense from India, like just about all Indian incense, is very affordable and most if not all packages are well under $5, although the number of sticks per package may vary. One of the things I remember about the company is they sell bulk and it’s usually in that category where you can tell how deluxe a particular stick is, usually the durbars tend to be the high enders in this category (although, a charcoal dipped in white sandalwood oil, one of the few incenses that vein I’ve liked, was the highest at one point). The five incenses in question seem to all be masalas of a sort except for the first one, which is also a charcoal incense dipped in oil.

And as you can imagine, I don’t care too much for India Temple incense. It appears to be made by Song of India, and my sample came with the statement “Smells just like temples in India” which appears to fit the description. Well I’d like to hold out a bit better hope for how Indian temples smell. Like most charcoals, this is rather unpleasantly smoky, with an overwhelmingly spicy and floral oil that becomes cloying not soon after lighting. It’s difficult to tell what’s the oil and what’s the punk at times, all which mark a very low quality incense.

Damascus Cedar appears to be charcoal based on description, which would account for its off notes, but it appeared more like a masala to my eyes color wise. It struck a fairly decent balance between the superior Himalayan cedar trees and the ones that smell like pencil shavings. It’s fairly rich and dry, but like most charcoals and masalas the smoke makes it overwhelming at times, although at least in this case there’s no true bitter notes to exacerbate the aroma. From memory, I believe the line has better cedar incenses.

I do remember IfI’s Golden Sandalwood, after all it’s a slight variation on a classic masala blend (I seem to remember Blue Pearl having one similar, at least). While I tend to prefer oil heavy sandalwood durbars, it would be impossible to say Golden Sandalwood is unpleasant, rather it almost strikes me as the typical average Indian sandalwood, with many poorer and better on either side. Many of IfI’s incenses starting with Golden are often their best, but this wouldn’t be one of those. At least it has the buttery and spicy sandalwood smell, accentuated over the pure wood by other aromatics.

I don’t see Shimmer in the catalog anymore, maybe it was discontinued or perhaps it was pulled for its low quality. This is the sort of harsh and somewhat cheap or synthetic masala blend that while aiming for a sort of old school temple blend in style, ends up being something of a mess. I thought it was quite soapy and bitter overall, it’s hard to believe someone would burn this for pleasure.

Russian Rose is a masala and I have to come out in front saying I generally really dislike Indian rose masalas, in fact it wasn’t until I just tried Shoyeido/Royal/Rose that I actually found a rose I enjoyed, so I’m already fairly biased against this scent. Like most floral masalas the base tends to compromise the top notes and in this case that top note is a somewhat pungent rose oil that’s almost abrasive in its intensity. The overall aroma comes off like many commecial spray deoderizers, but at least it’s not as inferior as some I’ve tried.

Overall, the existence of this article is to note these in passing. While I’d love to enthuse over the better incenses in the Incense for India catalog, given that I’m finding most of my old Indian incenses sitting more in drawers than in holders, it’s hard to imagine when that would be. But I did want to make a point of this so that people aren’t necessarily turned off of the whole catalog by this unrepresentative handful.