Nag champa is an Indian scent that is famously used in incense, although it also appears in soaps, lotions, perfumed oils, and candles, among other things. Many people think of this scent when they think of incense, since the odor is so ubiquitous, and it is quite popular among many people all over the world. It is especially closely associated with the hippie counterculture community, since many people traveled to India in the 1960s, where they acquired a taste for its distinctive smell.
This incense is part of a family of Indian scents known as champa incenses, because they are all reminiscent of the champa flower, better known to Westerners as plumeria. Many champa incenses also include plumeria as an ingredient, harnessing its rich, sweet, heavy scent. Nag champa also traditionally includes a resin extracted from the Ailanthus tree, an Asian native, along with sandalwood.
People who have smelled nag champa often comment on its very heavy, earthy aroma. It also has lighter notes from the sandalwood. Because the scent of this incense can be very heavy, many people like to burn it in a well ventilated room to ensure that it does not become cloying. Many Indian companies manufacture sticks that include this scent, which tend to burn for around 30 minutes, and the incense is also available in the form of coils and cones for people who prefer these formats.
In India, nag champa is used in many temples as a joss stick, or agarbatti, as they are known in India. Joss sticks are burned as offerings in front of statues of gods, and they tend to create a very distinctive atmosphere in temples. Worshipers also typically leave offerings of food, crafts, and flowers when they pray, to further cultivate the goodwill of the gods. Joss sticks are also burned on home altars.
Because this is such a well known incense, it is typically very readily available. Health food stores and other establishments that cater to the counterculture typically carry it, and it is also available from Indian and Asian markets. Shoppers can recognize good quality incense by its grayish color and strong earthy scent, which is evident even before the incense is burned.