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Gird your loins and pull up a paisley cushion, this review is a bit long.
A subject close to my heart- Nag Champa. Possibly one of the most amazing scents on this earth (apart from a newborn baby's head), Nag Champa is a traditional Indian scent which is mostly used in incense production. In the UK, the famous original blue and white boxes are available in practically every hippy shop and head shop. Nag Champa is made from a very high concentration of sandalwood. When the sandalwood is combined with herbs, halmaddi oils, resins and the flowers of the Champa plant you get the traditional ceremonial incense smell that the incense is known for. Nag Champa is still hand rolled in India and it is found in Hindu and Buddhist temples all over the world. These incense sticks are natural and do not contain artificial perfumes or other nasties.
The use of incense for ceremony and health dates back many hundreds of years and is said to have originated in Egypt. The history of Nag Champa is steeped in tradition and age old technique, from the recipe to the hand rolling, this particular incense has not changed over the years.
This incense is the one most commonly used for meditation, sandalwood traditionally stills the mind and creates a peaceful energy in the space in which it is burnt. It is said that burning Nag Champa will enhance all meditative states and is the preferred incense for Puja.
I first came across the scent when I visited the Ramakrishna Vedanta centre in Bucks where I was eventually initiated by Swami Bhavyandanda. The "shrine" room was sunny, yellow carpeted and full of incense and flowers creating a heady and spiritual mix. The incense that I noticed hit my nostrils in a way unlike any other that I have known, it was like inhaling icing sugar vapour ( a contradiction but that is how it felt). Sweetness, gentle woody aromas and heady effect, I was addicted to this incense and have bought it in various forms ever since. The Vedanta centre is a place of peace and tranquility and this incense always brings that back to me when I burn it.
One of the most famous Nag Champa brands is the blue and white boxed incense that I mentioned above. (For anybody interested "Satya" means Truth in Sanscrit). This was the brand that really bought Nag Champa incense to the UK in the 60's via the hippies and the patronage of the famous Guru Sathya Sai Baba. There are many incenses available bearing the name Nag Champa but it is only the hand rolled ones containing the traditional ingredients that are worth purchasing. One of these is the floral variety which has the headiness of the Champa flower as the main focus. Similar to the standard blue and white boxed incense, this burns with the same sweetness as the original and there is not an awful lot of difference between the two. I still get the sugary smell that lingers in my nose for hours and I still find that burning a whole stick can sometimes be too much. These sticks are strong. Some of the floral ones have "Agarbatti" on the reverse, which means "hand rolled" as all good incense is.
To use this I have a small incense stand but an incense stick can be secured in all sorts of ways. I have used gaps in bricks in houses, my car's dashboard, a piece of blue-tack etc as an impromptu holder.
The sticks light easily but you will need to hold the flame over the tip until it is smoking healthily. It is traditional that an incense stick is shaken out and not blown so I do that. These can be used for smudging purposes if you are into such things alongside or in place of the traditional sweetgrass and sage sticks. Once alight the flame will disappear and the stick will smolder giving of wisps of silver smoke. A true hippy would go all "woo" at this point and focus on the patterns but I rarely have time....
The scent is evocative and will fill the room fast. Even leaving an unopened package in a drawer will make the whole draw smell of the incense, it is that strong. Once it is burning of course it is even stronger. The sugary smell hits and the room fills with a scent of sandalwood but there is no harshness to the smell. This is a beautiful incense and unlike so many, not full of toxins and rubbish. Other brands often give me a headache and are "heavy". Although strong, this is not.
One stick will burn for around 45 minutes and in that time your whole house will smell of the incense. So will your hair, clothes, pets and soft furnishings so please ensure that you like the smell before you really go for it.... the smell also lingers for days.
Nag Champa is available in cones, sticks, oils and even soap now. I recommend the Sathya Sai Baba one for oils and soaps as they are of discernible quality. These floral sticks are also excellent but I have not seen any other product with their scent on. But as I say, they are not really that dissimilar.
The finished stick leaves a very fine ash which some use for Puja or rub across the forehead as Vibhuti. Vibhuti is the sacred ash left over from a Vedic ritual and is often smeared across the forehead in three lines to honour Lord Shiva. Of course if this is all a bit "woo" you can dispose of it as you wish.
It is impossible for me to talk about incense without delving into the history and myths surrounding its use but for those who are about to nod off here is the summary:
Nag Champa is a blend of oils, flowers and resins most commonly known in the UK as a type of incense. There are many varieties available but the true Nag Champa is hand rolled and contains natural ingredients so check the package. The burning of this incense creates a beautiful aroma and mood and the floral version is slightly more heady and delicate than the original. I cannot recommend it enough as it has so many memories for me and the smell is just gorgeous. I wear it as an oil, use the soap and burn the incense.
Nag Champa incense starts at around £1.00 for a box of 10-12 sticks. There are often freebies in the box showcasing another type in the range. For the most value you can buy it in cases on Amazon and online.
After receiving a free sample of incense from a spa Open Day, my husband and I have been a little incense crazy. We have tried literally everything in terms of keeping our flat smelling nice - from plug-ins to reed diffusers to sprays to gels, we've experienced the brief, momentary 'ahh!' of the product's first whiff, and then been disappointed as the smell quickly dissipated, lost to the other smells of the apartment. We had had most success with the plug-in, but stories of plug-ins randomly causing fires put us off slightly. So following this spa Open Day, we decided to try the incense they threw in with our gift bags - we burned it in the master bedroom with the door open, and were pleasantly surprised the next morning when you could detect the pleasant, lingering scent throughout the flat. I went to Chinatown that day and purchased a pack of Nag Champa incense sticks, and we have been addicted ever since!
The great thing about incense is that the scent is strong though not overpowering. We cook a lot, in a kitchenette that is directly attached to our living room - a stick of incense insures that any reminder of our dinner is gone within half an hour of finishing it. We've also had friends comment on the pleasant, unique smell of the incense burning, differentiating our flat from those which rely on candles or other modes of freshening the air - for a fraction of the price.
If you're not a fan of smoke, then I wouldn't recommend this, as it is an inescapable part of the incense experience, but if you like sweet, exotic scents, then this is definitely for you.
Old hippies never die, and nothing can take me back to those heady days of tie-dyes, afghan coats, cheesecloth, patchouli, beads and flowers more than the smell of Nag Champa joss sticks (incense sticks). I suspect that part of the reason why hippie/hairy types used joss sticks was to drown out the smell of various illegal substances, and they became part of the overall atmosphere of mysticism which was prevalent at the time.
As the 1970s evolved and the hippie movement all but disintegrated, I found it increasingly difficult to buy decent-smelling joss sticks, and the only place I could buy those which were authentically Indian was in a local shop called Africa Arts.
In 1977, I began working in London, very close to the Bengali area (Brick Lane/Bethnal Green) and at lunchtimes I used to visit the little Indian grocers' shops to buy my curry spices. Imagine my delight when I discovered that most of the (in those days tiny, often dark and pokey) shops, sold my old favourite Nag Champa joss sticks. They were very cheap (back then around 15p per pack), and I stocked up on as many different scents as I could find.
A decade later, and with much water having passed under the bridge of life (which included a house move to a different area, away from my beloved Africa Arts shop), I found myself in the midst of a circle of friends who were quite "new-age" orientated, and I was invited to join a party of people on a visit to the Mind Body Spirit Festival at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Victoria, London (this was before the Festival was totally monopolised by those just out to make a quick buck).
One of the first things which struck me at the Festival was, on entering the huge room packed with stalls selling everything from tarot cards, to Red Indian peace pipes, essential oils, Indian head massages....pretty much everything connected with an alternative and esoteric lifestyle, the pungent aroma of Nag Champa joss sticks.
I found the selection at the Festival was somewhat greater than I'd been able to buy in London's Bengali district, so I stocked up with packets of every different scent that was available.
As the years drifted by, I stopped going to the Mind Body Spirit Festival for various reasons, and when my working life changed, I abandoned London altogether. Though I've never missed London, I was sad that I'd not be able to buy my favourite joss sticks any more. For a couple of years I made do with any old brand, then just as I was about to give up on ever being able to buy my wonderful joss sticks again, I recently was delighted to find a small "New Age" shop in the town closest to where I now live that sells a fairly good selection of scents of Nag Champa.
I now have my regular "fix" back, and my little home is fragrant once more.
Some people don't like joss sticks because they emit smoke, and others don't like the very heady incense smell, but I can honestly say that I have a large circle of friends, and not one of them when they visit has ever found the fumes from my joss sticks offensive in any way. I have two friends who do suffer from bad asthma, especially when in the presence of cigarette smoke, but both of these friends claim my joss sticks don't aggravate their condition.
Joss sticks are a great way of freshening a room, and if the right scent is chosen (the right one being a matter of personal choice), it can be very relaxing having one or a few burning away in the background.
Most modern joss stick holders are very good at catching the ash which drops off, and that saves a little on housework; gone are the days when the ash would drop onto floors, carpets etc., and have to be cleaned up.
Of course there is a very slight fire risk, and nobody should ever leave a room where joss sticks are burning for too long, or go out. They can easily be extinguished by immersing the glowing tip into water, and to re-light later, just cut the little bit of wet off the end and you can continue burning.
There are so very many different brands of joss sticks on the market nowadays, but my own personal favourite always has been and always will be Nag Champa.
Nag Champa joss sticks usually are packed in different coloured cardboard boxes which measure approximately 10" long, 2" wide and 3/4" deep. Inside of the box are two smaller, sealed elongated boxes, each containing approximately 15 sticks wrapped in a very thin layer of paper, similar to greaseproof paper. They are imported from Bangalore, and manufactured by a company there called Shrinivas Sugandhalaya.
As soon as you open the outer box, the powerful but beautiful smell of oriental flowers infuses your olfactory receptors. With most other brands of joss stick, especially those made in the UK, often you need to burn a few at once to get the full effect, but with Nag Champa one single stick is ample.
After lighting a Nag Champa joss stick, within a couple of minutes your whole home will be deliciously fragrant with the powerful scent of incense and tropical flowers, which is excellent at completely masking all less pleasant odours such as cigarette smoke, the residue of cooking smells, pet smells (e.g. cat litter trays) etc.
These joss sticks can vary greatly in price, depending on where you buy them. For a 15g box (which contains approximately 30 sticks), you can expect to pay as little as 85p in some outlets, ranging up to an approximate maximum of £1.80. I find that the "New Age" shops and festivals are the most expensive, and a good Indian grocer's shop will sell them for the cheapest price. Even if you pay the highest price, they are still much more economical than most other brands of joss stick, because of the powerful smell, and it being necessary to only burn one at a time.
The only downside is that in the summer when you have your windows open and are burning Nag Champa joss sticks, though I find they tend to keep flies at bay as I believe they hate the smell, they are particularly attractive to wasps and bees, and you might therefore find yourself invaded by legions of striped buzzy insects.
If you are a joss stick fan and haven't yet tried Nag Champa, I strongly recommend them above all other brands; if you have never used joss sticks, give them a try? They are far more environmentally-friendly than chemical-based air freshener aerosols, last longer, are much cheaper, and smell sweeter.