Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Aravind, Chakra, Govinda, Pavitra, Radha, Rishi

The initial batch of five Mother’s India Fragrances proved to be a line popular enough to expand, with fourteen new incenses hitting the market about two years ago. The company has chosen to expand the line once again with not only these initial six incenses, but I believe there are also six more, although I have not received samples of these yet. Mother’s nagchampas in some ways are a style of their own, featuring halmaddi, sandalwood and additional ingredients in order to create scents that are unlike any other incenses on the market. For one thing, while these aren’t low smoke, they do tend to be a bit mellower than the incenses put out by Shroff and Dhuni and I know there have been times switching back to these sticks where I’ve found them a bit hard to pick up. So I tried to spend a bit of time with these in order to let them open up.

In essence you could almost call at least four out of these six sticks an expansion in the floral/rose direction. This is an interesting move by the company as I don’t think this niche had been quite as worked out yet in the  previous expansion. However, scents like these are usually considered more modern and less traditional and so I think a lot of these are likely to appeal outside the incense crowd and only those within that crowd who can deal with a lot of rose, geranium and jasmine scents are likely to go for most of these. And so I should probably state outright that geranium tends to get on my nerves quite a bit, so keep that in mind in cases where it pops up that this is a reflection of taste and not artisanship.

Aravind Nagchampa is something of a Lotus Nagchampa (Aravind means Lotus) and it combines jasmine, gardenia, rose and champa flower for the first of the florals here. This is the first of four that takes the Mother’s nagchampa center into a pink, “floral bouquet” direction, perhaps for the first time. All four of these incenses share a very delicate and light floral touch. Like a lot of incenses using low cost floral oils, the mix of oils tends to a bit of a generic quality, yet perhaps the surprise is that the overall stick comes off kind of dry and not drenched in perfume like you’d expect for this kind of style. In fact one thing to realize up front is it often takes a stick or two before the bouquet starts to unfold and in this case the results can occasionally be reminiscent of the actual flowers. In fact, this is actually reminiscent of some of the more affordable and better Japanese florals. As to whether this is reminiscent of other Lotus incenses, I’ll leave up to you, as they all tend to vary quite a bit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this first bunch is the Chakra Nagchampa which is one of two here that doesn’t go in the pink and floral direction. Well, you wouldn’t know it from the description, which lists fruits, spices, jasmine, tuberose, cyclamen and lily. Once again, this feels like a distinct move to a more modern and mainstream friendly type of incense and it’s reminiscent of one or two of the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume blends in the way this combines florals and fruits with spice around the edges. Of course the cyclamen note is almost immediately evocative of NK’s Aqua, but seated in the Mothers’ halmaddi base, the results to my nose are a lot more successful. In fact without the spicyness this might not have worked too well, but instead we have something fascinating. This is possibly the first in this group I’d recommend without hesitation, especially as it’s quite unlike previous incenses in the line.

Govinda Nagchampa returns to the floral (sub)style with a mix of sweet champa flower, neroli, ylang ylang and sweet roses. During my first sticks it was instantly noticeable how similar this is in style to the Aravind, except in this case it feels like the halmaddi/sandalwood center seems to come out a bit more. Govinda isn’t quite as dry as Aravind and the overall scent is noticeably sweeter. But like Aravind this is a noticeably more floral and “flower mix” type of scent than previous installments in the line and so when you look at the overall expansion it makes sense to move in this direction, giving the brand quite a bit more breadth. Like the Pavitra, I found that this mix starts to take off with use and like most of the incenses in the line increased use makes you feel like the creators really sat down and made sure they got the balance right. So if you want to try one of the florals I’d either start with this one or the Pavitra, but be sure to try one before expanding to the others as they’re all variations on a theme.

Pavitra Nagchampa might have been the floral in this group I liked the most, if, perhaps, because I spent the most time with it. At this point in taking notes on these incenses you start to run out of descriptive qualities when the incenses still fall into a pink, rosy, “feminine,” floral bouquet category. Certainly they all vary in scent within these qualities, but how to describe this one is difficult because my initial take was that the the top was a bit too strong with the florals of jasmine, rose, neroli, ylang ylang and balsamic orris. But after a few sticks it started to hit me from outside that such a mix works really well with the champa base, perhaps here the balsamic orris is triggering the halmaddi to bring out some more foresty qualities. Anyway if I was to choose one of the floral bouquet champas here to start with it would be the Pavitra, if only because I think it underlines how clever some of these blends are.

Radha Nagchampa is more dry and robust as a floral and includes white rose and spicy geranium. Anything with geranium tends to lose me and this wasn’t much of an exception, but putting aside the personal preference, you’d have to discuss this one in terms of its rosyness. As such this is perhaps the least bouquet-like as a floral, but it moves in the type of floral direction that I tend to find a bit harsh. It does have the same sort of clever balance the rest of the incenses in the line does in terms of the oils matching up with the base, but as this was the fourth incense so close in style, I was started to really run out of ways to separate this from the rest. In the end I’d probably say start with Pavitra, if you really love it follow it up with Govinda.

It’s perhaps a tribute to how modern this latest batch is that Rishi Nagchampa is described as an incense children love, and sure enough this mix of red roses, fruity jasmine  and blue violets puts this square in the inoffensive and fruity berry category. Generally anything this reminiscent of stawberries or raspberries will tend to be fairly popular but as most incense lovers know, you can only approximate these kinds of scents and in doing so the results often come off a bit generic, sure you won’t offend anyone but the results won’t be particularly exciting either. As a result even though this strikes me as a natural incense, the mix of scents leaves this feel a bit synthetic or dull. It’s lightly reminiscent of the smell of a big vat of gumballs at a candy shop or berry candles. It actually is quite well done overall in that it’s a lot better than most incenses this style, but like most of this new expansion it feels tailor made for people with only a casual interest in incense.

Anyway I hope to follow this up eventually with the other six. It should be said that Mother’s has always been incredibly generous with what they send, in this batch I also got a set of essential oils and absolutes they appear to be selling. All of the ones I sampled seemed to be of good quality (I particularly enjoyed the various cinnamon and cassia oils) so if you’re an incense creator this could be well worth looking into. Overall despite that some of these incenses aren’t to my personal tastes, I think this is a pretty clever expansion with every single one of these not repeating the type of scents we’ve already seen. And if you’re a fan of roses and other florals there’s probably some new favorites waiting for you.

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Shoyeido / Floral World / Gold (Pine, Violet, Jasmine)

Shoyeido / Floral World / Echo
Shoyeido / Floral World / Royal
Shoyeido / Floral World / Star

It has been a while since we covered a Shoyeido incense and in that time I realized we’d never discussed the most inexpensive assortment of Floral World incenses. In the meantime it seems the company has discontinued either part of the line or the entire line (I couldn’t find a link to this one in the Shoyeido catalog, but Essence of the Ages seems to have stock still). so you’re left with what is a 60 stick box, 20 short sticks per aroma.

It’s probably helpful to look at the whole series in terms of its gradient. At the top end in the Star set you have some of the finest modern florals on the market. The ingredients used are extremely high quality and it gives a definition to the florals that is a really rare thing for any incense. This extreme definition is gone with the Royal set, but generally speaking you’re still getting very high quality florals with slightly more static aromas. With Echo you’re definitely a step down and getting close to more of what you see floral wise on the Japanese market. When you get down to Gold what you’re mostly smelling is the moden process involved in the work and the way that process makes the incenses sweet and friendly, however by the Gold they’re starting to lose a lot of individual personality.

For instance, I’m not sure Pine would even be something I’d get out of the set’s red stick, although this is not a suprise given the previous sets’ sandalwoods tend to the floral and not the traditional. This is sugary, sweet, loud and brash , unsurprisingly not bearing any of the subtlety of the higher ranges, while still being a friendly incense in its own right. At this level, however, I get subscents like berry candles and the side effects of the massive perfume hit these incenses are given. The incense in itself is actually not bad, but I think I get a bit of dissonance when I try to think of it as a pine incense.

The Violet is a little thin in the middle and it’s impossible not to think of how wonderful the higher end violet is in the Floral World series. It seems that some of the incenses in the entire series might use some resins to give it some middle, but whatever it is that causes that effect is missing here. Like the Pine, there isn’t so much a specific violet aroma as there is an approximation of it. Maybe in another company such lack of distinction would lead to a poor incense, but again this is certainly nice and friendly just not very specific.

The Jasmine feels like a fainter, less quality version of the Floral World royal jasmine, again the lack of distinction is what really sets these apart from the other incenses in the series. It’s puffy, sweet, overperfumed yet friendly and like the other incenses in the box, I can’t help but sense similarities to the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume line in terms of what they’re trying to do.

Obviously this Floral World line is priced so that the more you pay the better the quality of incense and really it’s much easier to recommend the better ones even at those prices. These are nice, but it wouldn’t shock me if this really was deleted.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

Shoyeido / Xiang-Do / Rose, Palo Santo, Vanilla, Mixed Fruits, Citrus, Marine, Lavender, Violet

Shoyeido’s Xiang-Do series is created by what the company calls their exclusive pressed incense process, a process that for most of us on the outside will be somewhat obscure. What we can tell from the product is that these incenses concentrate the aromatics to a degree rarely found in the natural world and, most importantly, do so very successfully. To my nose, Shoyeido is responsible for many of the best modern incense styles on the planet and their pressed incense is generally extraordinary.

Like Shoyeido’s LISN series, one is aware by the numbers on the boxes that we only see a small part of this line here, what would amount to 16 incenses, with three of them labelled as Xiang-Do Fresh (Green Tea, Tea, Coffee). Xiang-Do not only provides a small sampler for the Fresh trio, but a 12 stick/12 aroma sampler as well. It looks like the larger 30 stick/10 aroma sampler has been deleted at the Shoyeido site, but may be available for a little while longer if you look around. The price of the 20 stick boxes is rather close to $15 and with the short 2 3/4 inch length, these incenses can generally be considered pricy, as is all of the incenses that use the pressed incense process (I know I’d like to see bigger (60 stick) boxes). I’ll be covering half of the line in this article, the other half will be forthcoming (including my two favorites in the entire line – Forest and Peppermint).

Xiang Do’s Rose is easily one of the better Rose incenses I’ve been able to sample, perhaps not quite at the level of the Floral World/Royal Rose, but certainly more affordable. Like all of the line’s incenses the floral oil is very concentrated, starting with a sweet garden-like rose aroma and ending in a surprisingly dry finish. Rose incenses aren’t generally my favorite, but the style and rich base make this quite attractive.

Palo Santo comes from an Andean tree and while it’s a rather extraordinary scent whether natural or in this pressed style, it’s one you rarely see in Japanese incense, which makes this somewhat unusual. I think of it as a somewhat orangey aromatic wood, with hints of mango and apricot and a bit of talcum. Quite pleasant and definitely unique, it’s likely to be friendly to most noses.

Vanilla is about what you’d expect, although the intensity of the aroma brings out sides to the scent rather uncommon to most vanilla incenses. It’s both slightly sweet and spicy, but not at all like vanilla in the ice cream or confectionary sense, a little closer to the tonka bean sort of aroma, almost as if it had fruitlike qualities. This is one I’ve slowly grown to over time and I’d probably put it in the second tier after Forest and Peppermint.

Mixed Fruits never strikes me as a good idea for incense, and while this is decent the overall mix of apple, citrus, banana and grape kind of renders the overall aroma somewhat banal. I can imagine specific fruits would probably work better under such a style and can imagine the Japanese line must have them. Here there’s a surprising lack of aromatic concentration and distinction. However fruit incense lovers might see this a bit different.

Citrus has similar issues, although in many ways this is fairly close to Forest and Peppermint in style. The previously mentioned 30 stick sampler was displayed sort of like a rainbow of colors and while it does help to make it look like a pretty box, there may also be some similarities in style with scents similar in color. The end note on this one has a grapefruit-like citrus aroma that for my nose doesn’t finish quite so well.

Marine is another one that may seem bizarre to the western nose. It’s that attempt to capture the aromas of being at sea or on a beach. Nippon Kodo have an incense called Aqua that captures that sort of wet/watery sort of scent. Marine itself is more of a saltwater vibe, a bit of brine that doesn’t seem to work so well with the general base of this incense. Fortunately it’s dry, but this will be one you’d want to try in a sampler first.

The last two are probably my favorite in this specific group. Lavender surprised me in not being very typical of incenses with French lavender oil, which is a good thing given their prevalence. The aromatics are intense enough to give the incense an almost liquor-like lavender scent, dense, perfumed and sweltery. It does have similarities to the lavender you might find in hair products, however the Xiang-Do base helps to balance this proclivity and keep it a little on the sweeter side.

Violet‘s my favorite of the Xiang-Do floral scents, not terribly far from the natural aroma, although the base adds sweetness and balance to the oil. I got a little purple valentine candy in there as well, it’s a really delightful scent, one of the few florals I can really get behind.

Other than the Fresh trio I mentioned earlier, the remaining Xiang Do incenses (exported to the US) are Forest, Peppermint, Sandalwood, Frankincense and Agarwood, all of which I hope to cover in the future once I managed to “complete the series.” Despite that I’ve been fairly critical on this first eight, I’d still recommend giving the sampler a try as depending on one’s personal tastes you might well find that you enjoy certain blends more than I do. I tend to find Shoyeido pressed incenses to be among the finest treats in incense and very complimentary to woody, spicy and more natural styles.

SAMPLER NOTES: Kunmeido / Tsukinowa / Blue Rose, Green Lily, Yellow Jasmine, Red Violet

If you scroll down just over half way here, you’ll see the four packages of Kunmeido Tsukinowa coils that come in four varieties, eight coils for $21.00. It should be said up front that like many traditionally minded incense appreciators, I don’t tend to go for floral aromas as much as woods or spices, so the four coils here aren’t really aimed at my tastes, except that I’m very fond of coils.

In terms of quality, I’d say these are definitely better than most under $10 floral incenses, but not quite up to, say, the Shoyeido Floral World Star line. Floral World Royal’s closer, but I’d say these are just under those in terms of quality. In the Shoyeido Floral World line, the better quality of aromatic oils seem to distinguish price and at the Star level you’re probably getting something very close to essential oil in the aroma, there’s actual specific definition of the aromas involved. When you move down to Royal the definition loses its specficity some while still being of very high quality. I imagine the Tsukinowas as another step down, where the aromatics aren’t quite up to Royal but have about the same amount of definition.

It’s fairly difficult to really describe these four coils outside of their base aromas, like many florals, it’s a matter of the top oils that set the tone for the scent. The Yellow Jasmine for example will be of little surprised to those familiar with Japanese Jasmine incenses. There’s definitely sandalwood in the base, but the overall aroma is driven by the powerful Jasmine oil. Like all the Tsukinowa coils, these almost have Indian incense-like strength and will have a room smelling like Jasmine in a matter of seconds. Perhaps, a little too strong at times, at least these are high quality enough not to have any noticeable off notes.

The Green Lily is also pretty definitive and while I prefer something like Encense du Monde’s Blissful Mountain, which combines a traditional Japanese sandalwood with Lily of the Valley essential oil, this comes pretty close in a more modern, perfumed sort of way. I’m not a huge fan of Lily to be honest, there’s a bit of bitterness or sharpness in the smell that I may just not be built to appreciate, but there are some sweeter notes in the base of this coil that help to make it somewhat user friendly.

The Blue Rose isn’t generally the most friendly of Roses, after all blue colored roses don’t appear in nature and as such a symbol around it has grown to mean an impossibility (think of the Red Rose symbol and the heart). I thought it was actually impossible I’d find a rose I’d like until I bought the Shoyeido Floral World Royal pack, but even then there’s an aspect of very red rose incense that’s a bit bitter or sharp for me, so I found this Blue Rose to be a bit mellower and more to my liking. It may not make a rose convert out of me, but I found the harsher notes to be muted here, so that you get the rose aroma but not in an overwhelming base. I found it to be the best of the four coils here, not something I would have bet on before sampling.

In fact I thought Red Violet would have been my #1 before checking the Tsukinowas out, but I’ve probably been ruined on the Shoyeido Floral World Star Violet, which is still my favorite floral. Very little compares favorably to it, but at least with the Tsukinowa you get a fairly definitive violet aroma. Here the aroma seems to be quite a bit different, at times reminiscent of violets, at others more like a general floral incense. I thought there was maybe a bit of tartness to this scent that didn’t make it work as well as I would have liked, but without a full box I’m not sure if that was an anomaly for this coil. Overall it may have been the most strongly perfumed of the four and as such approaching, if not getting to an off note.

Overall these four are a little above standard florals and those already prone to floral incenses are likely to enjoy at least one or two of these quite a bit. For me, so many florals have harsh or off notes, so it’s easy to celebrate incenses that don’t have those notes. And between $3 and $4 a coil isn’t too bad for this sort of quality. (Thanks to Ross for the samples) – Mike

Sampler Notes: Daihatsu Tanka Range

Daihatsu are a Japanese company marrying the art of incense with French perfumery. Very few of their incenses currently imported into the US could be considered traditional. The incenses in question here, more so than the line represented by the black boxes, represent a modern vision that while working with some common ingredients, end up creating entirely new bouquets. These are rather unlikely to appeal to traditionalists or ingredient purists, but in most cases Daihatsu manage to create partially synthetic incenses that don’t usually have harsh or offputting notes and could be considered superior to lower quality incenses that do the same thing. The following are notes on this range based on partial sticks.

Young Leaves is an incense with a sweet, autumnal aroma. It has hints of musk, new carpet and mint and is overall a bit on the sharp side. Like most of these aromas the scent is pretty powerful and perfumed. At times it reminded me of the mintier Shoyeido 12 months incenses, except not quite as refined. Overall, quite nice.

Plum Tanka isn’t all that similar to your traditional plum blossom incense, it’s more of a floral bouquet. Due to the perfume the scent is much more up front and distinct, but you actually get more fruit than blossom, with what reminds me of rose on top. I liked the fact the overall scent tended to the dry side rather than sweet.

Violet Tanka is a rather picture perfect inexpensive violet perfume, well rounded, but a bit on the soapy side at times, which I think is more of an indicator of my relationship to floral incenses than anything else. Like the whole range it has an unsual aromatic strength and in many ways it feels like an alternate version of the Plum Tanka.

Daihatsu’s Sandalwood is so close to a traditional sandalwood that it either is or they’ve downplayed the perfumey elements on this one and as such it stands out like a sore thumb in the line. It has a very contoured sandalwood aroma, definitely aiming for the heartwood sort of scent, but with a bit of spice giving it a bit of richness. Perhaps as this is closer to my tastes than the florals, I found it fairly impressive for hitting the right notes, although overall it doesn’t differ that much from most heartwood sandalwoods.

The best of the line, unsurprisingly, is the Tokusen Tanka. We’re definitely flat into perfume ranges here, there’s almost nothing about this incense that will remind you of the traditional, rather it smells like someone’s fantastic, sultry perfume and as such may be a bit too much for an incense. It’s by far the boldest scent in the line, minty, sultry and modern like some of Shoyeido’s LISN line. Roughly it falls into a green tea/patchouli sort of area, without really being too strong on either note.

Lilac Tanka is by far the most synthetic smelling in this range, but that’s an opinion I almost always get with florals such as this, there’s a real soapy feel to this that reminds me of Indian incenses at times. Overall it’s about what you’d expect, lilac perfume, something not really all that attuned to my tastes.

There’s also another four boxes, mentioned above, that Daihatsu create that still work with perfume but end up in much more traditional areas. Of these I liked the Myo-jyou and Kaizan enough to buy boxes, but found over time that the perfumy nature made it so that I wasn’t reaching for them quite so much. I do wonder if I’d take a similar track with any of the Tankas, but I’d take that as a more traditionalist opinion. If you like modern scents, a sampler might be worth a look as I definitely think this line is more superior to, say, similar Nippon Kodo incenses.

Shoyeido / Floral World / Star

Ever tried to figure out the Shoyeido catalog when it comes to their Floral World line? There are a few things one ascertains immediately, that the series has various grades, ranging from the low end “Gold,” through “Echo” and “Royal” to the high end “Star.” Each 60 stick (or 36 cone) package comes with three aromas, while there’s also single aroma cone packages (Gold/Violet, Echo/Sandalwood, Royal/Rose, Star/Jasmine)that we can only assume represent one aroma from the combo packages. We can also assume due to the fact that certain aromas have different color sticks depending on how deluxe the box is that what is Violet in the Gold set differs in quality from the Violet in the Star set.

As someone more drawn to woody and spicy incenses, I was initially hesitant to try out the line, which is why I started with the deluxe Star rather than working my way up the line. And it’s a good thing I did because these are three of the finest floral incenses I’ve ever encountered, light years away from most Japanese floral incense, let alone the many bitter and offputting Indian rose and jasmine masalas. They’d likely make a convert out of anyone.

All the 60 stick/36 cone combos are packaged like the Incense Road sampler and resemble the Horin line in size and very slightly in base. I’m definitely an enthusiast of this style of incense which often strikes me as midway between traditional and the modern “pressed” varieties of incense. That is, the aromas are very rich and often seem concentrated.

The two “obviously” floral incenses in the box are both the finest I’ve ever experienced in either the jasmine or violet categories. The Star jasmine combines that Horin richness with very high quality jasmine oil for a rich and slightly spicy experience that leaves most jasmine sticks far behind. The violet is beyond belief, the oil creating the aroma is so finely detailed that one can imagine being buried in a mountain of violet flowers, almost like one is smelling a pure essential oil except with that same rich base. While the other two incenses in the box took me a couple to get used to them, the violet knocked me out right the start.

The final incense, the sandalwood, as you might guess isn’t really anything like most sandalwoods. It’s a slightly different shade of green from the sandalwood found in the Incense Road line, and far different in aroma being something like a floral bouquet with only the barest hint of wood.

I’m now willing to check out the Royal box next time, especially since it includes the most deluxe rose incense in the line. Having not met a rose incense I’ve liked, I’m now hoping to become a convert there too.