Mermade Magickal Arts / Abramelin, Cyprian, Dark Forest, Dark Goddess

So just as I was wrapping up the previous Mermade review, another surprise batch of new creations showed up at the door. It’s funny but I’ve probably never mentioned what boxes from Katlyn look like, although customers are surely familiar, but even the presentation of the arrival has the same care everything else does. It should be noted of course that Katlyn’s talent at art matches the same talent involved in the incense creation, so part of the fun is seeing the labels and stationery that comes with each box. As someone who gravitates towards the motifs of western esoterica, I find the way each incense comes packaged to be a delight and in fact anyone who has been involved in the western mystery schools to some extent will be delighted at the symbolism just on the tiny jar of the first incense to be reviewed here and even the bag the jar sits in. There is an attention to detail that rewards the attentive.

For example, check out the amount of research and information provided by Mermade on their newly created version of the legendary Abramelin ceremonial incense blend. This is a historically documented incense associated with the occult work, “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” a guide written to teach a student how to converse with their holy guardian angel and largely associated with Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema. Of course much has been written elsewhere on this subject and so we’ll stick to the incense itself. Katlyn has chosen to create this incense with one part green frankincense, a half part mix of myrrh and storax and a quarter part aloeswood powder. While this seems like a simple recipe the quality of ingredients can have a massive effect on what the final product will smell like and this is I’m sure the first of its kind used with the powerful and lime-like green frankincense. I know this isn’t Katlyn’s first attempt at such an incense and different attempts and styles can make them all quite different from another. This work has a maturity that has allowed for quite a bit of subtlety most of which seems to float around the beautiful and heady myrrh and storax combination in the middle. The frankincense is definitely powerful in this but once heating gets underway all of the parts merge very nicely together with the aloeswood providing a subtle and more fleeting sort of presence. I also love the color of this incense, it tends to a lovely golden like shade which reflects rather perfectly with the intent behind the incense. One wonders if the original creators behind the incense ever envisioned or formulated the incense with such fine ingredients.

Also a simple, lovely and almost overwhelming incense is the labadanum, rose and agarwood combination found in Mermade’s new Cyprian. This mix strikes me as quite different than a lot of the other Mermade incenses. It’s as if the ingredients are all adding up for something very spicy, alluring and somewhat vigorous. The rose scent in particular is beautifully calibrated and reminiscent of some of the old rose and resin mixes, somewhat veiled by the incense’s spiciness, but still very authentic and gorgeous. The labdanum and agarwood are all finely balanced and the whole thing works perhaps because of its simplicity as a combination, allowing the nature of each ingredient to bring life to the blend. Strangely there is a beguiling earth or clay tone in the mix, as a result of the incense’s combination and the fresh incense itself almost seems to have a complex level of hoppiness to it. I was quite taken away with this blend and highly recommend it as a deep intersection of floral, resin and wood.

I reviewed Wild Woods in the previous Mermade installment and Dark Forest is another in Katlyn’s long and distinguished line of forest and woods incenses. This one is definitely a bit closer to center than the ambery Wild Woods and has a very pungent foresty green presence that is practically unadulterated with any note that might move this off center. I’ve admitted my almost unconditional love for this kind of scent before and this one is no different. It’s not complex in a wider sense, but there is a lot of activity within the greenness, made possible by juniper, black spruce, cypress, fir and cedar with strong backing from the black frankincense. There’s a slight note of patchouli on this that fills in around the edges, not to mention and even more fleeting glimpse of vetiver, both elements that just give different kinds of greens to the whole. As always, there’s a bit of sweetness to the evergreen and resin combo. As always, these incenses are bullseyes and tend to be as user friendly as anything on the market.

Dark Goddess is a new vintage of a previously named incense with some similarities, but overall I think this new blend is quite a bit different in scent. For one thing, the patchouli was a big note in the previous incense, here it’s much more subtle and blends with greater balance. As someone who doesn’t mind a healthy bit of good patchouli, and by that I don’t mean the cheap stuff that can overwhelm a drum circle, I love both the old and new Dark Goddess, but certainly like all of Mermade’s work, the most recent vintage is always the mature work. This mix, which includes ingredients that tend to the polar opposite of the blends based in green frankincense, such as black Ethiopian resin and black frankincense, is a very complex incense where the parts interlock like pieces of a puzzle making it just that more difficult to pick out the single elements. All of the resinous material gives the incense hints of molasses, caramel but also something a bit more dry with the herbs, especially the vetivert, giving it all an earthly feel.

As always, these are just a segment of the wonderful work going on at Mermade and it’s always a distinct pleasure to be able to share my impressions. One thing I often notice is later on I tend to pick up new things as I use the incenses, further giving testament to the depth of the art at play here. And so once again I highly recommend newcomers to Olfactory Rescue Service to visit the site, grab a heater and try out some of the luxuries in the Mermade catalog, as they’re all limited editions and vintages that eventually give way to new ones.

Shunkohdo: Sarasoju, Zuika koh, Yoshino no haru, Ranjatai

Sarasoju is a nice, pretty straight up sandalwood. I am assuming that besides the wood that there is sandalwood oil as it has a very rich, deep sandalwood scent but you would need to use oil to get it to smell this way. Regardless, I think this is a winner and if you are looking for a sandalwood stick without other spices added into the mix then this could be one of your best bets.

Zuika koh is an agarwood blend that has a large amount of patchouli added in as well as just a hint of Borneol Camphor and probably some benzoin. Of course since people who really know what they are doing produce this, there are probably at least five more ingredients in it that one cannot detect that add to all this 🙂  I think it is pretty much “oil-less” although it is also fairly strong, not by Indian incense standards, but for a Japanese traditional stick. It has a very smooth delivery and can produce a very pleasant aroma. I tend to use this later in the night rather then during the day as it just seems more suited to the late night hours. Then again it would work well in some retail environments to set the mood.

Yoshino no haru, at least in the long format, is a very thick square stick with a nice green color (I always have wondered if the colors actually mean something, some sort of secret incense code). It has the “greenish/herbal” scent of Foenun Graecum plus some Borneol Camphor and other spices mixed into an agarwood base. I think this is one of the masterpieces of their line as it also, somehow, conveys a slight floral note within all of this that is very elegant. In fact I think this, as well as Ranjatai, are pretty unique in the incense world (although for different reasons). I do not use this on a daily bases, more like once a week, but if I am seeking this kind of scent the alternative is something at twice the price from other makers. It does a great job of living up to its name “Smell of Spring”.

Ranjatai has always been a favorite of mine, as well as many of the reviewers here. My vote says it is still one of the greats. There is a noticeable agarwood scent in the background over which the scent of musk and some spices float. It is truly elegant and captivating. It is also very smooth, which only happens via the use of decent materials and a big dose of skill. There are a lot of sticks from many countries that try to use a musk note. They are all pretty much synthetic smelling sweet concoctions that miss the reality of musk. These guys do it right. Other then their Kyara Seikan (which takes the whole concept up a couple of notches) I cannot think of another incense that comes across like this. For what you are getting the price is really good. Not inexpensive, but worth it nonetheless.

I am planning on reviewing their Kyara line up some time next month (after my bank account has recovered from this months buying spree). -Ross

myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

Mystic Temple / Agarwood, Cedarwood, Chandan Champa, Frankincense, Patchouli Champa

The first time I tried Mystic Temple Cedarwood was just after purchasing some at a store of Haight Ashbury in the 90s. At the time this line was by far the best incense I’d ever gotten to try and I spent months doing my best to stock up on all the great scents they had. But like all great incense companies, the change in ingredients meant that all the recipes slowly drifted and changed until a great deal of the Mystic Temple line is more on the same level as, say, the Nitiraj Aromatherapy incenses. Of course Mystic Temple’s line is much larger so there are still plenty of really great incenses to check out, but I’m always hesitant in reviewing them because I feel like the recipes could have changed since my batch. This sampling of five incenses really only relates to what I still have and haven’t reviewed yet.

Agarwood is a comparatively newer scent, and it’s so close in aroma to the Pure Incense Absolute Agarwood that one might assume the Mystic Temple is also Madhavadas family sourced. In fact it’s so exact, I’ll just refer you to that review. I’d only add the caveat that it might not be quite at the Absolute level (some of those faint and neat camphorish touches aren’t in this one), but it’s still quite close.

The Cedarwood of a decade or so ago was a green stick, the current version is brown. Where the old version had a bewitching, sweet and Himalayan cedarwood oil, much higher quality than any current cedarwood I could mention, this version is dull, more in the pencil wood direction, and rough, like it has a lot of cheap benzoin in it. In fact it’s almost more loban-like than cedar-like. It’s not unpleasant but if you want this style check out Pure-Incense in this case.

The Chandan Champa really surprised me upon revisiting it, my previous impression was that it was fairly generic. It has a superb sandalwood oil on top and it makes the incense. It had the crystally high end scent of old mountain wood on top of a basic champa aroma and it works nicely. Curious to see if this is the same as it has been a while since I bought this (and it’s aged really nicely, something I can say for several MT incenses). Anyway this is well worth investing in, in fact I can’t think of another sandalwood heavy champa with so true an oil. But beware, as times have changed.

Mystic Temple’s Frankincense is the standard Indian frankincense masala, also possibly Madhavadas sources. So this review is still close enough to be true. It has the usual cocoa/chocolate notes this type of masala usually exhibits and a frankincense that’s nice but not quite like the resin itself. Anyway this is virtually interchangeable with Triloka, the Pure Incense and others I’m not remembering at the moment.

The Patchouli Champa used to be a very distinctive champa but for some reason it also has been switched out with a lesser incense in the last decade or so. The scent used to have a really strong patchouli component with a slightly burned-like tinge to it. Here it seems missing or fading and it exhibits that almost crayon-like scent some synthetic champa incenses have. There even seems to be little in the way of patchouli in it at all, unless they were going for a lighter scent. Unfortunately there’s something off about this one now, the smoke seems astringent, as if synthetic elements are at work, and the aroma has little personality.

Ramakrishnanda / Bala Krishna, Govardhana, Madhurya Rasa, Shringara

Ramakrishnanda Part 1
Ramakrishnanda Part 2
Ramakrishnanda Part 3
Ramakrishnanda Part 4

My relationship with Ramakrishnanda incense has kind of hopped all over the place. I first encountered their line when it first came out in a local new age shop and was immediately impressed by the quality of scents based on how the incenses had almost permeated the whole store. But I found out quickly via the sampler packs that there were some incenses that were almost atrociously bad as well, and I also found out that much of the amazing aromatic qualities of the incenses had largely faded after six months (which is fairly typical of most Indian incenses). So in a year I went from thinking they were one of the better incenses lines on the market to somewhere in the middle.

There was also a small batch released about a year ago (covered in the Part 4 link above) that I found somewhat average, especially to what Shroff and Mothers were starting to release at the time and this sort of cemented my opinion that Rama were not quite as good as the new premium incenses coming out, but they were certainly better than the Satyas and Nitirajs. And with this new group of four incenses, I think the brand has brought the quality up a little, especially on (at least) two of these which are well worth checking out.

Ramakrishnanda’s Bala Krishna is not really a new incense as much as an old one in a new package. Sublabeled as saffron and frankincense, Bala Krishna is the classic dry saffron sandalwood masala (Mystic Temple has a version for example), the thin yellow stick with a mix of sandalwood and camphorous qualities with a nice saffron spice on top. Personally I find it pretty hard to even locate where frankincense might be in this one, as it’s never come to mind with this aroma, but I’ve always liked this one as it has a sort of “chandan” sandalwood type of scent to it that merges nicely with the saffron. It’s not really a surprise this one keeps popping up, it’s quite dependable and varies little from company to company.

As traditional as the Bala Krishna is, the Govardhana is nice little innovation in the world of champas with loban and coconut featured as the two main ingredients. I can’t even think of another incense that’s tried this combination before and I usually find coconut incenses to be almost disastrous, especially when they evoke cheap suntan lotions. The results here are impressively complex and inexpressibly beautiful. The loban isn’t anything like the gravelly benzoin scent you get in other sticks or resins, here it’s nice and cooling, even a  touch fruity without being overbearing. Well worth checking out this one, the subnotes even create some nice vetivert and/or patchouli associations.

Where Govardhana was a complete success, the combination of the khus and almond in the Madhurya Rasa blend doesn’t work at all. There’s something in the perfume that kills an essential part of the khus aroma and a part of the base that adds too much biutterness to the mix. This is very typical of the other incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line that don’t work, there’s an obvious clash at work. Even the almond isn’t particularly identifiable, which is quite disappointing, especially when you do think a combination like this could work.

There’s one more success in this new group, the combination of citronella, patchouli and geranium in the Shringara. I burned a stick of this late last night which caused me to bump this review a ways up on the list just to get the word out on this and the Govardhana. This is a big red colored champa that seems to have quite a bit of spice in the mix as well to go with the very interesting combination of three oils. One wonders if the same perfumers who create clashes like with the Madhurya Rasa also create the alchemic wonder of something like this, where the more cloying aspects of citronella are balanced so nicely by the patchouli and geranium. Perhaps the only issue with this stick might be that because the oils are so intense, I can imagine they’re probably going to fade quite a bit at some point. But if a cherry red, loud, brash scent amplified by lemongrass and patchouli sound up your alley, it’s well worth a look.

Anyway even if there’s one failure in this group, I still love the fact Ramakrishnanda are still up for experimenting with formulas and trying new things, because they can add two successes to their list.

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.

Pure Incense / Absolute / Black Sandalwood, Sandalwood and Lavender, Sandalwood and Rose, Patchouli, Patchouli and Rose

This is the sixth installment of the Pure Incense range, for previous reviews please refer to the Pure Incense link on the left (categorized under Indian incenses). In this installment I’m going to cover a small handful of sandalwood and patchouli incenses.

It’s probably worth reminding everyone that Pure Incense is an English company offering incenses made by the Madhavadas family which is also the source for Primo incense. There’s definitely some overlap between the two companies, so it’s a good idea to check what you have first. However, not only does Primo not offer the hybrids Pure Incense does, but Primo seems to stick to the inexpensive, so you’re far more likely to find quality incense via the Pure Incense route. But what all the Madhavadas incenses have in common is a sort of vanilla, charcoal and sandalwood base and in particular the former ingredient is quite noticeable in almost all of the line’s incenses, a trait that doesn’t always work out.

Black Sandalwood presents an alternative to the line’s regular Sandalwood, which can be found in both Connoisseur and Absolute ranges, however this variant is only found in the latter. The differences between this and the Absolute Sandalwood, however, are far more subtle than noteworthy. Like with the other sandalwood, the vanilla aspect of the base comes through quite strongly and changes the contour of the wood. The level of oil seems more matched by other elements that aren’t part of the Absolute Sandalwood, with a touch of mellow spice in the mix that tends to give the Black Sandalwood more breadth where perhaps the Absolute Sandalwood had more depth. Be sure you love the Absolute Sandalwood a lot before grabbing this one as the two incenses are very close.

While the fresh Sandalwood and Lavender stick allows one to sense both the sandalwood and lavender oils in the mix separately, like with many other Pure Incense “duos,” the two ingredients merge into something more hybrid-like while burning, and in this case the results are quite spectacular. For one thing, while you can smell the lavender oil on the fresh stick, the oil itself is more submerged in the burn allowing the lavender’s best aspects to rise to the top. It also helps to keep the ubiquitous vanilla scent a bit lower in the mix. The play of elements on top is particularly fascinating as the merging strengthens its floral characteristics. This is a good example of a scent being much more than a sum of its parts.

While the previous two scents are masala types, Sandalwood and Rose is a definite black charcoal-based stick, which is a style I’ll probably never fully embrace as the charcoal subscents always get in the way due to the sheer amount of smoke produced. While the oils are quite good, the vanilla is probably a bit too strong to work well and thus there seems to be as much charcoal and vanilla scent as there is the rose oil and a vague sense of sandalwood in the background. I expect the shelf life, like other charcoals, isn’t high and I’m wondering if the sample I was provided had already lost some of its power. Needless to say be sure you like strong charcoal scents before taking a chance on this.

Pure Incense’s Absolute Patchouli is quite a bit different from the Primo version although it’s similar in its green color. The oils are much richer on this one and in many ways this actually removes the scent from the more typical patchouli scent in the Primo. There’s a bit of lime hint in the mix (slightly similar to the Vrindavan Flower) that mixes with a soft almost uncharacteristic patchouli oil and the base’s usual vanilla and sandalwood mix. It all makes for a pleasant and unique patchouli variation.

The Absolute Patchouli stick can be detected almost as a subscent in the Patchouli and Rose and although the rose oil is strong, it mixes in quite nicely with the previously mentioned lime note. As with several of the (non-charcoal) hybrids, the blend of the two ingredients creates something new as a result. The oil mix does remind me of furniture polish to some extent, due to the rose somehow increasing the citrus-like qualities of the patchouli variation, but don’t take that to mean this isn’t a friendly incense. Like the Absolute Patchouli this is quite unique and it makes you wonder what other combinations would work well with the company’s patchouli.

This installment is not the final one in this series, but is the last of the samples I have at present and I’d like to thank both Pure Incense and Essence of the Ages for providing me with enough samples to be able to review the line. Since I received them, there have been several new additions to the line including Frankincense and Rose, Night Queen, Rhus Khus, Rose and Lavender, and Yellow Rose, so I hope to eventually get to try those out in the future.

Triloka / Cones / Amber Sun, Angelic Frankincense, Arabian Jasmine, Dream Rose, Green Patchouli, Musk, Royal Sandalwood, Sandalwood Fire; Ropes (4 unnamed)

In the Indian incense field some very heavy players have emerged onto the field in the last year or two. They appear to be using quality ingredients and some very well thought out combinations of herbs, spices, oils and resins to produce stellar results at very affordable prices (the fantasy of being able to buy 10 sticks of quality Japanese Aloewoods or Sandalwoods for under $5 makes me glassy eyed : o ) ). So the expectations for quality in the Indian incense market have been raised a great deal. This has resulted in making the selection much bigger and at the same time somewhat harder to deal with from both the consumer and the manufacturer point of view.

A couple things that Triloka has going for it are the quality of ingredients and their pricing. Plus I am sure they have a lot of established fans, having been around for decades at this point. We’ve covered some of the company’s sticks in the past so will be covering a series of cones and ropes in this write up. Mike’s reviews are noted by asterix, the rest, including the intro is by Ross.

In most of these cases the base used to create these cones can come off fairly harsh, particularly when the main ingredients don’t work so homogenously together. In Amber Sun‘s* case the cone appears to be going for a similar scent to the honey amber wax/resin combos. Due to the combo of base and aromatics the mix is fairly soapy and a little rough, but not at all unpleasant. Given the sun in the name, it seems appropriate for this to be a little on the hot side (almost like the scent of granite in the summer).

The Angelic Frankincense* also seems about half “cone blend” and half frankincense scent and if it wasn’t for all the deluxe frankincense resins that have been coming out way of late, I might rate this higher. At least this does what it sets out to do and unlike a lot of Indian incenses (including Triloka’s stick frankincense), this has a distinct if mid-quality, resinous scent with a tough of lemon. Like all the cones here, the binder might irritate the sinuses, so expect it to be a little hot.

The base of the Arabian Jasmine* isn’t quite as strong here, so I’m not sure if the make up is different due to the red color here (as opposed to the previous two cones’ tan color). Unsurprisingly, this is a very perfumed cone. Fortunately, even if it’s obviously not a premium jasmine scent at this price, it’s still fairly dry and not too cloying, a touch fruity even, like a strawberry synthetic. Not amazing, but not offputting either, for the price it’s quite well balanced.

The Dream Rose* is an interesting floral cone to be sure, only roughly approximating (or dancing around) a mix of dry petals, fruity and perfume scents. There’s rarely ever a rose incense that hits it right at this cost level and overall this is a bit on the cloying side, particularly by the end of the cone.

There is a sort of classic sweet Patchuli note in the Green Patchouli that is married up to a “green” spicy note. For me this does not work, but I could see how it would for others. The two main notes seem to be trying to act as a balance between each other but for me it is more like being pulled back and forth.

In the Musk, a somewhat balsamic floral musk quality is hampered by the wood. This might really work well if the quality of the wood had been higher. The actual musk scent is at least in the ball park (given how wide the variations seem to be). I would guess it is herb/spice based and it works. The burning wood scent tends to get in the way of the musk tones, which is too bad as they are well done.

The Royal Sandalwood has a somewhat floral note with a semi sweet quality to it. It smells like it is made without synthetic based oils, which is a relief. It does not have a particularly noticeable sandalwood scent to it but is overall a pleasant floral based scent. The floral quality may be the “Royal” part of the name. I could see a lot of people liking this. It is a cone so it will put out a lot of smoke and scent very quickly to scent a room.

The Sandalwood Fire has a much more pronounced sandalwood scent to it; it also has a very dry overall character, not at all floral or spicy. It is rather surprising in that respect. I generally expect to find a deeper oil based sandalwood scent in Indian incense so if that is your goal then this is most likely not your incense. However, if you were looking for something to break up the traditional heavy oil approach then this might work for you.

The Triloka rope sampler we received contains four different rope incenses only identified by the colored tips, so we’ve indicated the color for each incense.

Like a lot of Tibetan rope incenses, the overall bouquet in the Blue Tip* is like a mixture of herbs, the smell of juice powder mix and spice, so it not only has a wood base but a wide variety of combustibles that make for an unusual and very smoky blend. This has tints of sandalwood, citrus, the tannin like scent from seeds (like in wine), grapefruit, hints of evergreen (juniper, maybe cypress), and a mixed fruit scent that makes this quite pleasant through the final rope loop.

The Green Tip* rope is a much woodier and less fruitier blend than the Blue Tip and subsequently a lot more generic, with there being more of a cedarwood presence than the softer woods in the previous rope. There’s a slight tinge of orange peel but mostly a lot of BBQ, cardamom, clove or spice. An average rope, pleasant, but not arresting.

There is a certain sweet floralish quality to the Red Tip mixed into a herbal note that is very interesting. There are no oil notes present and little of woods. So what you are getting is pretty much herbs, spices, resins and whatever flowers are in the mix. I do not recognize any of the notes but do find the overall mix to be interesting and pleasant. I could see this working in a prayer or alter setting quite well.

When the Yellow Tip is lit, a pervasive juniper-like note comes on very strong followed by a very clean burning herb note. The overall feeling here seems to be cleanliness or purification. There might also be something along the lines of sage in the mix. Probably not something you are going to use all the time but in the right context it would work fine.

Triloka incense is quite widespread in the US so should be found at many stores. You can also find a wide array of Triloka products through Sensia.

Mother’s India Fragrances / Arjava, Hansa, Lavanya, Om, Purusha, Sattwa, Yajna

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. 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.

Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampas / Agni, Amrita, Atma, Bhakti, Jyoti, Lila, Moksha

After being introduced to and living with Mother’s India Fragrances’ original five Nagchampas, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t have asked the question “How come there aren’t more of them?” After all the originals are a phenomenal quintet of nagchampas in an era where the form has mostly degenerated. Where so many companies have either eliminated or reduced the content of halmaddi in their products, often creating inferior recipes that only resemble the incenses they used to create, Mother’s have managed to continue a line that not only still contains the ingredient (also called mattipal) but considerably expands the art form.

That is, when nagchampas were made 15 years ago or earlier, the incenses were so full of the gum that the sticks remained so wet you could easily pull them apart. The Mother’s Nagchampas don’t aim for a similar effect and while the incenses are still quite damp, often visibly through the inner packagaing, they all have a uniform consistency that follows the original five scents to what is an incredible 14 new scents. And for those of you already well familiar with the original five, these are going to surprise and elate you as in most cases they have brought the form up to a new level of complexity. Almost all of these incenses have as many as five or six different oil or material sources not even counting the halmaddi/mattipal and honey base. The results are so impressive that it’s difficult to feel that even after sampling several sticks of them that the full story has been told.

I’d like to thank both the home company of Mother’s India Fragrances and their Dutch distribution company Wierook for not only making Olfactory Rescue Service aware of them, but by providing a bounty of gifts and samples in time for me to get some reviews out just before the products come to the United States (not to mention one of the most informative and descriptive English language documents I’ve ever seen for a line of incenses, something that strongly assisted my reviews). Where it was difficult to label only five incenses as the finest Nagchampa line available, now that the total is up to 19, there’s really no question that this is the top line of its format, with a fascinating and aromatically superior range that doesn’t stop to recreate any old recipes and instead uses superior essential oils and absolutes to create a wide range of impressive and intricate scents. This installment will cover the first half of these 14 new incenses with the second half to follow shortly.

The first of these incenses is Agni Nagchampa. Perhaps the most simple description is that this is more or less a musk nagchampa, but it’s far more complex than that. It’s essentially a French Musk sort of scent, which bears some comparison to Shroff’s incense of that name or even the old Blue Pearl Musk Champa, however we know from the description that the central musk scent is created from ambrette seeds. My experience with musks created this way is that they usually aren’t quite this sweet, so one has to look to the other ingredients to see how the bouquet is formed. Obviously the halmaddi and honey anchor this quite nicely at the base as they do for all of the incenses here, so it’s really the middle of the aroma where the magic is. The pivotal ingredient here is neroli or orange blossom oil, an aspect which is the first of many through these incenses that show an incredibly clever perfumery at work because it’s a scent that is mellow and doesn’t overpower while anchoring the musk to the base. The cedar seems to bring out the balsamic aspects to the scent more which both balances the neroli and ensures the fragrance doesn’t go over the top on its way out. Make no mistake, this is still a decadently rich and sweet incenses as any sweet musk would be, but you can almost feel the restraint nonetheless.

As rich and sweet as the Agni is, the cinnamon-laden Amrita Nagchampa is almost a study in contrasts. Even with the amazing halmaddi and honey base, the results are very dry and of this seven, this could be the most direct incense. The cinnamon is very beautifully drawn, in fact the description the company uses is “edible,” something easily understood with a sample. However the cinnamon does have its supporting actors, including patchouli, cedar and some unnamed woods and resins. There are some elements in this that remind me of Nippon Kodo’s Silk Road incense except with a much more genuine feel) but the comparison hints at an exotic subnote that really helps to transmute the base to support the overall dryness.

The Atma Nagchampa is also a restrained piece of work, but in this case it doesn’t transmit a single essence like the previous scent did, instead it portrays a balancing act with a number of different notes at work. What’s amazing about it is that even with so many players the composite aroma remains gentle and subtle. On top we have the dominant floral oils at work, some lavender and what seems like a closer mix of geranium and kewra (pandanus or screwpine) notes. But like several incenses among the new aromas, Mother’s have chosen to contrast these floral elements with a spicy backdrop (including clove), something the company is clearly adept at. The results are actually akin to a standard (if exceptional in quality) nag champa with a soft floral in touch. What it loses without a particularly aggressive bouquet, it gains with a gentle aura and since everything seems to work on such a subtle level, it’s one of the most difficult in this group to get a hang on. But by the last stick I had out it was really starting to get under my skin.

Bhakti Nagchampa is something of an instant classic. As mentioned with the previous incense, Bhakti goes for a floral spice mix that is extraordinary in that it seems possible to pick out the individual elements as they interact with each other. The rose/tuberose/geranium mix on the top could be the best among a number of incredible floral elements across all these incenses and this is perhaps because they not only have strong definition but they’re contrasted perfectly with the patchouli and cedar base. In fact the only question I have is whether a scent like this might lose some of this fantastic definition with aging, because the balance here is like a highwire act with all the base elements a stage for the florals to dance lightly over.

Jyoti Nagchampa has some similarities to the cinnamon heavy Amrita, but here the scent is less monochromatic and more of a tangier multi-spice blend. In fact, it seems likely some of its spicier attributes come from the mix of myrrh, vertivert and patchouli, a group of ingredients that all have great transmutational qualities in different blends. In fact any time Mother’s uses a larger amount of resins in its incenses, it seems to trigger the more balsamic and sometimes evergreen qualities of the base. The mix definitely leaves me very curious about the quality of benzoin used in the ingredients as I recognize none of the usual subnotes and a quality that is truly exquisite. Again this mosaic (which also pulls in kewra to a slight degree) really hits a great balance with a vanilla and spice presence that is just perfect.

Lila Nagchampa is a patchouli heavy incense whose other ingredients really shift the whole tonal balance you normally associate with the herb in new and fascinating ways. For one, this is an incense as sweet as the Agni or Moksha blends, something particularly unusual for something so prevalent with patchouli. Sharing the stage with the patchouli on the top is tuberose, which has already shown its effectiveness in the Bhakti, but where that incense contrasted the floral and spicy, the Lila goes for the composite approach, like a rainbow color chart changing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Undoubtedly the vetivert changes the patchouli element some, always a great partnering, but perhaps where the benzoin and oakmoss lies is where the true transmutation occurs as it falls into the sweet base. The informational material also calls chocolate as a note as a result of the benzoin and you indeed find a powdery cocoa-like subnote in the mix of all this interaction. Like so many of these beautiful scents this seems like one that will have a learning curve as long as the best incenses because it’s not at all what you’d expect in the long run. It’s better.

Moksha Nagchampa …. well if you think it couldn’t get any better than what I’ve already run through then we’d have to at least call this a gamechanger. Champa users may be familiar with a lot of the intersections between style and addition, but the incredibly lily of the valley scent (muguet) that crowns the Moksha is positively ecstatic. And Mother’s doesn’t shy from the contrasts here either, setting off on a trail of oriental woods and saffron notes that end up creating a very rich depth before giving one a floral shock that starts with the rose notes, part of which are described as “citrusy rose petals” which seem to be what I’m picking up as a slight melon-like fruitiness. It all results in the most incredible, kaleidoscopic aroma that has the feminine, floral notes of so many modern perfumes but with the depth of the traditional. I’ve had a few incenses with lily of the valley in them, but none quite so stunning as this one.

One thing you’d expect from a great company is that in expanding what was a really impressive quintet, Mother’s haven’t sat on their laurels and tried to spin similar variations off of an already established success, they’ve possibly surpassed them, or if not, they’ve added such an incredible amount of variation to their line that it breathes new life into the whole line and makes you want to go back to the original quintet for reevaluation. With each stick I became far more deeply involved with each one to the point that picking a favorite is very difficult, there’s really not a blend here I wouldn’t want consistent stock on. There’s just no question that this is the crowning line of the modern nagchampa and I’m fortunate to be able to bring seven more to your attention in the next installment.

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