We, Bengalis, or Bongs as is popularly known, share a paramount love for food which is an integral part of our Bengali culture. We enjoy cooking as much as we enjoy eating. We love to eat and make others eat too! And trust me when I say that the gym stands a mere chance when it comes to choosing between a plate full of aromatic Kolkata Biriyani (with a boiled egg and a potato), and the gym. Ask any Bengali to talk about childhood and you will come to know how it revolved around mouth-watering, lip-smacking Bengali cuisines, especially including fish and sweets. Not only that, we Bongs, love to dig into the history and origin of anything that tickles our taste buds, and it is mainly for this reason that we stood unified to prove that ‘Rosogolla‘ originated in West Bengal, and not in Odisha.
‘Rosogolla’ gets its name from the combination of two different words, namely, ‘Ras’ (or ‘Ros’ in Bengali) meaning Syrup, and ‘Golla’ meaning ball. The soft, spongy and syrupy ball of happiness was the center of the long debate between the two neighboring states: West Bengal and Odisha. While the debate was never low-pitched over generations, it took an intense turn in 2015 when the government of West Bengal filed for a Geographical Indications (GI) tag for the variant called ‘Banglar Rosogolla’. The state clarified that there is no dispute with Odisha and they are not seeking claim over the dessert but only over the variant native to the state with the intention of protecting its identity.
In the application, West Bengal State Food Processing and Horticulture Development Corporation Limited represented by its managing director stated that ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ was created by a confectioner named Nobin Chandra Das (1845-1925) in 1868, two years after he set up his sweet shop in Sutanuti, present day Bagh Bazar, North Kolkata, in 1866. The dessert got its Bengali recognition and appreciation as ‘a treasure of Bengal’ when poet Rakhaldas Adhikari appreciated the sweet in his poem ‘Rasikata’ in 1896. In 1906, Panchanan Bandyopadhyay, an eminent writer, also wrote about the Bengali origin of ‘Rosogolla’. According to him, ‘Rosogolla’ shares the same birth place, Phulia, with Krittibas Ojha, a Bengali poet credited for translating the epic ‘Ramayana’ into Bengali (known as Krittivasi Ramayana). Panchanan Bandyopadhyay also states that ‘Rosogolla’ was invented by Haradhon Moira, a confectioner from Phulia village (also called ‘Fulia’) in Nadia district of Bengal, who worked for Pal Chowdhury’s of Ranaghat. The application submitted by the government of West Bengal also clarifies the difference between ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ and ‘Rosogolla’ made in other states in terms of color, texture, taste, juice content, and method of preparation. ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ is off white / light cream color, soft and spongy ball of ‘chhana’ (or cottage cheese) dipped in light sugar syrup.
On the other hand, Odisha is yet to submit its application to obtain the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for their variant of the popular sweet called ‘Pahala Rasgulla’ which is comparably brownish in texture. The state finance minister, Shashi Bhusan Behera, stated “We are yet to submit our application to get GI tag for our rasgulla. A committee is working on the application. Once it is ready, we will apply for the GI tag”. According to Odisha’s historians, ‘Rosogolla’ first originated in Puri, a city in Odisha, as ‘Khira Mohana’, which was later modified into the ‘Pahala Rasgulla’. The sweet found its name, ‘Pahala’, from its namesake village located on the outskirts of Odisha’s capital Bhubaneshwar. ‘Pahala Rasgulla’ is offered as ‘Bhog’ to Goddess Lakhsmi at Jagannath’s Temple, Puri. Odisha’s Higher Education, Science and Technology minister Pradip Kumar Panigrahi formed a committee, headed by Jagannath cult scholar Asit Mohanty, in 2015, to trace the origin of the infamous sweet. The committee stated in their interim report, submitted in 2015, that the existence of the sweet can be traced back to 600 years when it was offered to Gods. They also referenced the sweet’s existence in ‘Dandi Ramayana’ which is a version of the famous epic adopted by Balaram Das in the 16th century. The committee claimed to have found evidence in Odia literature published by the Calcutta University in 1924 favoring the claim of the sweet’s origin in Odisha. The state also celebrated ‘Rasgulla Dibasa’ on 30th July 2015 to commemorate the mythical beliefs and celebrate the origin of the sweet.
What is GI tag?
A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
In November 2017, Assistant Registrar, GI Registry, Chennai, Chinnaraja G. Naidu, stated that after examining the application filed in September 2015 and scrutinizing documents, the GI Registry has accorded the GI certificate to West Bengal State Food Processing and Horticulture Development Corporation Limited for ‘Banglar rosogolla’ on 14th November 2017.
West Bengal’s Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee also expressed her delight on a popular social media platform for obtaining the much-coveted certificate.
Being a Bengali, it is exhilarating for me as well as Dhiman Das, great-great-grandson of Nobin Chandra Das, to see ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ win the tug-of war and get the GI tag. Nevertheless, being a sweet lover, I wish good luck to our neighboring state for obtaining the same for ‘Pahala Rasgulla’. Looks like, amidst this tussle, ‘Rosogolla’ had the last laugh.
Well, some wars and debates need not end with violence and cruelty; they can also have sweet and syrupy ending. As for me, let me cram my bowl with the victorious ‘Rosogollas’ and gulp down one or two while I am writing this post.
Ki Moshai, apnio ki ‘Rosogolla’ khaben ?