Gokula Incense / Rose & Saffron, Royal Vrindavan Flower, Sandalwood & Myrrh, Sandalwood & Saffron, Shiva Nag Champa, Tulsi Vrinda

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla
Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra
Marigold & Juhi, Musk & Amber, Musk & Champa, Musk Heena, Musk & Patchouli, Pink Rose

This is the last of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

Rose & Saffron is a natural pairing for incense and this one acts as a very different incense to the Pink Rose I covered last time. For one, this isn’t as sweet, but you can still feel some similarities between the two incenses around the base. Strangely enough I detect something like a chocolate note but I also felt what is stepping in for the saffron here might be more obvious on the fresh stick than on the burn. It also has some sort of camphorous-cooling elements in the mix as well. This is very different from, say, the Vedic Vaani Saffron Rose and that’s a good thing as this combination of elements doesn’t really remind you of other incenses and keeps it fresh. In the end I kind of love the minty sort of top on it. Quite a bit to explore on this one, there’s a lot going on.

Every time I see an incense with Vrindavan in it, it’s kind of like musk or lotus, they’re so different from stick to stick that you can’t always be sure what you’re getting. But Gokula’s Royal Vrindavan Flower is a really gorgeous stick and mostly presents a champa-ish incense with a really beautiful and somewhat unique floral oil that I can’t remember every placing in an incense before, at least exactly. I’m not even sure how to describe it because it strikes me as being sort of pink, sort of lotus like, but ultimately really balanced. It’s a touch soft, so likely a bit of halmaddi is in the mix, but overall I love the pretty after effect of burning, it’s as if some of the perfume is separate from the smoke. Definitely one I’d put on your Gokula shopping list, this one’s quite special.

So I had almost forgot until I checked my notes but there was a slight snafu with my order (no worries the kind Gokula folks cleared it up right away) but I think there was one non-Madhavadas I did not get and then one Mahavadas I did get and that’s the Sandalwood & Myrrh. Madhavadas sourced incenses, of course, have their usual base (vanilla, sandalwood – often an equal aromatic note in any of their incenses) which, while the company tends to have a huge arsenal of top notes that are very good, can be quite fatiguing if used frequently. I’m not really quite sure if something like this would have been to my tastes whatever the source, but it does seem like a reasonable low grade sandalwood/myrrh mix, although the combination really evokes something different rather than the listed ingredients. The resin seems a bit more in front of the wood and certainly the base plays a part in it, but overall it feels a bit musky and a touch mysterious. I am pretty sure I have tried this before, may have been Pure Incense but it could have also been Primo, but ultimately it sort of gets on my nerves over the burn.

Visually, the Sandalwood & Saffron seems to look a lot like the yellow dusted thinner masalas we’ve seen so recently with the Absolute Bliss imported King of Saffron. This isn’t a really successful version of it, if it is, in fact it seems strangely a bit closer to a champa, except the combination of ingredients seems to leave the aroma sort of bitter and a bit incoherent. It’s almost like you can tell what they were going for but without distinct notes of either ingredient, it feels more like a sort of sour or bitter mix (perhaps a bit camphorous as well) with vanilla and other more sweeter accompaniment, and as a merger it doesn’t really work for me too well. I’m not sure if that’s because it doesn’t fit my expectations visually, but it just strikes me as a really odd mix. Saffron and sandalwood mixes really only work well if the resolution is higher and the qualities are kept to woody and dry.

Although Shiva Nag Champa is not a Madhavadas incense, the top perfume does remind me of some of the Pure Incenses champas I’ve tried over the years. These perfumes aren’t all that reminiscent of say the Blue Box/Satya Nag Champa perfume or even the Gold Nagchampa/Vintage Nag Champa types you get from AB or Temple of Incense (it’s sort of like Nag Champa vs champa flower maybe?). This doesn’t have the powdery qualities of that scent and is instead much sweeter and piquant. It verges ever so slightly on bitter during the burn which seems to be aspects of the citrus in the mix as well, gulp, as a touch or urine or something. It’s a strangely complex and involved top note for what may seem like a critical perspective, but it could cause a bit of flip flop in impression because it’s like a mix of pleasant and notes that most are probably not going to like too much.

Tulsi Vrinda is an herbal incense that leans a bit in a spicier direction while still having a lot of the same powdery characteristics of Gokula florals. It’s cousin to something like the Kerala Flower in the Temple of Incense line or Happy Hari Samadhi Sutra. This isn’t Tulsi (basil) in the same way the Temple of Incense stick is, but it has some hints of that scent buried in an overall base. It’s enough to perhaps give this incense a bit of personality that some of the others don’t have. There’s also a bit of woodiness in the mix that prevents it from getting too pink or sweet.

So this installment wraps up the Gokula reviews! As you can see there are some definite highlights in the last four reviews, for sure the Musk & Amber and Royal Vrindavan Flower are really strong, and just coming behind those I’d recommend the Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra, Musk Heena and Rose & Saffron (so all six would make a good starter order). A lot of other scents could be growers in hindsight as well, with a number of solid scents in the middle, but for the most part this is a decent quality line overall and at least this “half” of the line has a profile that might be different than what you’d tried before.

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Gokula Incense / Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

This is the second of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

My general impression of flora/fluxo incenses is they usually come with an orange dipped stick (either full or just the end). And Gokula’s variant (one of them really) is actually called Flora Fluxo. I have reviewed or burned so many of these types of incenses in the last couple months that they probably feel more redundant to me than they actually are, but if you’re not familiar with the style then usually the standard version (kind of like how blue box Nag Champa is – or maybe used to be – the standard for those incenses) is the red package Sai Flora and it’s a reasonable baseline although it is heavily perfumed and often stronger than those I have reviewed lately. Gokula’s version is somewhat muted and not quite as bright and brassy as Sai Flora. Most floras and fluxos have earthier levels in them but they’re usually much more buried than they are here, which tends to give me an August, almost Dionysian vibe like prunes or grapes. I am not sure the balance maybe quite works for me on this stick, but I would not take that as gospel because most are just minor tweaks from one to the other and if you like the style, you’re likely going to search for the one that works for you. This is certainly a reasonable quality take.

Floral Bouquet actually does what it says it’s going to do and presents a floral mix that’s very pink and sweet. It’s a bit of a masala although still fairly firm but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t feel like it’s battling charcoal but is more of a blend with a bit of woodiness. I’ve gone on record many times the pitfalls of presenting general florals, but this one has no bitterness or off notes and it’s probably friendly enough to be kind even to incense muggles. It actually reminds me a little of some of the old Dhuni incenses, perhaps in a more manageable form than that, but approaching that kind of pleasantness (I keep being reminded by the sadly lamented Dhuni Frangipani for some reason). It feels like it has something like pink Valentine’s candy at heart, but the structure of it seems to balance it out in a good way.

Gold Sandal seems to be a cousin to the Agar Sandal we reviewed last time, but like a lot of midline Indian sandalwood incenses, they really don’t smell a lot like sandalwood. There is some inherent woodiness to the incense but there are bitter/sour off notes as well as some really strangely placed fruity notes like peach or apricot in the middle. One wonders if this was an attempt to build a sandalwood out of a different set of ingredients. The Agar Sandal actually felt a bit closer to me in getting to that note or at least it ended up being more genuinely woody than this one. Certainly, the overall bouquet of the Agar Sandal is much more coherent, so I’d suggested starting there before heading to this one.

Even though I am going in alphabetical order, the next three incenses share quite a few of the same ingredients and operate very closely in style. The Jasmine and Lotus (and according to the description juhi, kewra and parijata) is an interesting blend for sure in that you’d expect that to be tilted way over into jasmine when the noticeable lead aroma seems to be something similar to the blue lotus that’s part of the Madhavadas catalog. It’s a very pretty, powdery sort of scent where if you can imagine it, the jasmine kind of faintly provides a background color to give a bit of complexity to the lotus scent. And honestly I think that is where jasmine is at its best. So after introducing some incenses Gokula imports that may be wobbly, this is one that I think has a rather distinct sort of mix I haven’t turned up in other catalogs and that is indeed what one often looks for in an incense.

And better yet, the Jasmine & Nag Champa may be one of Gokula’s best. While I’m not sure either aroma is dead on, they are both close and the juhi and lotus they meld with work well together. Whatever one has in mind for a mix like this, it’s going to be a bit different than you expect. While the champa perfume isn’t the classic style you get on something like the AB or TOI Gold Nagchampa, it does have a much more powdery bottom to it that evinces maybe a bit of halmaddi in the masala. The top note is very pretty and while you can kind of sense jasmine in there somewhere it’s not unlike the previous incense where it seems to mostly come out in some aspects of the bouquet as part of a merger. And overall, it leans over into pink florals a bit.

Finally the Lotus & Kewra is a very interesting experiment. This stick is a lightly dusted charcoal, but even moving back from a more masala like approach this still seems to have the same sort of warm and gentle powdery qualities of the last two incenses, which I like very much. The charcoal does spike a little through it as is always the case with floral charcoals but the perfume mix is quite nice nonetheless with what seems like either a balsamic or vanilla like quality in the middle. And yes there is even a distinct kewra note through the middle! Screwpine is definitely an aroma I’d like to see more often as it’s such a distinct and different scent to anything else. While the lotus isn’t quite as distinct as it is in the incense above where it’s paired with jasmine, and this may be because of the kewra, the resulting merge is certainly worth it. The incense description also describes the blend “in a sandalwood base with swirling notes of champa and marigold.” The powdery quality is certainly champa-esque and the marigold can be faintly ascertained but to my nose I don’t get any sandalwood and nor would I think you’d need to. Whatever the case this is definitely a Gokula winner.

Holy Smoke / Bloom, Cardamom, Dammar, Free Spirit, Nag Champa

Holy Smoke is the name of a domestic incense creator that can be found on both Etsy and its own website. The company states, “All our ingredients are natural and directly from nature. We try to source the best ingredients to produce the finest products. Our incense sticks are hand-rolled using honey, gum resin, botanicals and pure essential oils. Each stick will burn for an hour or more.” This in particular got my attention because even some of the best Indian incenses (and Holy Smoke sticks are Indian-style for sure) out there can be completely charcoal based which has never really been one of my favorite bases for a scent. And one must admit Holy Smoke present their incenses in a very attractive way at their sales sites. So I was very interested in checking out some of their scents.

First of all I was a bit disappointed in that the incenses I received did not have the bright colors that the presentations on line hinted at. This is of course not a deal breaker for a scent, but it IS part of what had me scrambling for a purchase. The incenses do vary a bit in color but one must come to the impression that the lighting may be bringing out what you see a bit more than the reality and in fact if you look at my own pictures in this review, the flash is definitely helping some on that account. In my experience a lot of Indian sticks that use colors may not impart any scent variations through the colors themselves but there is often something psychological about using them and I once raided the Vedic Vaani catalog trying to find the brightly colored ones and this often led to some of their better incenses. So be sure to temper one’s expectations from the pictures.

So that lovely purple color on the Bloom picture at the Holy Smoke website I don’t really see at all in the actual incense, it turned out to be much redder. This is described as a mix of rose, musk and patchouli, but what you immediately notice is just the overall blast of scent coming from the stick, it’s literally drenched in perfume oils. In fact I did not mind at all letting these sit for a while hoping to temper the power of them a little and even in doing so they still strike me as strong and powerful, perhaps even too much. So it’s probably worth setting one’s expectations that a stick like this at an hour burn and this powerful is likely something you don’t want as close to your space. The other issue, which not all of the sticks have, is that the combination of the oils being used often reminds me of air freshener type scents rather than any of the specific ingredients. As we know getting a legitimate rose oil from an essential is virtually impossible at this price range, but the overall floral scent does seem to be largely drowning out whatever is being used as the musk and patchouli. You can certainly sense both in the mix at some level but the combination still adds up in a way that reminds me if your levels on your CD are too high.

The Cardamom is very different to the Bloom. It was actually nice to see this rarely represented spice in an incense and the overall levels turned down a bit. Cardamom is a fairly unique spice but tends to appear as drier in incense which matches a bit better with the honey and resin base. But it does appear that there is more in play than the just the spice (as well as the question of how much of the spice is the actual spice and how much is in the oil). I wondered a bit about some of the natural resin in the midst of it coming through as it seemed somewhat basic quality, perhaps a touch gravelly, but it wasn’t ultimately problematic with the top note. There is some level of a floral feel to this as well as if the base or additional ingredients contribute quite a bit to the overall aroma. It’s an interesting and fairly unique aroma overall, very different to the others I sampled from the catalog. But once again, the sheer strength of the overall stick feels like it gets a bit overwhelming during the burn, something that might be mitigated by burning half sticks.

Part of the issue with incenses whose essential oil mixes are this loud is they tend to resemble household products and that’s the main issue with Dammar, an incense with a resin whose lemon-like tendencies push the overall aroma into furniture polish territory. The thing is, where in the Cardamom I could detect some level of actual resin burning here, the lemon characteristics supposedly coming from this resin all seem to be on the oil level. The issue is that it feels a bit chemical on some level in the sense where fruitiness in an air freshener or cleaning product ends up being too cloying. This also runs into having a bit of a bitter edge to it. Unfortunately, it has probably been a while since I tried the actual resin to see how close it is but it seems like here there’s much more going on than just the resin. I don’t mean to doubt the creators claim that these are all natural but sometimes the mixes can still perhaps not work quite as well.

Free Spirit is a blend of Nag Champa, Lotus, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. One thing that originally struck me about this mix and the plain Nag Champa (below) is that it seems like the company may use a Satya-sourced Nag Champa oil or something very similar as it has an extremely familiar scent to it. The difference in base, then, is made more obvious by contrasting it with this oil which does make you notice the honey and resins a bit more. This is a bit of a drier mix but it still feels a bit crowded with florals and one starts to come to the conclusion that not unlike Madhavadas sourced incenses, the base of these tends to be aromatic enough to be part of every aroma in a way that makes them all somewhat similar. There’s a fruity sort of scent that seems common to all of these incenses that tends to mute all of the specific named notes. And so the mix ends up being quite a bit different from any one scent and in a largely generic sort of way.

Nag Champa on its own is a lot more familiar, and maybe here you can mostly sense what this base is all about as it’s easier to mentally isolate that one note. What it probably does the most is show what this sort of oil smells like outside of the usual halmaddi and sandalwood mix, that is, it’s quite a bit different without those notes and with what is the unique Holy Smoke honey and resin mix. But like the Cardamom, not having the extra oils is a bit more pleasant to my nose. But overall this doesn’t really smell all that much like a traditional Nag Champa so much as the use of that scent in this format.

Overall, with all of these incenses getting some idea of whether you like their base is going to be key where you fall with any of their aromas. But even if you like the base, the predominance of certain oil mixes is very likely to overwhelm if you are not careful. So I might recommend checking one of their samplers first, if available.

Mandala Art & Incense / Ancient Tibetan Nagchampa Incense; Natural Nepali Dhoop / Pure Aromatic Nagchampa Dhoop; Traditional Nepali Dhoop Pvt. Ltd / Om Nama Shiva Dhoop; Unknown / Golden Nagchampa, Trimurti

In addition to the Meena and other Indian incenses Everest Traders sent over, they also sent over a quintet of Nepali incenses. Since Essence of the Ages left the incense business, there has been a big hole where a solid source used to be for these incenses, as incensetraditions.ca carries primarily Tibetan and Bhutanese incenses only. Hither and Yon seems to be the primary source for Nepali incenses these days (note as always that “Tibetan” is also used as a style in the sense it means incense that does not use bamboo sticks through the middle, a distinction I need to make for later in this writeup) and there are a few others, but we’re always interested in hearing about new sources.

And it was interesting in looking around a bit that the first incense that pops up at Hither and Yon is Mandala Art & Incense’s Tibetan Nagchampa, because Everest Traders is carrying it at a little over half the price. You have to go back to 2009 the last time I reviewed incenses by this long standing company and I don’t believe any of them were these tubes of 5″ incenses. But that brings me to one distinction I have to make. Nagchampa incenses, of course, are still some of the most popular incenses you can buy, but the Tibetan style versions of these are very different. Indian nagchampas, at least at their best, were only part the perfume from the aroma – part of their success was the marriage this scent had with a halmaddi-rich masala base, a combination often missing even from Indian versions these days. And so what you get from a Tibetan version like this one is the powdery and accessible floral scent on the base of a Nepali-Tibetan style. I have tried some Tibetan nagchampas I couldn’t wait to dump the package of, this version almost feels like it could be a standard to compare others to. Like a lot of Nepali bases there is a feeling that some inexpensive woods are used to ground the incense, but it at least gets over the hump of not having a bitter or conflicting base to it and the top note is certainly pleasant. Amazingly at times it even has something like a Japanese woodiness to it which is quite intriguing. And at this price it’s certainly well worth checking out to get an idea of what one of these is like.

So how does the Natural Nepali Dhoop Pure Aromatic Nagchampa Dhoop compare? This Natural Nepali Dhoop incense is part of a large line that are mostly formatted as “Pure Aromatic Something Dhoop” and tend to be carried by shops that import Nepalis. Back in 2011 I was extremely nonplussed by the four incenses I tried in the line, or at least I think it was the same line, because I don’t remember the packages claiming what company they were from (which obviously could have changed in all this time). My issue with poorer Nepali incenses in general, when they show up, is that the bases use very cheap filler woods, I would guess poor quality juniper or pine, and at their harshest these impart bitter and campfire like notes that basically sabotage whatever it is the creators are trying to do with them. And I mention this as context as the incenses I reviewed back then were very much like this, but part of the issue was the oils used were also not pleasant. Fortunately the oil on the Nagchampa isn’t harsh but it also doesn’t have quite the resolution of the MA&I version and while the base isn’t too bad there are still some notes in the mix that are a bit distracting. It’s also perhaps a touch less sweeter. But it does have some interesting floral notes and the base is certainly more workable than what I would have expected. I’d certainly start with the MA&I version as ultimately they are close enough in style where you’d only need one or the other and I would expect this latter version to end up fatiguing.

So in order to properly review Traditional Nepali Dhoop Pvt. Ltd.’s Om Nama Shiva Dhoop (I could not find an ebay link to this at present, but will add when I’m made aware of it) I thought it worth queueing up the great Steve Hillage. Of the incenses in this review this is probably the most traditionally Tibetan of the five. It reminded me that outside of the great Dhoop Factory and a restock of Yog Sadhana it had been years since I tried a Nepali incense like this and it’s a bit of a shift from the Tibetan incenses from the autonomous region. The difference I think is largely in the base still and we’re given natural essential oils, flowers, spices, aromatic herbs, natural resins and other aromatic substances as ingredients, so basically the whole kitchen and then some. And like many of these incenses all of these things are blended as a whole and difficult to pick out separately, although I find this blend to be an interesting almost peppery meets tangy herbal mix on top of the woody base. The issue with many Nepali imports is whether they rise to level of something distinctive like so many of the autonomous region incenses do. So I would have to say that while this is distinctly aromatic and pleasant, it may not quite reach that level, but after a few sticks I’ve started to notice the resin peeping out a bit amongst all the herbal qualities so it may very well be a grower.

Moving to the Golden Nagchampa and Trimurti, we’re also moving from the Tibetan style to the bamboo stick centered Indian masala style. Both of these two incenses are from a gigantic line as well, although I’ve never known what company produces them from the wrappers themselves and never got around to reviewing any back in the day. Like the Pure Aromatic Dhoop, my experiences were not always positive in the past, nor have they been recent enough to remember all that well, but perhaps with these two we have a good example of what works and perhaps doesn’t. Golden nagchampas just by name usually imply a flora or fluxo style, in fact back when halmaddi was more prevalent, a golden nagchampa was likely to be a Sai Flora like incense in some fashion. That’s true here as well although mostly because the perfume has that similarity in the front, the stick here is generally not thick enough to be a true flora style. It’s mostly a dusted charcoal but it feels soft enough to perhaps have a little halmaddi in the mix and sure enough it’s overall a sweet and pleasant scent. And perhaps in the middle there’s a little bit of woodiness or base that will remind you it’s not an Indian stick, as I can’t really think of another Indian scent I’ve tried recently that fits this general area. It’s also quite a bit drier a burn than say so many of the vedic incenses I have been sampling lately that it also makes a nice contrast. One of the better Nepali-Indian hybrids I’ve tried.

The issue with Trimurti and this is one ORS staff discuss a lot is that when incenses are named after religious or spiritual concepts, gods and goddesses etc, it can be tough to get a bead on what’s actually going on in the scent and so I’m limited in my description to say how successful the Trimurti is for what it’s trying to accomplish. From my perspective Trimurti barely gets past its base which is some sort of nebulous mix of evergreen woods. It’s also a bit spicy and I would guess there might be a bit of something like myrrh or gugal gum in the mix. What is perhaps missing and I can compare this to the Golden Nagchampa (which has it) is an intensity in aroma that makes it a bit more memorable and attention arresting. I do seem to remember the line was full of incenses like this. It may be entirely because the line is using 100% natural ingredients and not any sort of perfume wizardry, which would largely be in keeping with many Nepali incenses. But keep in mind as well if this is something you might recognize as an aroma you like you could feel differently from me.

Meena Perfumery Industries / Meena Supreme, Meena Flora, Meena Indian King, Meena Nag Champa, Siddanth, Meena Sambrani Stems

It wasn’t long ago I bought what I thought was Meena Supreme, but when I took it out, I was somewhat nonplussed. ORS has been around a while and I was originally introduced to Meena Supreme by Paul Eagle when it ended up being Happy Hari’s second incense to distribute after the Gold Nagchampa. I received a surprising number of samples at the time and some of these incenses came in Happy Hari style labels but quite a few also came in little boxes like the ones pictured here. Meena Supreme, I would guess, has to be one of the top five “name” incenses known well inside and outside India, with maybe Nag Champa and Sai Flora at the top and this one right after it. And there is a reason why, it’s a very distinctive incense, a unique combination of materials and perfumes that I reviewed way back in the day and archived on this post.

So imagine my surprise when I heard from Everest Traders on Ebay who said they were the distributor for the Kabadi family’s Meena Supreme Incense from Bangalore, India. I was very glad to hear this as this hasn’t been carried by Absolute Bliss for a while and you basically have to order overseas for it. Also, Everest Traders is California based! The box I received for review is exactly how I remember it looking all those many years ago and the aroma is as well. In fact my original review in the above link is still so in point I’m going to repeat it here first and include a link to this new source…

“But even if you can’t count on incense nirvana, usually something so prized is usually going to be quite good and for the most part Meena Supreme succeeds from just about every angle and if it may not be the best incense ever created, I’d definitely say it’s one of the more unique and desirable of Indian incenses and certainly one I’m going to add to our Hall of Fame. Meena Supreme is a fluxo incense which means it’s solidly in the genre inhabited by Sai Flora, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and the like, which also means it’s a big stick, highly aromatic and something of a major smoke producer. This is perfect for me, especially during the dawning of spring where various allergies often make smelling Japanese incense very difficult, but if Indian incense smoke is too much for you, Meena Supreme will likely be too. In fact during the first two sticks, I wasn’t even sure if I would end up liking it, but it was likely because it was just too much at the time.

Since my initial foray into Meena Supreme, I think I’ve burned three to four boxes of it if not more (the size box I got fit about 6-8 sticks I believe). It is a highly addictive scent once you get it, as most signature scents are, and is also very hard to describe. Meena Supreme starts with the same earthy, almost stable-like background tones of Sai Flora but that’s where the similarity between incenses ends. Where Sai Flora goes in a bright, heavily floral, brassy direction, Meena Supreme is much more sultry with a mix of woods, rose, cocoa, coffee (with milk) and most importantly a feeling that all the subscents have been blended and aged. Most importantly Meena Supreme had the ability to make me think about it a lot when I wasn’t burning it, which has led to a lot of impromptu reaches.”

I would only add here in 2022 that the sticks may be a bit smaller (and maybe less smokier?) than I remember (which may of course be more my memory than the stick) but I love that all the notes I listed here are still completely relevant. I came to love the mix of earthiness and sweetness almost like a mix of fresh soil and brown sugar. So anyway if you love Indian incense and haven’t tried this yet now’s your chance!

Everest Traders also sent over some other Meena Perfumery Industries incenses, which also were a lot of fun (and I would mention here the ET packaging is really nice, very cognizant of protecting all the incenses from damage). One thing I came to find out rather quickly is other than the Sambrani Stems, which I will get to last, all of the other Meena incenses share a similar base to the Supreme and share a lot of the same aromatic notes, which makes it a little harder to separate one from the other. You might want to think of these in the sense that there’s probably a top perfume mix that differs from incense to incense. So the first one of these is Meena Flora, described as a “fluxo incense.” We have, of course, reviewed several from this style over the years, the most famous being the red package Sai Flora, but we, perhaps most recently, took a look at a couple of El incenses in the same category, These are thick stick, very distinctive incenses and so you might not only consider the Meena base for the Meena Flora but the flora/fluxo style as well and consider it a mix of those things. It still has a lot of the cocoa/coffee/brown sugar/earthy base to it, but it’s a bit more heavily aromatic than the Supreme with some of the same aspects that Sai Flora has. It’s not quite that brassy or sparkly, in fact it’s quite subdued compared to a lot of other incenses in this style. My most recent personal burning has been the Vedic Vaani Sai Flora which is much more refined and well on the other side of the red packet on the earthiness-to-refined axis. It’s actually probably more different as a flora than it is as a Meena incense.

Where both the Supreme and the Flora are small 8 stick boxes, the Meena Indian King has a higher stick count (as do the rest of these incenses) and the incense itself is certainly less weighty than the Supreme and Flora. While you can still recognize the same base I have mentioned in the previous two incenses, the Indian King feels a bit drier. It’s described as a durbar bathi, which has often been a category incenses like champas fall under, and this one does feel a bit more like a Meena-style Nag Champa variant to me. I’m not sensing enough halmaddi to keep it soft but there may be a little in there, but it’s actually overall not quite as sweet as the Supreme. It’s kind of elegant in a way and very traditional. And a walk in and out of the room shows it dissipates quite nicely too with a slighty tangy-meets brown sugar edge on top. Given it’s not all that different from the Supreme, it could be considered a more price-conscious alternative given the stick count.

One of the reasons Indian King struck me as a champa type is because it’s not terribly far off from the Meena Nag Champa. Seriously the description of this, at least if you were familiar with Meena Supreme, is imagine Meena doing a Nag Champa. It feels like champas are so variant these days that we’ve almost lost what we might have considered the standard because the Satya Blue Box is such a shadow of what it used to be. And in that sense, the Meena isn’t terribly different from the more modern hard stick variants that tend to send most of the aroma up on a charcoal base. This is definitely still a masala base and may have a little halmaddi in it but most notable it’s a little sweeter than, say the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense Gold or the AB carried Vintage Nag Champa. Some of these vedic champas feel like they could pull rain out of the air with their driness and while the perfumes are probably a bit more in the pocket than this one, this stick’s combination of some aspects of Meena Supreme (like, say, the earthiness and brown sugar) make it just a bit more interesting. With so many champa variants out there and it basically a virtual impossibility to go back to the great stick of yesteryearm I lean towards wanting variation more, so I like the differences on this one.

So then there’s Meena Siddanth with a dude beaming om symbols, and, gulp, a couple of swastikas in the mix, probably not the most popular symbology in the west. As you might know this has a much different meaning in India than it does in the West so I’ll just move on to the incense itself. This style is considered a “dhoop bathi” although it’s really difficult to tell how all of these sticks vary in style from looking at them; however, this is just a wee touch softer than the previous incenses. This has a more diverse aroma, it’s still a Meena stick at heart but it has a mix of fruity, powdery, herbal, and a touch of wood oils that make it probably the most distinctive stick so far. In fact this seems like quite the lovely and complex incense with all sorts of things going on and it’s by far the least earthiest of five sticks. Perhaps if you have just tried the Supreme, this might be the one I’d recommend next.

Now the Meena Sambrani Stems are a completely different style of incense. Looking around on the net it seems like Sambrani Cups got a bit of notoriety for a bit when this style of using cow dung to heat up resins came to a bit greater attention and a search of these cups show some rather offputting visuals. However cow dung is not the only way to heat resins up and it looks like the outside of these dhoop-like cylinders are probably based on charcoal, although like any incense I can’t give a comprehensive list of what’s actually in these (and I can’t say I’ve every tried the straight up base note of cow dung to be informative). All I can say is this is possibly the most intriguing incense in this batch. Sambrani, like loban, is one of those terms that seems to shift in meaning depending on who is using it and both seem to be anything from resin mixes to specific resins like benzoin or frankincense). Ultimately the aroma is almost thoroughly resinous and intense with a lovely bit of spice and a touch of caramel. Unlike a lot of Indian masalas where the resins really get watered down with the stick base, the level of resin is really nice and strong here with a fruitiness you usually won’t find in a loban or other highly resinous stick. So yes this is a lovely batch of (sort of) cones, like many dhoops they’re really smoky and will fill up a large space fast.

So ultimately the new or casual browser is recommended to check out the Meena Supreme if you haven’t and certainly the Sambrani Stems and Siddanth next, but I enjoyed all of these. Nothing is quite like a Meena incense, they have a distinctive personal stamp to their style that is quite recognizable once you get to use. it. And we certainly encourage Everest Traders to bring more of this line to the west!

The Mother’s India Fragrances / Oudh Nagchampa, Palo Santo Nagchampa, Sage Nagchampa + Herbal Sampler (Part 2 of 2)

Please be sure to read Part 1 of this review as this is really a continuation of that review and that context is somewhat relateable to how I continue below. I will also note again here that all incenses in this range can be found at Mere Cie Deux.

The issue with calling something an Oudh Nagchampa is different from a lot of other aromatics because oudh, of course, is an agarwood-based scent and oudhs can be stratospherically expensive, so one must lower one’s expectations for an incense that is only $3 for 12 sticks. We have certainly also had our expectations set by the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari and Temple of Incense lines with sticks like Oud Masala and so forth that are still quite affordable while delivering very satisfying incenses with legitimate and surprisingly powerful oudh notes (although these are essentially 2-3 times as expensive if not more so). And so for me, I try to look at something like this new nag champa in the sense that does it live up to the name and if it doesn’t is it a good incense on its own? In terms of the former issue the oudh note isn’t the sort of rocketship it is in the previously mentioned lines, it does not sit about the champa base and dominate, it’s a much more subsumed and subtle scent. In fact it took me a bit less incense fatigue and a second stick to notice that it is actually in there as part of the mix.

So anyway, oudh expense to champa mix aside, how does it work out? Well the champa base comes out quite a bit in this, there’s a real sense of the gummy and halmaddi sweet. Most champa bases tend to be at least mildly spicy, if only from the sandalwood, so the oudh actually fits pretty comfortably next to it. For a note you often expect to be loud it ends up complimenting what is surprisingly one of the mellower incenses in this current batch. Its an odd one for me because it feels like the overall diffused aroma seems a bit more generic than when you get in there close and notice that it’s actually a pretty well balanced incense. There’s a bit of spice and tanginess to it overall that the incense gets from the oudh but overall the agarwood notes here aren’t as strong as you’ll find in a Happy Hari, Temple of Incense or Pure Incense scent.

The next two aromas, sort of like the Neem Nagchampa, strike me as pretty strange and experimental for a nag champa format as both palo santo and sage aren’t aromatics I think would match up well with a sweeter halmaddi sort of masala. The Palo Santo Nagchampa may then be the first of its ilk and it’s a very interesting match indeed. For one thing, the palo santo itself is quite good quality and very reminiscent of the finer wood itself, so it’s off to a good start on that front. The base seems to have some of the more chocolate and confectionary qualities of the Sweet Frankincense and Guna Nagchampa, although it’s certainly not quite as decadent as either. But it seems modified appropriately in order to actually make a palo santo nag champa and balance the Mother’s format against what is a very identifiable and unique woody aroma. Now you will either know or not know if palo santo is to your taste, but its surge in interest among lovers of Native and South American culture know that the aroma has made a significant dent in the new age markets with its popularity. I might caution one to try the wood out first rather than dive in here, but honestly the palo santo note here is completely legit and it is hard to imagine Mother’s could have done a better job with this one.

Sage, on the other hand, is a strange beast in that sage wrapped for smudging (or used in cooking) smells a lot different to my nose than oil distillations and then either one’s application to a masala can also end up varying in a whole lot of directions. Check out Stephen’s reviews of the Temple of Incense Desert Sage or White Sage for examples of variance. I also had a Designs By Deekay White Sage review up at one point that demonstrated its more smudge-like, resin-based approach. Japan Incense has a Minorien-sourced Sage stick. All of these really differ a lot. The Sage Nagchampa also does. There is certainly some level of sage like herb in this and maybe oil as well but it felt like the creators dialed it down a bit to mix with the champa base, because, let’s face it, you’d have to. It’s an interesting creative choice because unlike the palo santo where the wood tends to have spicier qualities that might roughly fit in a cinnamon, clove or copal category, sage is going to move more in a direction like the Neem Nag Champa except where that one is green and bitter, this has a sort of general cooking herb sort of scent to it, rather than feeling specfically sage. The Sage Nagchampa also has a very similar base to the Oudh Nagchampa in terms of having a bit of gumminess to it. The issue with a stick like this overall is that so much compromise has gone into balancing two almost opposing formats that even though the balance is successful, it also feels like maybe it’s created something a bit too generic and maybe not as reminiscent of sage or a champa in the end. I know of the seven incenses I’ve just looked at this might be the one that’s the muddiest and hardest to define. But at the same time, one must see it as a unique and interesting experiment for sure.

I was also sent what amounts two a two stick by three fragrance package of Mother’s new Herbal Incense range. I should probably mention another difference in the overall line in that many of Mother’s aromas now have mini stick options which is an even more inexpensive way to try some of their many incenses. Anyway the two mini sticks each here might come close to one regular stick so I’ll just give my initial impressions on these. Well I’m going to try to. I just realized that in order to get the wee packages out of the strange cardboard package you also have to loosen them from their moorings so I now have three incenses where I’m going to also play guess the incense (I’m on the second stick of each)! So here we go.

While nearly every incense in this new line seems to specifically be one note and so close that both cinnamon and clove are broken down into two different types, the masala mix does sort of alter the profile, so these aren’t the same sorts of aromas that you’d find in a charcoal. So the Rosemary actually kind of works a little like the sage does in the Nagchampa above. That is, this doesn’t really smell much like the kind of rosemary used in cooking lamb (for instance), it has a sweeter more distilled oil like scent instead. The masala seems to have some woodiness and sweetness in it to also change the profile to some extent. It hasn’t lost the spice qualities of the herb really, but it feels like its presented more like a floral than an herbal sort of incense. Overall it’s not going to be like most expect.

I actually had trouble telling which of the two sticks left was Clove Bud or Cinnamon Bark because they are so sweetened up that any clear note is kind of obscured. My best guess (in addition to finishing the second mini sticks) was based on the pictures at the site where the Cinnamon Bark shows the darker of the two sticks, but honestly it could have gone either way. The darker stick has a sort of Madhavadas family like base with a lot of vanilla in the mix and the spice kind of plays around the outside. It’s not at all like cinnamon candy you will often find in charcoal sticks (like the brash Fred Soll versions) but a lot more delicate. Once the aroma builds up, the cinnamon does as well, and I would guess there was no use of oils in this and only the bark. But to me the base seems a bit distracting.

Strangely the Clove Bud is even sweeter, almost confectionary like, in fact it reminds me a little of some Japanese moderns in a way. There isn’t really a vanilla-like base , but once again I am struck by how little this smells like the clove you would normally think of, which may very well be because the aromatics are distilled from the fresh buds rather than the dried ones ground for spice? I’m guessing mind you because this is very far away from what I normally associate with clove, a note that is fairly common in a lot of the Tibetan incenses I’ve been reviewing. Anyway I don’t see much more in the way of description to clue in a bit more on these (and Mother’s are actually pretty good with the info thankfully), but they’re an intriguing trio of incenses in how little they tend to resemble what you expect. A different take is OK for me, but I didn’t really have the inches to go into these to maybe do them more justice.

The Mother’s India Fragrances / Frankincense (Sweet), Guna Nagchampa, Meera Nagchampa, Neem Nagchampa (Part 1 of 2)

[Please note that in the writing of this it got really long, so I decided to split up the review into two segments and will be using the same top picture for both.]

I got wind of the first five Nag Champa incenses from Mother’s Fragrances probably late 2008 or early 2009. For my nose these were easily some of the best Indian sticks on the market and all five scents were amazing, particularly Ganesh Nagchampa which was something of a revelation. It wasn’t actually until a bit later that I was told they were using halmaddi in their incenses, but I felt Mother’s had really devised an incense recipe of their own with these five that set them apart from everything else in the market at the time. So I wouldn’t have called any one of them a traditional Nag Champa, but they were great nonetheless. Soon after I posted this original review, Mother’s in India got in touch with me when they released their expansion of 14 new Nag Champas, which I review in two parts. They were exceedingly generous, well beyond the usual samples I receive for review, and sent me something like 5 20 stick packages of not only the new 14 aromas but the original five as well. I was just blown away, but after this they also sent a package of aromatics, including a jar of halmaddi to show what they used in their incenses. I was just amazed at the transparency and kindness of the company, moved even. And while not all 14 incenses hit me in the same way as the original five, I still found much to like including my second favorite in the whole series, Om Nagchampa. But overall all 14 seemed well in line with the original 5 and my enthusiasm for this line was at a huge high.

Not very long after this, Essence of the Ages did a restock on their incenses including smaller packages of 12 sticks each. I didn’t buy many but I had mowed through at least my Ganesh and Om stock (I probably gave packages away too) so I restocked a few of each of these in the 12 stick packages. I remember when I first opened them, I thought something had changed. I wasn’t quite sure because the general aroma was still the same but everything felt a bit thinner, like there was less halmaddi or the perfumes were not as complex anymore. Soon after this I was contacted by someone different at Mother’s who wanted to send me the first half of their second expansion. Still very generous, multiple packs, a second mailing of aromatics. I review this group here. My enthusiasm of these was more tempered and I was starting to notice that not all of the oil mixes were working out really well. But, perhaps as a result of the less enthusiastic reviews, I was never sent the second half, nor really motivated to ask if they were coming.

Mere Cie was the US importer on these incenses (although all my contacts up to this point were directly in India) and I believe the owner of the company changed hands somewhere here (indicated by the slight change in name to Mere Cie Deux). But I was always left a bit puzzled by the remaining stock of Ganesh and Om I had left, every time I’d return to them the difference between them and the original stock became more and more obvious. Not only that but over time they both developed mold in a way that the original incenses haven’t. This isn’t an unheard of thing mind you, but I live in Sacramento where its is extremely dry and mold is very unlikely to occur, in fact other than this one and probably the Om, I’ve only seen it happen in uncured resin mixes where it’s a foregone conclusion.

This isn’t a huge deal mind you, the packages must have been something like 10 years old and anyone is likely to use them a lot quicker than I did, so I would not take this as an indication of anything but this curiosity I had over this stock and what I had previously received via samples, because none of the even older sticks have developed the same issues. Once ORS reopened I felt like I needed to add caveats to the first three series of reviews, to warn people that these reviews may no longer apply anymore. I take absolutely no pleasure in doing so, but one of the largest difficulties of reopening ORS (in fact it had a lot to do with closing it in 2016) is dealing with these recipe changes, particularly when it comes to incenses we were in support of. This is a huge thing when the lion’s share of a site’s reviews are at least five or six years old and as many as 14. But to me the changes are also unconfirmed yet, because there are other reasons that might be in play like just a batch that didn’t come out right and so forth. The aim is to be objective and not punitive.

I know Tara, Mere Cie Deux’s new owner, had asked to send samples my way and finally I have received a new set of packages from her of seven new-to-me incenses and a small sampler package of three herbal incenses. I want to first thank her for sending them. Again, please understand that I try my best to objectively review the incenses as much as I can, even if I might not like a particular scent I know other people have different tastes and I want to write in a way that people can identify if they might like something that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about. The issue over whether something is bad incense is something I mitigate by not reviewing samples of particular styles like most dipped incenses and so forth. I don’t regularly do things like Gonesh or Hem or oil-based hexagonal boxes of Indian incense or WildBerry or stuff like that. There are other forums out there including the Incense group on Facebook that have large groups of fans who like certain dipped styles and so forth and I just make it a habit to stay away and let them be. In fact even Mother’s has lines of charcoal and oil incenses that I think are outside the framework of ORS. However if they are masalas or Nag Champas then they are entirely within our framework.

So I wanted to set this context for when I opened the new sample box. Immediately what I noticed was a very strong and unusual wood or herbal note that permeated absolutely every single incense in the box. I literally began to go through most or all of the incenses to hunt down what it was because it seemed to me to potentially pose an aromatic conflict with some of the incenses. I didn’t know if maybe the herbal samples had contaminated the champas or if the note was part of the new base of incenses or if it was just one of the nag champas. As I initially went through them I found that this note seems to be part of the base of these new incenses. I don’t know if any of the line’s earlier incenses have switched to this new base or of it’s specifically formulated for these incenses, but I also noticed that this note is largely part of the unburned stick and not really part of the actual burn. I’m still not sure what to make of it. Mind you it is not an artificial or unnatural scent, it’s just strangely different and not a note you would imagine would compliment halmaddi.

But it’s important to bring up I think because this batch of incenses is actually very interesting, maybe even experimental in some ways. It’s one reason I wanted to sort of give a precis of my Mother’s journey to date because these are quite a bit different. If you look at pictures at Mere Cie, you can still see the lighter champa base on the older incenses and while I’d still love to rest my thoughts on whether the early lines have changed or not, the seven under review here appear to (mostly) be completely different incenses with a very new and unusual halmaddi-masala mix. There’s the unusual wood or herbal note I mentioned above but the base also can be something more like sweet chocolate, almost confectionary in a way. As you can see from the names of the incenses, we’re covering a lot of ground here that’s very unusual in the world of nag champas, in fact we’re stretching the definition of this way past where Mothers originally took it and into new territory. Don’t get me wrong, as I sort of adjusted to what I was smelling. I found these all to be intriguing incenses and increasingly fascinating as I went forward. You can find these for sale at the Mere Cie Deux website on the champa page.

So first of all there’s the Frankincense (Sweet). While this isn’t labeled as a Nagchampa on the package like the rest of these are, it still roughly fits into the same format and that addition is actually listed in the insert in the package. It’s a bit more akin to the sorts of masalas I used to see in the Triloka, Incense from India and other lines, where it would be brown colored and very sweet. Different from say the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense formula. But the same masala/halmaddi base used in all the rest of these incenses is here as well, and this sets it apart from the usual sweet frankincense masalas. There is some actual level of the resin, like it’s crushed up in the mix some, but it’s not a level of top flavor that really strongly outweighs the base. And this sort of sugary, confectionary, chocolate feel to it is really dominant here in a way some of the other champas in this batch don’t have because of the more divergent top notes. The other ingredients listed for this incense are Indian benzoin (where it supposedly gets its more balsamic tones from), gugal resin, cedar wood oil and a trace of Assamese oudh. In my hunt for that earthy note I mentioned above, I did guess it might be the gugal as its in the same family of myrrh and I’ve noticed this sort of wood-like quality that comes from the actual plant wood itself rather than the resin alone. Anyway overall this is a pretty intriguing incense for sure. It’s unlike most other Indian frankincense sticks, champas or otherwise, and the cedar oil also works nicely with the balsamic and resinous qualities. It’s a very friendly incense that I think most will like.

Guna Nagchampa is simply Coffee Nagchampa (or maybe more accurately Mocha Nagchampa), which is something I thought I’d never see myself write. This is a stick that reminds me a lot of Nippon Kodo’s Paris Café Fragrance Memories stick. Now one of my favorite smells in the world is a high quality brewed up coffee, but I tend to think of that aroma without the cream and sugar. When you have this sort of sweet halmaddi base you’re really going for something more like a mocha or latte sort of aroma. And to my nose this is a bit more superior to the NK stick simply because the halmaddi base seems more natural as a sweetener than extra perfumes. Because there are so many Japanese sticks that really only reach an approximation of coffee, I think this one might move into the lead as one of the most attractive coffee aromas outside of coffee itself. It’s a modern for sure and there’s nothing like premium bean about it, but Mother’s often tend so close to traditional ingredients this actually feels pretty authentic. But once again, you’ll be a struck by the interesting chocolate-y base as any of the coffee top notes. It’s funny but I always remember liking Nestle’s Quik for chocolate milk as a kid, but there was always some secondary powder I remember liking a little less that smelled a lot like this incense, but for the life of me I couldn’t dig anything up (maybe Ovaltine?). Anyway yeah this one’s a very interesting take on it, although you really have to think halmaddi rather than champa with this kind of thing as this doesn’t smell anything like a mainline floral Nag Champa. And that’s OK.

After really starting to love the Absolute Bliss Natural Beauty Masala, Meera Nagchampa with its mix of sandalwood and cedar wood top oils is really a pocket sort of aroma for me and maybe my overall favorite in this grouping. This is a champa a bit more akin to the early incenses I reviewed (links above) but for me this is something of a perfect top note with a really great mix of the two wood oils. It’s not a complex incense, it doesn’t get too sweet in the mix which really allows the natural fragrance of these two great incenses to mesh and meld. If you like cedar this is a no brainer for sure. Very nicely done and proof simplicity is often a net positive.

Neem Nagchampa is a very unique mix, with neem leaves from the azadirachta indica tree. Neem leaves are an herbal aromatic that repel insects, and seem to be used for other unconfirmed medicinal reasons as well, but it’s the first time I can remember it being used in an incense. Now I have never smelled these leaves, but they appear to be part of the Indian lilac tree, but if I am getting the note right the leaves are a somewhat pungent, green scent and certainly herbaceous in the way we normally think of it. So in a lot of ways this is the first top note in this series that I think is quite unusual and experimental as a mix for a “nag champa.” But I’ve said it before, exploration and new scents are exactly what you look for in new incenses, so I definitely laud the company for trying some new things out. Overall this isn’t a sweet nag champa like many of the others in the series, the base seems a bit modified to sort of pull the Neem note out on it, and I’d dare say it seems to be successful in presenting this almost as an alternative to a lemograss or citronella sort of scent.

As mentioned above, my writing over the ORS Mother’s journey went on longer than I expected, so I moved the remaining three nagchampas and the Herbal Ambience samplers to a second installment that should be live in a few days.

Temple of Incense / Nag Champa Gold; Oudh Masala; Dhoop Cones / Absolute Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Lavender, Oudh, Rose, Vetiver

Temple of Incense Part 13
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Wrapping up the Temple of Incense reviews is everything else I managed to get that was in stock. After these reviews, the only things missing are the Palo Santo cones, and the Bakhoor aloeswood chips which I may review at a later date. Also, want to note that both Mike and I figured we had covered Nag Champa Gold but I’ll insert that here as we both didn’t manage to review the ToI version of this famous stick.

Starting with Nag Champa Gold, one of the flagships of the HH line is also a flagship here. This is essentially the same stick. For those unfamiliar, this is a very dry and astringent version of the famous nag champa scent. It has gold flakes/dust that comes from mica. I was told that this is actual waste from statuary production and since mica doesn’t tend to add anything to a scent it is purely aesthetic, like eating gold leaf. The stick itself is a yellowish bamboo core with a extruded charcoal-based masala dusted in tan and gold dust. The oil of the magnolia in this is exquisite and scents the stick before you light it. After lighting, the saltiness of the sandalwood and a touch of halmaddi/vanilla to give it some sweetness. My understanding is that if you used to like this stick a decade ago that it has a touch less halmaddi in it which makes it drier and more astringent. Overall, this is still one of the better Nag Champas on the market.

Absolute Sandalwood Dhoop Cone is an all black charcoal cone with oils added. This should not be confused with incense sticks of the same name because this is not similar in any way. This has some of the same oils I think go into Sandalwood Extreme, as this is a fairly good representation of Mysore sandalwood in all it’s salted butter notes. There is a touch of something sweet like maybe a hint of benzoin in here as well but it only seems to come out and play briefly before it gets coated in santalum smells.

Benzoin Prayer Dhoop Cone has a different format for cones, this is more like a thick cylinder that might be as big as 3-4 of the other sized cones. My biggest complaint on this is that they are harder to light without a graduated tip, but they give off a bigger smoke/smell and burn a lot longer. If you like the Benzoin Absolute stick that they make, this is a great continuation of that scent. This is a less sweet version of benzoin, while I’m still not an expert on the resin localities, this one doesn’t have the vanilla mashmallow scent and instead is something more like baking marzipan cookies and gunpowder. This is possibly my favorite of the cones I’ve reviewed in terms of scent.

Another in the cylinder format, Frankincense Prayer Dhoop Cone is different in that instead of being an all-charcoal base, this looks like pressed sawdust. This is a good representation of the boswellia sacra resin, it has a clean, citrusy scent that is a bit crisper and cleaner than the Frankincense stick they offer. Great for any application where you need 20 minutes of constant frankincense aroma, this is a room filler because of the thickness, and it has been a favorite in the family when I light one because everyone in the house smells it.

Lavender Dhoop Cone returns to the cone-shaped charcoal format and does a good job of bringing out a few different formats of lavender. Opening the jar, it smells like my favorite version of lavender oil, the one that captures a bit of the ‘green’ note like you’re in a field of lavender. When you light this, it becomes apparent that this oil is pretty much the only ingredient as you’re met with a mixture of both the fresh lavender and the more ‘warm’ lavender that I associate more like with soap and dryer sheets, the smell of relaxation. This really has a very clean feel to it and the marketing copy on the jar says it will ‘balance all seven chakras’ and I do enjoy how this seemed to have brightened the room a little bit.

Oudh Dhoop Cone is another cone-shaped charcoal formatted cone. Essentially, this is a cone version of the Oudh Masala, or at least, this is what my initial impression is upon lighting this black cone. It has a strong ‘cologne’ presence of oud here, where they are using distillation techniques that compress the scent into a much thinner profile without all the extra bells and whistles of the nearby plants and animals mixed into the scent. This is oud. Oud oud oud. As the cone has burned a bit, I can tell now that this is a bit different than the oudh masala, and it has a lighter, sweeter note than the Oudh, which is earthy and strong. Either way, I love how this scent is coming out and I definitely want a lot more of this.

Oudh Masala comes in a 60g Miron glass jar and is a powder meant for a electric burner or charcoal. I picked this up because of the name conjuring the HH reference and because I’m a huge fan of the stick. This is hard to describe, but if you’ve experienced Oudh and Himalayan Spikenard, this is like combining the best aspects of both of those and cranking up the intensity and the resiny goodness as loud as you can handle. In fact, if I put too much on at once, it gets overpowering because the oudh cologne scent is right there in the middle. If you enjoy powder incense format, this is so oily that you can actually just make a little pile and light it on fire. You won’t consume 100% of the powder but it burns most of the way by itself it’s so dense and resinous.

With Rose Prayer Dhoop Cone, we have another cylinder format, but like the Frankincense Dhoop Cone, this one isn’t made of charcoal, instead it looks like crushed rose petals and something like makko. Infused with what must be a mixture of oils, we get a fresh rose scent with a slightly sweet undertone like the roses are central to a bouquet that also includes something sweet like candied rose as well. Overall, this is a really good cone and the size of it means it burns a bit longer than the conical ones. This is good for people who really like the rose to smell fresher. That candied rose is under the central rose scent, which really is very good and reflected in the price point. It smells like rose petals and confectioners sugar. Really nice.

At Last, the Vetiver Dhoop Cone. Vetiver is always a wonderful scent when it is done right. My husband and I love vetiver essential oil and for many years used the oil as a perfume and received many compliments. This is a sweeter version of khus. This black cone seems to be charcoal with oils and I’m guessing they’re using all the best. There is a touch of what I detect as sandalwood in here, or maybe it’s just another note of vetiver I’m unfamiliar with because so rarely in incense do you get vetiver by itself for a conversation, most of the time it’s in a chorus.

Absolute Bliss / Dharmik, Krishna Rose, Kundalini Flora, Natural Beauty Masala, Natural Mysore Sandal, Vintage Nag Champa

As with previous reviews of Absolute Bliss-imported incenses, there is no current plans to list these incenses at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page if you are interested in any of the reviewed scents here. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. This is the final group I’ll be reviewing for the time being, although hopefully not the last in the way of new scents from the exporter.

Dharmik is a really interesting flora or fluxo sized stick, although it falls a bit short of being a flora per se. It’s interesting in that there is a scent from this that I might call “brassy” which is something I have sensed in these types of sticks (especially Sai Flora); however, this seems to be a dusted charcoal and almost entirely dependent on a very strong oil. For sure there’s some combination of spices, woods and maybe even florals in this perfume but it’s very hard to pick out exactly what’s in it. Surely some level of sandalwood oil but it’s either an accident or there’s very little since it’s not imparting that level of personality to it. The spice plays around the edge a bit but I can’t separate whether it’s cinnamon or clove or something else because it’s not loud enough. Ditto with the florals, nothing is too loud in here to even define this as a floral incense. It’s certainly an interesting and pleasant scent and a bit tangy, but it sort of runs out my imagination trying to define it further. It feels like there might be some musk and amber in this as well and I’m just falling short of picking out screwpine/kewada just because there’s some level of an unusual flora in the mix. It tickles my memory a bit in being reminiscent of some old schools scents I remember, but they’re all lost in the mists of memory. I will say though that after several sticks I’ve come to love this one a lot more, like it has some latent addictive quality to it.

Krishna Rose is somewhat similar to Temple of Incense’s Indian Rose, but rose absolutes, incenses and mixes all often vary enough for even similar incenses to be different. There’s also a pretty visible difference in what the stick looks like in that the Indian Rose is a much more polished and thinner looking magenta colored stick, while the Krishna is obviously a very red-dusted charcoal stick. This doesn’t mean the Indian Rose isn’t charcoal but it looks a bit more like it’s probably a hybrid as you don’t generally see much in the way of peek-through. However the overall scent profiles are roughly enough in the same ballpark to mention it. Krishna has a nicely cherry-like rose profile, it’s a bit sweet and overall doesn’t really have any off notes which should make it a winner for most floral lovers. Whether it’s really much of a rose scent, well maybe a little but there’s a bit more to it and it probably leans more to a fruity-floral than a pure floral. But it certainly avoids a lot of the pitfalls you find in more inexpensive Indian masalas or charcoals. I don’t really sense any bitter or sour notes at all.

Kundalini Flora is akin to the Bengali Jungle Flora, but it has a more powdery sweet sort of floral mix, an almost pink like smell with maybe a more carnation-sort of bent in the middle. I’m often so used to Indian florals being rose or lotus incenses that I’m almost not used to coming across something that seems so much more Western friendly, so much more like a mainstream, feminine perfume in an Indian incense. It’s a very pretty and warm incense with a softness to it that betrays nothing in the way of sharp or bitter notes. It’s not even particularly far from the Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom except it doesn’t have any specific floral definition to it and there may be some level of lilac in here as well, although lilac incenses usually come with a lot of off notes. So yes this is nicely done, very friendly, a successful pink floral well worth trying out if you’re missing something like that.

The Natural Beauty Masala is a pretty vast contrast to the Kundalini Flora in that it is a tremendously woody incense, in fact it’s notable for having quite a bit of cedarwood in it, which changes the mix with the sandalwood oil quite a bit. The wood oils are just right out in front with this one and it’s actually a bit hard to tell if it’s the strength of the oils that bring up a bit of a spice background or if there’s a touch of that added or maybe a little bit of both. There may even be a touch of oudh in the mix. It’s honestly one of the best woody Indian incenses I’ve had the pleasure of trying and while it’s not really in the same family as the Happy Hari Oud Masalda, the two Oudh Saffrons and so forth, it’s still likely to appeal to the appreciators of these incenses. Once again I think the strong and powerful cedarwood note in this really sells it as it reminds me a little of the cedarwood masalas you used to be able to find in Triloka or even Pure Incense sticks, but there’s no base to get in the way of the scent and it’s not quite as sweet. There may be some light floral touches to balance it as well. Very recommended. *Please note that this is incense is currently out of stock and the hope is to have a new batch back in in October.

The Natural Mysore Sandal incense is really the AB equivalent to TOI’s Sandalwood Extreme, except because they are different batches I would give the quality nod to the TOI. However it is a slight nod only in the sense that this one doesn’t set off my nostalgia buttons off so much. However the AB version is much, much more affordably priced and since it’s still a wonderful sandalwood (this one pulls away from the Happy Hari Absolute Sandal quite a bit), it is really hard to argue that the quality difference justifies what may be something like double or triple the price, particularly if you’re ordering overseas to Temple of Incense. I think most Indian sandalwood fans are likely to find this one very pleasant indeed and it has a well defined sandalwood note that hints very much at fresh cut, quality wood. In fact if the TOI might have that nostalgic hint of the old days, this one at least really shows up the resinous qualities of the wood quite well. Sitting here in front of this, I find the gap between the two narrowing quite a bit.

Vintage Nag Champa is also a charcoal and it might make you wonder if Mike is going to go into one of his grandpa speeches about the old days again as this is unquestionably halmaddi-less. It’s also instructive in the sense that some of the same drier notes I detected in the Gold Nag Champa are here without the flakes. But overall it might be worth seeing this as more of a nag champa perfume or oil mix fronted incense rather than a champa style per se. It’s certainly a pleasant stick overall and still has the authenticity of the perfume up front, but it’s also as likely as dry a Nag Champa as you will try and there’s really little in the way of the sweet elements that help to ground the perfume. It gives way to clay and stone-like notes that I’m not sure are intentional, like it’s earthy in the same way a patchouli or vetivert incense is. And so for me it has something of a feeling like it’s almost leeching moisture out of the air. The bottom line, I guess, is I’m not sure it’s an improvement on the Gold but its kind of unique just because it’s so charcoal.

Happy Hari / Sutra / Pranayama, Pratyahara, Samadhi, Yama (Revisited)

Happy Hari, Part 1
Happy Hari, Part 2
Happy Hari, Part 3
Happy Hari, Part 5

[This review has been edited from the original and updated to match 2021 scent profiles]

This write-up covers the final half of the Happy Hari Sutra line. This review has been updated in order to portray reviews for 2021 versions. It feels there have been some shifts in scent which could have been any number of things so I am going to do all four of these from scratch. They all sit pretty comfortably in the traditional champa/masala range.

Pranayama Sutra is a really nice mix between a fruity top oil and a noticeable halmaddi presence from the champa base. I don’t want to mix things up, but I made an observation on one of the aromas in my previous review from years back that reminded me of the fruitier champas that used to come out of Shrinivas like the Ajaro or Aastha, back in earlier days and I still think that holds quite a bit for Pranayama. I enjoy the kind of airiness about this one, it’s not a heavy champa despite how aromatic it is, and there’s a bit of sandalwood in the middle that gives a base for everything to move around. The difference between this review and the old one is that I originally went on record not enjoying it as much, but I really do like this version of Pranayama. I like how it can be a kind of gentle aroma without skipping the quality aspects of the scent. Again one really important thing is that this smells really halmaddi-rich like incenses from the old days.

Pratyahara Sutra is another champa-style masala, this time with a very strong vanilla presence, maybe one that goes a little farther beyond the base. This doesn’t really seem to be a particularly complex incense, there’s a bit of woodiness in the mix, maybe some very mild earth tones as a touch. But overall, it seems to be going for a vanilla style, maybe with a touch of amber too. Pleasant, although perhaps lacking in distinction. But vanilla lovers will want to check it out for sure as it’s not terrible far from the Vanilla Champa Blue Pearl did once. Not to mention that this vanilla has more resolution than you’ll find in Satya’s incenses and relatives.

Samadhi Sutra is also something of a variation of a traditional champa/masala recipe. It has a very unusual and deep oil on top, slightly spicy (similar to champas in the past that had the name Maharaj or Maharaja – many of these also had the green color dipped on the bamboo stick end), peppery, and very sultry. I remember a previous version of this incense felt like things didn’t come together perfectly, but in smelling a fresh batch it may have very well been due to some age as the powdery perfume at the top ties this together rather nicely. I like the sort of central spice component to this one, it shakes up and compliments the sweetness of the base in a powerful way. Like the Pratayahara Sutra I’m not sure this is a terribly distinctive incense for a “Maharaj style,” in fact you’d have to go way back to the old Mystic Temple stick for me to find one I really went for, but I do find Samadhi Sutra a pleasant and friendly burn. [9/10/21 – we wanted to note there’s a fairly direct match on this one with Temple of Incense’s Kerala Flower.]

The lavender covered stick end for Yama Sutra is something of a pointer. In fact night before I wrote this I was burning Temple of Incense’s Bengal Beauty which has the exact same color stick, as well as a similar scent profile. This is always an indication of a classic champa formula that I’ve seen under Satya Natural, Vanilla as well as Mystic Temple’s Honey Dust in the past. While I haven’t sampled any of those in quite some time (years ago I felt that these were all part of the whole ingredient shift), both Bengal Beauty and Yama Sutra take a much closer step back to where this fine scent used to be. It always felt like a very sweet and friendly incense, with big hits of vanilla and honey and it’s honestly one of the better places to start if you’re new to Indian incense and want to familiarize yourself with some of the more traditional mixes outside of the regular Nag Champa formula. If you’re hovering over a Happy Hari order, definitely add this one to your cart to see where you sit with it.

Please note you can find all of these incenses at Absolute Bliss. While this line finds new homes in US retail stores, I would use the contact page to contact Corey for prices, shipping time and availability, but I want to stress that he has a new batch in that is current very fresh and it’s when Indian incense is at its strongest. Please note that while Wonder Incense in the UK has claimed they are releasing Happy Hari incenses, there are some concerns that it is not authentic. If and until I get to the bottom of this, I am providing this caveat. Upcoming at some point is a fifth and final installment to finish up any remaining scents and when that happens I will also post an appendix of the scents that currently are discontinued.

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