Amazing things keep happening. Noticed this newsbit in TOI this weekend over the waging wars between state of West Bengal and Orissa with each claiming stakes over the sweetball – rasagulla. The battle question is simple: Who first discovered the sweet meat? WB or Orissa?
Perhaps, ToI was late to report the news as the battlelines were drawn in beginning of July itself:
It all started with a little-noticed government move in Odisha. And within a few weeks, it has snowballed into a major debate that has drawn in foodies, chefs, historians and now threatens to become a bone of contention between two communities that are naturally proud of their culinary and consequently, cultural heritage, Times of India reports.
Quite simply, the question is, who invented the rasgulla? Bengalis would have you believe that the sugary sphere of pure joy was the culmination of many experiments in the state. In Odisha, they claim equally vehemently that the rasgulla was invented there and has been offered to Lord Jagannath for centuries. So how could it possibly belong to Bengal?
Taking this argument forward, the Odisha government has, just over a month back, started the process of seeking Geographical Indication (GI) status for the rasgulla made in Pahala, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. A GI status identifies a product as originating from a certain location, apart from assuring its quality and distinctiveness. What is means is that if Odisha does get the approval from the Geographical Indication Registry of the Indian government, no confection -this also includes our KC Dases and Balarams -apart from those in Odisha would be able to call their product the rasgulla.
This has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. In Kolkata, Dhiman Das, the great great-grandson of the legendary Nabin Chandra Das, claims that the rasgulla was invented by his ancestor. “Nabin Chandra Das first established a sweet shop in Jorasanko in 1864. But he went out of business soon and after two years, he opened another establishment in Bagbazar. This is where he invented the rasgulla,” says Dhiman. How did that happen?
Dhiman tells us that Nabin started experimenting by boiling chhana balls in sugar syrup. But, every time, the balls would fall apart. He finally resolved the problem with an enzyme present in the chhana. The balls did not disintegrate and the rasgulla was created. “To pop ularise his innovation, Nabin Chandra taught the art to contemporary sweet shop owners,” added Dhiman, the executive director of KC Das Pvt Ltd.
The other popular tale is that the famous Haradhan Moira, sweet-maker of the Pal Chowdhurys of Ranaghat, inventing the rasgulla by accidentally dropping some chhana balls into bubbling syrup. In the late 19th and early 20th century, two confectioneries -the Mullicks of Bhowanipore and Chittaranjan Mistana Bhandar of Sovabazar further fine tuned the delicious sweet.
Some research work has happened as well:
The debate gains momentum now at the time of the closing of the festival, Nabakalebara (soul transformation of the holy trinity) Rath Yatra in Puri, with Surya Narayan Rath Sharma — a researcher associated with Jagannath Temple — claiming that the rasgulla originated in Puri and is offered to gods every year.
Laxmidhar Pujapanda, PRO of the temple, says: “Rasgulla has been part of Rath Yatra rituals ever since the Jagannath temple came into existence in the 12th century.” According to legend, Lord Jagannath on Niladri Bije offered rasgullas to appease his consort Laxmi, who was upset after went on the nine-day Rath Yatra without her consent and locked the Jai Vijay Dwar, a gates of the temple. This week, more than 15 quintals of rasgulla were offered to Laxmi as part of Niladri Bije, a ceremony that marks the end of the chariot festival.
However, Animikh Roy, great-great-grandson of Nobin Das, says, “As Odisha has taken the step to get GI status for rasgulla, we’re also going forward to protect the identity of rasgulla, which people for 150 years have identified with Bengal.”
Roy, along with historian Haripada Bhowmik, has prepared a report to be sent to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The report says: “Lord Jagannath can never be associated to chhana-based (cottage cheese) offerings… Historically speaking, the origin of the word ‘chhana’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘chinna’ which means a torn, broken and fragmented milk product, clearly an indication of spoilt milk. Hence it was considered a blasphemy to offer sweets or anything made of ‘chhana’ to gods.” It added that rasgulla is not even mentioned in the Chhappan Bhog of Jagannath temple.
Laxmidhar Pujapanda refused to accept this argument. He said, “No one can deny the offering of rasgulla on Niladri Bije began along with the establishment of the temple about 900 years ago. This is written in Niladri Mahoday, an age-old scripture. It is true that rasgulla is not mentioned in the Chhappan Bhog, but no one can ignore Niladri Bije rituals.”
Interesting stuff from Indian history. How much is fact or fiction is upto experts to figure.
On pure brand recall terms, there is little doubt that most would associate the sweet with WB. People will be surprised to hear that there is a Orissa connection to the sweet. The variety of chaina sweets have been associated with WB. One always looks forward to visits from friends residing in WB to savor the wonderful sweets. No Bengali likes the rasagulla from anywhere else. Then you are told how the sweet is prepared from cow’s milk in Bengal and buffalo milk in other places.
But then should two states battle a GI? Ideally, the issue can be settled amicably. But then seeing how these things are then eventually taken over by external parties as in Texmati kind of cases, it is better to settle these issues. Though, this might lead to other states looking at such matters as well.
Was wondering who will win the Hyderabadi Biryani battle if it does happen? AP or Telangana> That might be a really tough one..