Rasbihari Lal & Sons – Sample Pack (Padma Store)

Updated: 2024-03-09 (Super Hit)

As mentioned in the title, this sampler set is available at Padma Store for €17.95. Included are 2 sticks of each of the 15 varieties available in the shop. They are packed in labelled paper bags and bundled into a roll.
The individual varieties cost either €4.95 or €6.75, they come in 20g packs.
Here is the website of RBL&S itself (if you’re wondering how much the shipping costs are, the cheapest option is $25 plus any exchange fees and customs). There is another site that seems to be primarily for the Indian domestic market.
RBL&S do not appear to produce the incense sticks themselves, but instead obtain them from several sources. 😐

Absolute Agarwood smells more like an “oud” stick to me than like agarwood. (Oud is basically the “essence” of agarwood and in this respect it is of course closely related, but not actually the same. Furthermore, given the real prices of raw agarwood, it is questionable to what extent there is anything of the real deal in it – and if so, how much.)
Unfortunately, it has a very unpleasant pungent smell of smoke, which is particularly present at the beginning. The aroma itself is soft and powdery, the sweetness is rather reserved.
Depending on the day, my rating fluctuated between 2.4 and 2.7.
I find the after-smell to be captivatingly beautiful. It is a little sweeter than when burned.
3-4Funny enough, Absolute Oud reminds me of Pure – Mysore Sandalwood Masterclass (which I absolutely adore), which in return has a very subtle agarwood note to me.
It definitely has some of that high sandalwood sweetness that I’m a sucker for, although the smell is darker overall.
An oddity as an “oud” incense stick, but still a treat for my nose.
Together with Super Musk Hina and Super Mahalaxmi, they are the only sticks from the sampler that appear extruded.
Absolute Amber reminds me of Holy Smokes. They are slightly spicy, balsamic and vanilla-sweet and have a burnt note that smells roughly similar to burnt hair. If it weren’t for that, I would find them quite nice, but not particularly special either.
Absolute Blue Lotus are also pretty average. Here, too, my rating was sometimes better, sometimes worse, depending on the day. Sometimes they have a nice, very soft floral scent with a creamy sweetness and a resinous freshness in the after-smell, then again I find them to be rather flat, with an unpleasant sharp note.
Absolute Cedarwood were one of the last samples I tried because I expected them to be boring. Not even close.
I find it completely atypical of cedar; in fact, I had to search for quite a while to find something cedar-like in the aroma. Instead, they have an ambery sweetness that can seem a bit “shrill” at times. The smell is very dense, it has something of Attar oil about it, but I don’t find that to be a negative thing at all in this case. It is a rather heavy scent that exudes a homely feel. Over time, it acquires a tart note that balances the sweetness well.
Once again, a fragrance from this brand reminds me of Holy Smokes, but this time of the “good old” Royal Line.
Without context, I would rank these incense sticks as my favourite amber scents, but they don’t come close to Mother’s.
3-4Absolute Darshan definitely delivers one of the most interesting olfactory experiences from this selection. It starts with a rather tart, resinous smell that I perceive as masculine. This is shortly joined by a resinous citrus freshness and then the smell develops into an increasingly fruity direction, which also gains some sweetness. At the close, it’s a very energetic, positive scent – like the “morning person” among the incense sticks.
2-3Absolute Harileela has an engaging floral scent that is almost ethereal. The scent is sweet but well-balanced and round. The description at Padma Store calls it strong in character, which I cannot agree with. I find it likewise simple and charming. A humble beauty.
Absolute Sayli is powdery and creamy at the same time. The smell is very sweet; on the one hand with a floral aspect, which for me goes towards lotus, and on the other hand with a vanilla note that makes me think of Pure Incense.
During the summer, I had the impression that they became a bit more complex after a while, but now in December, I perceive them as a bit flat.
It’s a pleasant smell, but it doesn’t blow me away.
2-3Nag Champa Deluxe is a nice contribution to the genre. I detect a slight bitterness, like burnt sugar (which I find in most Satya sticks) and the cool air doesn’t seem to favour the scent particularly well. In summer, it had significantly more body; a rich, floral aroma combined with creamy sweetness and a gentle character.
Special Murli Krishna is described as sweet and playful at Padma Store. To me, the smell is deep, almost earthy and “mysterious”. A not so simple scent. It’s very aromatic, but in my opinion, pretty much the least sweet of this sampler. There is a certain sweetness present, but quite far in the background.
The smell becomes more complex while it burns. At first, I find it resinous, and sour like cloves. When the smell opens up, it becomes floral and subtly sweet, but retains its original character. An extremely complex composition that constantly changes facets, making it difficult to grasp. Maybe that’s what is meant with “playful”. Extremely fascinating.
Unfortunately, the spicy-sour note comes back in the after-scent, which annoys me after a while.
Special Radha Kasturi are extremely potent and require a lot of space. The first time I tried it (in summer) I had it burning in the living room with the door and windows open, but the smell only really opened up one floor up.
The scent is deep and spicy, it has both a warm and a fresh, slightly cooling aspect. Once again I don’t agree with the Padma description at all.
Super Hit was one of the first that I tried and a very pleasant surprise because I absolutely can’t stand Satya‘s sticks of the same name.
These Super Hit smell intensely resinous, something like Hojari Frankincense or a decent Copal Blanco – but I rather think it’s Frankincense. There is also a subtle, warm note and a certain sweetness, as well as slightly floral hints.
A bit like a third cousin of Mother’s – Church Incense (which really does smell like church but with a hint of Masala spiciness), only perhaps a little tamer. Nevertheless, it is an energetic and invigorating scent. 

2024-03-09 Update 
I bought Super Hit (5.45€/20g) and unfortunately found that they smell significantly different from the sample. This confirms that there are strong fluctuations between the batches. The new ones are creamy-sweet and way less resinous and fresh. Unfortunately, these actually remind me a lot of Satya. 😐 
I also ordered Super Musk Hina and Absolute Oud, and I’m perfectly happy with them.
2-3Super Mahalaxmi smelled balsamic and soft during summer, with a delicate, spicy undertone that gradually builds up to a strong woody note. A very interesting scent that is unobtrusive but complex at the same time. There is a certain sharp/cutting note to the wood smell, but it never becomes too much. The spice is almost tart, but like the sharpness, just present enough to prevent the scent from being boring. It’s also not a particularly sweet smell.
Now, in winter, it’s a lot thinner and more reserved, the sharpness now appears scratchy and is stronger in the foreground. However, they now also have a very distinct, sandalwood oil smell that lacks a bit of its usual sharp sweetness.
A composition that I would definitely need to spend more time with to form a clear opinion.
I would also like to note that I read a review in which lemongrass was mentioned, basically as the main note, with a hint of mint. That review reads as if it were about something entirely different. Additionally, the sticks are described as hand-rolled, while mine look extruded. They were purchased from Padma Store as well, but a good year before mine.
3-4Super Musk Hina were the last ones I tried. “Hina” means henna. I know the smell of henna hair dye and don’t find it very pleasant, which probably led me to postpone this sample. And again I was very positively surprised.
The smell is potent, but the sticks are only very slightly smoky. It’s a floral musk smell, powdery; they furthermore have a spicy-pungent note (presumably Hina?) which I find to be distinctively green and robust. The smell is very complex and changes over and over. Sometimes it’s rather tart, almost like oakmoss, then again sweeter, spicier and fresher – a little like anise seed and occasionally, I smell a fine warm-aromatic bitterness that makes me think of coffee. The musky smell is sometimes prominent, sometimes much in the background. I find it animalic, but not in a harsh way. Some Cycle incense sticks have a similar note (Manmohak Oudh and Yagna I believe).
Super Narasimha – has a very cheerful, bright character. There is a resinous, spicy freshness, like the peppery note that some Frankincense resins can have; with that, they have a vague family resemblance to Super Hit, but Super Narasimha are soft, powdery and floral. The smell is much gentler and more reserved, and there is something clean about it. At first, they reminded me a bit of Parampara by Cycle, but (based on my memory) they are better balanced than those and more floral. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s maybe ginger lily, but that’s a shot in the dark.
The composition is accompanied by a subtle sweetness and some sandalwood.

Note: I had already received a sample of these sticks as a gift that smelled entirely different. If this review had been based on that, it would have gotten the worst rating of all. Together with the observation about Mahalaxmi, the picture that forms for me is that of fairly extreme batch variations. For small manufacturers, certain fluctuations are normal and to be expected, but they shouldn’t be that extreme so that a variety is no longer recognizable.

Conclusion: The incense sticks from Rasbihari Lal & Sons are absolutely worth exploring if you want to try something that you can’t buy in every metaphysical store or head shop. You don’t always get what you would expect based on the name, but they do have a few pleasant surprises to offer.
As a customer, I find the apparently drastic batch variations very unsettling. It feels like you can never be sure what you’ll end up with, should you reorder, or perhaps even consider importing a larger quantity directly from India.
I also had a private sample of Absolute Agarwood, which was essentially the same, which is why I didn’t mention it above, but now seems relevant in this context.
My absolute favourites from this selection are Super Musk HinaAbsolute Oud and Absolute Darshan, although I would also be tempted to buy Absolute CedarwoodSuper HitSuper Narasimha, and Special Murli Krishna. And who can say no to a good Nag Champa? – Actually, it would have been easier to write which ones wouldn’t be interesting.
However, I am currently stocked to the rafters with incense sticks that are waiting to be reviewed or even to be tried out for a first time, which is why I am holding back for the moment.
When the time comes, I will definitely write an update on how similar they are to the samples.

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