Kunjudo / Kan Ken Koh / Breath, Sleep

Early in 2021 about when I reopened ORS I covered an interesting new incense Japan Incense had gotten in stock called Kan Ken Koh/Healing. This was an interesting charcoal-based mix of oils packaged in these neat little glass test tubes. As it turns out this incense is part of a series from which Japan Incense has turned up two new ones, Sleep and Breath. With a bit more data one can only come to the conclusion that these are really essential oil mixes rather than what you usually see in traditional Japanese sticks, and almost feel like they could have been targeted at a more new age or even co-op sort of audience. As such, they’re quite different than what you’d normally expect.

Breath lists magnolia kobus, eucalyptus oil, artemesia princeps and borneol as ingredients, with the eucalyptus being the focus. You absolutely get that eucalyptus leaf oil scent from this burn, in fact it’s a bit tea-like in a way and I’d assume the artmesia (mugwort) probably helps get it there as well, moving the overall aroma in an herbaceous direction. The borneol content seems rather small in comparison, hanging just onto the edges and the magnolia seems to be used more to ground this in a friendlier direction rather than being a feature on its own. It’s a neat stick overall because of its herbal qualities and quite natural smelling, definitely recommended for those who enjoy eucalyptus. That tree’s sort of slightly bitter and unique scent has really been given justice by this stick.

Sleep lists cedarwood, chamomile, thyme and hops, something of a very unusual mix I would guess; however, the link between chamomile tea and a bit of drowsiness seems fairly common in US herbal tea culture as well. Overall Sleep isn’t terribly different than Breath but where Breath seemed to have some high resolution oils in the mix, Sleep seems a bit more dialed back, perhaps intentionally. Cedarwood would actually not be the kind of aroma I’d imagine would help me sleep and it’s fairly strong here, but the rest of the herbs seem like they’re pulling it all a bit more in the right direction and it feels like that thyme and hops mix gives the edge of the scent a bit of luster it might otherwise be missing. But of the two in the series this feels less individual and realized than the others in the sense that the other two aromas really pop out at you while this one feels a bit more blended.

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Happy Hari / Sutra / Asana, Dharana, Dhyana (Revisited); Niyama (Revised)

Happy Hari, Part 1
Happy Hari, Part 2
Happy Hari, Part 4
Happy Hari, Part 5

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

Happy Hari’s line originally expanded from Meena Supreme and Gold Nag Champa to what is essentially two full new incense lines, both of which were replacements for previous lines that had been shifting around a bit. There are two series, one that features eight incenses all matching up with different types of yoga postures, and another that we’ll talk about later that is something of a “King of Incense” line, a line where some of our most recently reviewed incenses have ended up (with some name changes). I would describe the Sutra line as something of a mix of styles, it would be very difficult to describe the range as a whole, as there are some very different incenses at work here. The line seems to be roughly split into one or two charcoal incenses and six champa incenses.

Asana Sutra is the line’s first charcoal incense, which in this case means that the aroma is being largely carried by oils on the stick. I’ve gone on record in the past that, except in occasional circumstances, ORS does not review charcoal incenses, so this would be one of those exceptions in order to complete the series. A (much) earlier version of this incense seemed to be more of a charcoal hybrid similar to Madhavadas family incenses. The first sample of this incense reminded me of some ayurvedic mixes and had enough benzoin in the mix to be classified as something of a loban. The 2021 version seems to be fairly close to what I remember, there’s definitely a bit of a benzoin-amber sort of mix in the perfume, some vanilla, a gentle bit of something like spearmint in the background and it’s powdery, sweet and cooling. I should mention that at one point I reviewed some very high-end charcoals from Shroff that even though the oils were actually tremendously good on them, I still couldn’t get around the base and generally feel the same way about Asana Sutra. So please keep that in mind, as if you’re ok with the charcoal format you may very well enjoy this one.

Dharana Sutra had also changed once the first time I received samples way back. This was the first incense in the line that made me think Happy Hari went to some ends to really improve this group or maybe switch certain scents under different names. In 2021, this still seems to be something of a charcoal (I had written that in the past it may be a bit of a hybrid analogous to some Madhavadas family incenses, and it still could be). I’d almost describe it overall as a masculine floral, as it has the really cologne rich scent that’s reminiscent of Oud Masala, while at the same time having an unmistakeably floral sweetnees to it. This also has mint, but it feels a bit more peppermint. It has a similar powdery and sweet vibe to the Asana but it’s also a bit fruitier in some ways. It’s a very dominating, almost overpowering scent overall, so it’s one you want to back up from a bit.

Outside of the two charcoals things improve incrementally to my nose. These next to are just simply brilliant champa-type masalas, easily some of the best on the market now (and I’d grab them both right away while they retain this is initial freshness). An early version of Dhyana Sutra looked to be something of a Honey Dust or Satya Natural type variant and it still reminds me a little of those two even if it’s a different incense. The 2021 version still seems to be something of a musk champa even if it’s mostly because of the sweet notes. This incense has quite a bit of similarity to the now discontinued Shroff Shanti incense, although I think I like the sweeter and sugary direction here, it helps to balance out the heavy tanginess that Shanti exhibits. There was a touch of citrus mentioned in an earlier description that still feels like it’s here, it could be anything in the lemon to orange to mandarin range and it’s definitely not overbearing. Overall, this is a truly excellent scent, undoubtedly one that will be back on the Hall of Fame page when it gets reconfigured. I love the way it has two or three levels to it that playfully dance together.

So I wanted to include the historical review of the Niyama Sutra, before I add my thoughts because while the three I previously wrote about still seem well within range of my original reviews, this one has changed a lot and for the better: Niyama Sutra has also become a much better incense than what was in the first batch, and if the Dhyana was the musk champa in this group, than surely the Niyama is the patchouli champa. The patchouli champa style was quite prevalent in the halmaddi days and was a unique combination that transmuted the qualities of patchouli into something with a pleasantly burnt type of aroma. On the other hand there was a generic patchouli champa that used to be part of a dipped range of champas that wasn’t quite as successful but had some interesting elements in that it had a bit of a crayon subaroma and a mellower patchouli vibe. The Niyama Sutra is more in the middle, it has the crayon subaroma as well as a slight touch of the old patchouli champa scent and comes off being fairly friendly overall. The description gives vanilla and rose, so it’s quite possibly my detection of patchouli is largely because this reminds me of patchouli champa, but I detect more of the former than latter. Still, very nice. The fresh batch of Niyama Sutra is really downright incredible, it has been a really long time since I smelled an Indian incense at this level. It has this almost decadently candy exterior to it that I would guess could have been missing in some way from the previous stick I tried from it. I dunno how to describe it, like some elegant but gooey hazelnut-nutella-nougat-caramel mix, but with quite a bit of dryness that makes it so perfect as an aroma. I literally don’t notice anything patchouli about it at all, which is one reason why i needed to weight in separately from the old review. Nor the crayon aroma. It does however seem to have quite a bit of vanilla in it but not surprising given all the sugary treat-like notes. A confectionary champa? I don’t know but this is one you want for sure, just brilliant.

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. [NOTE 7/15/21: 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.]

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

Sea of Clouds

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

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

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

 

Song of Rain

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

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

 

 

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

Incense from India may very well be the largest line of Indian incenses in the US market. Their website claims to have over 200 different fragrances. I first discovered this line of incenses in the mid 90s and while my tastes have changed quite a bit since then, many of my early favorites came from this line. To name a few that used to be at the top of my list but that I haven’t ordered since I started in on Japanese incense: Enchanted Garden (like Shrinivas Sugandhalaya’s Valley of Roses but much better), Golden Frankincense (resiny and peppery), Honey Dust (like Satya Natural) and Snow Apricot (a slightly fruity durbar). I’ve probably forgotten more scents from this line than I currently remember, but five came in as samplers a while back and I thought I’d log my impressions. But be assured that I don’t consider the incenses in question here among the line’s best by any means. [NOTE 10/7/21: Just a note that these reviews may be obsolete as recipes have change drastically in Indian incense over the years and we have not been able to confirm where Incense Guru is on these scents. However, they all do still seem to be available and I have added direct links to the specific scents.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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