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What is Nag Champa?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon995942 — On Jun 13, 2016

If you don't like it, don't use it. If you like it, use it. Get over it.

By anon992102 — On Aug 13, 2015

Musk is not a "substance" and does not "originate from a rat". It is a broad class of scents (like "woody" or "floral") from many sources including animal (traditionally musk deer, sperm whale), plant, synthesised natural musks and fully synthetic musks e.g. the nitromusk class.

By anon928304 — On Jan 27, 2014

This stuff smells like somebody needs a bath.

By anon333113 — On May 03, 2013

Nag Champa contains a large proportion of sandalwood and the frangipani fragrance, which comes from the champa (or plumeria) flower. Nag Champa incenses contain a semi-liquid hygroscopic resin, "halmaddi," taken from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree, which gives them their characteristic grey color and damp texture. The resin also contains a psychoactive beta-carboline.

By anon325077 — On Mar 14, 2013

Seraph does not mean serpent in Hebrew!

By anon315443 — On Jan 24, 2013

What are the available Nag Champa Agarbatti brands in India and what is their cost in retail?

By anon279500 — On Jul 13, 2012

Wow, a lot of odd things on this blog. Serpents, false God, etc.

By anon266493 — On May 06, 2012

To each his own. Don't like it? Don't use it! I happen to love it. It's similar to taking a liking to patchoulli oil. You either love it or hate it!

By anon263638 — On Apr 25, 2012

I have a gift of spiritual discernment and three times when I burned this incense in my home, it attracted a bad spiritual entity into my home before I made the connection that it was the incense that was doing it.

Lucifer was a seraphim angel. "Seraph" in hebrew means serpent. That was why he was described as a serpent in the garden of Eden. The rest of the fallen angels that were cast down with him were as well. The Hindu pagan mystery school religion was started by these fallen angels and their hybrids.

Plus, this incense is not kosher because they pray and dedicate this incense to a false God so that anyone who burns it in their house opens this gateway to them. If you love Yahweh, don't use it!

By anon243148 — On Jan 26, 2012

Who cares? I love nag champa. It makes me feel happy and enchanting.

By anon212275 — On Sep 06, 2011

Snake flower? are you kidding me, nag champa is basically a name created by an incense company in India. There is no such tree as nag champa. This is a new age world we are living in and we tend to create words out of nowhere, then when it gets popular, it is known as some tree or herb? Yes Champa is flower and snakes are attracted to this flower. That might a motive why nag champa company created this new age incense, and it has been popular for a long time.

By anon152657 — On Feb 14, 2011

I like it! Stop try to analyze everything people. It smells good.

By anon139950 — On Jan 06, 2011

Actually Nag champa, or Mesua ferrea is an Indian flower, a pure essential oil. Nag champa the incense is a combination or essential oils and probably fragrant oils which smells nothing like the authentic essential oil. P.S. I'm an Aromatherapist.

By anon137145 — On Dec 26, 2010

@Anon26856: That article was a hoax/joke website that you can still find online. There is a disclaimer at the bottom of the website page stating as much. That's why you can't find it anywhere else. It doesn't exist.

By anon127669 — On Nov 17, 2010

Also, burning incense isn't good for you, because the sticks are usually wood and that creates air pollution, even at low temperatures.

By anon127668 — On Nov 17, 2010

Many incense makers are terrible about child labor. Some brands put a logo on their boxes of a child hunched over with a cross through it.

By anon122077 — On Oct 26, 2010

My husband and I were just trying to figure it out too. Cannot find info on the rat. Would like to know also. Moriah P.

By anon107687 — On Aug 31, 2010

Does anyone know if nag champa is toxic?

By anon97141 — On Jul 18, 2010

It smells good and it's natural. get your facts straight. musk is a completely different substance!

By anon72947 — On Mar 25, 2010

Nag Champa's name comes from a tree common in India called the champa tree whose flower has a particularly heavy and sweet aroma that is said to attract many kinds of snake. Hence the word Nag, which means snake. Nag Champa is translated as snake tree or snake flower.

By anon37196 — On Jul 17, 2009

Hi, you have to research about musk.

By anon34097 — On Jun 17, 2009

this is clearly preposterous. anyone believing this should look to their own medicine cabinet to find who the real culprit is.

a similar story is to musk, which originates from the musk rat. and yes.. they used to extract it from them.

nag is a mix of spices, oils, and herbs, all from plant origin, hopefully, which create this scent.

By anon26856 — On Feb 19, 2009

i recently saw an article that said nag champa is actually a rodent in africa that is hunted for their scent glands which is used to make the nag champa oil... now i have done a little research and cannot seem to find anywhere else that states the same thing....

has anyone else ever heard of this????

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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