Home BIG STORY The Battle over the Syrupy Sweet

The Battle over the Syrupy Sweet

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By Asit Mohanty

From the influences on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to the origins of ‘Gita Gobinda’ author Jaydev, Odisha and West Bengal have fought over many things. And the latest bone of contention between the two neighbours is the syrupy, mouth-watering sweet ‘rasagola’, voted India’s National Dessert in a nationwide survey done by MUDRA for ‘Outlook’ magazine in 2010.

pahala rasagola

The fresh round of the battle over rasagola, which had gone dormant for some time, began after the Odisha government initiated the process for obtaining Geographical Identification (GI) status for the famous Pahala rasagola about eight weeks ago. Samabalpuri saree, Berhampuri pata, the appliqué work of Pipili and the pattachitra of Puri are some of the products that have already received the GI norm, which recognises a product as belonging or originating from a particular area.

The history of the tug-of-war over rasagola, however, is pretty long. Bengalis have claimed ‘rasogolla’ as their very own for ages now. Books on Bengali cuisine have proudly proclaimed it as a creation of Bengal. They credit Nobin Chandra Das, whose famous shop in Kolkata has a legacy of a century and half, as the father of the syrupy sweet.

Recorded history has it that Nobin Chandra first prepared rasogolla at his sweet shop in Kolkata’s Sutanati in the year 1868. There is also historical proof that a Marwari timber merchant named Bhagwan Das Bagla facilitated the marketing of Nobin Chandra’s product in other areas of the city.

Nobin Chandra’s son Krushna Chandra Das, better known as KC Das, carried the legacy further with his own innovations. The emergence of vacuum packing technology in the 1930s made it possible for him to preserve his rasogolla longer, vacuum pack it in air-tight tin containers and export it outside Kolkata. It was essentially the efforts of this father-son duo that made the ‘Bengali Rasogolla’ famous inside and outside India.

But in the light of fresh evidence that has emerged in the recent past, most experts, including some in Bengal, have now conceded that rasagola indeed originated from Odisha. Researchers have unearthed sufficient evidence to prove that the tradition of offering rasagola to Lord Jagannath and Goddess Laxmi on the day of Niladri Bije (the day when the deities return to their abode after the annual Rath Yatra) is at least 300 years old and thus much older than the 150 years’ history of the Bengali rasogolla.

It is difficult to assign the origin of rasagola an exact date. But those who believe it originated in Bengal bank on a curious legend from the times of Lord Cornwalis to make their case. If this story is to be believed, the first rasagola was made purely by accident!

The story goes somewhat like this. Lord Cornwalis, then the Governor General of India, arranged a huge banquet for zamindars in a bid to wrest more revenue out of them. As per the prevailing tradition, bigwigs had to be served sweet pudding at the end of a banquet. But the Bengali chef who was to have prepared the pudding fell sick at the last minute and the job was assigned to someone else. But this new man did not know how to make pudding and unwittingly got the milk kept for making of the dessert fermented. Unable to decide what to do with the fermented milk, this man apparently wrapped it in a dhoti and hung it.

Rasgola (2)As luck would have it, the knot on the dhoti somehow got opened and the cheese, its water content now drained out, fell into a kadahi (large pan) full of sugar syrup. The next morning, the stand-in chef found the cheese floating in the syrup. He tried a bit of the stuff and found it very tasty. The taste emboldened him to serve this accidental dish to the guests, none of whom had tasted anything like this before. Everyone went gaga over it.

If this story is to be believed, rasagola was first made sometime between 1786 and 1793, the period when Lord Cornwalis was the Governor General. But according to the recorded history of this popular sweet dish, it was first made by Nobin Chandra Das at least 80-90 years after that.

Rasogolla made Nobin Chandra Das immortal for Bengalis. He was dubbed ‘Nobin Moira’ and anointed the ‘Columbus of Rasogolla’. But unfortunately for Bengalis, just as Columbus, credited for ‘discovering’ America, never actually discovered it, Nobin Chandra never really invented the rasogolla though he has been widely accepted as its inventor.

It is not just writers and researchers of Odisha who are saying this. Some of the best known historians and researchers have now openly conceded that rasagola did originate in Odisha.

In an interesting observation in his article “Ektu Janoon, Ektu Bhaboon” (“Know a Little, Think a Little”) published in the April, 2011 edition of popular Bengali weekly magazine ‘Saptahik Bartamaan’, Samrat Nandi has this to say about the origins of rasogolla:

“Rasogolla. The name itself gets people salivating. This sweet is considered an integral part of the Bengali identity. But no matter how loudly Bengalis proclaim rasogolla as their own, is origin lies in Odisha. It has been an essentially Odia sweet for ages. This sweet is served to Lord Jagannath and Goddess Laxmi in the Jagannath temple in Puri. Many Brahmin Odia cooks (whom we call ‘Thakur’) came to Bengal in search of work in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was through them that many recipes from that state, including ‘rasogolla’, landed in Bengal.”

Echoing Nandi’s theory, a chapter titled “Odisha: Feeding the Divine” in the “The Penguin Food Guide to India” concluded that; “The most likely story is that the Rasagulla came into Bengal from Odisha but was commercially produced and popularised in Calcutta.”

It is also worth noting what another researcher, Prof Utpal Raychoudhury, Professor of the Food Technology and Biochemical department of Jadavpur University, has to say on the issue. Speaking at a function organised by the a trust formed in the name of Bikalananda Kar, the famous rasagola maker of Salepur, in August 2011, Prof Raychoudhury had said rasagola has been in use at the Jagannath temple since the 13th century, which makes it seven centuries old! His statement was published in many local and national newspapers in their August 5, 2011 edition.

More recently, the views of Nandi and Prof Raychoudhury have been corroborated by Bengali journalist Biswabijay Mitra. In his article ‘Who invented rasogolla?’ in the July 6 edition of The Times of India, he talks about the dispute between Odisha and Bengal on the issue and then goes on to say the sweet was in use at the Jagannath temple for much longer. He quotes Prutha Sen, a Bengali woman who has done extensive research on Bengali cuisine, to say; “In the mid 18th century, many cooks employed in large Bengali homes were Odias. It is possible they brought Rasagulla with them.”

There is plenty of other academic research work that can be cited to prove that the tradition of offering rasagola to Lord Jagannath and Goddess Laxmi in the Puri temple is much older than the supposed invention of the dish by Nobin Chandra Das in 1868.

In the face of the overwhelming body of evidence that has now emerged through research, it is perhaps time Bengalis accepted that their pride rasogolla was born in Odisha.

asit mohanty* Asit Mohanty is Editor of ‘Paurusha’ and Editor (Publications) at Eastern Media Limited. He is an acclaimed literary critic and has written extensively on issues of language, literature and culture. 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. ”This is the saddest piece of writing ever seen on the Indian gastronomic and cultural front.
    just changing the name from roshogolla to rasagulla won’t make it Intellectual property of Oriyas.
    Rashogolla, like the most sweets in India will always and forever be a Bengali thing. Remember that Bengali households still are known for their amazing food culture and this fact is known world-wide 🙂
    is this the only piece of heritage that you can show off to the world? Seriously there are better things to latch onto 🙂
    chaitanna mahaprabhu did come from GEOGRAPHICAL ORISSA but back then there was no orissa, are we forgetting this?
    and your dear lord ASHOKA the great wasn’t your hero too until he defeated your so called “kalinga empire”. he was a scavenger of kalinga and not a king 🙂
    your bali, sumatra etc “J(y)ATRAS” came form LORD ASHOKA’S INVASION of your pillage state.
    the regular oriya isn’t sweet at all, its rather very harsh, its rather the languages like sambalpuri and languages near the west bengal border where the oriya dialects turn sweeter. would you not agree?
    sambalpuri is such a cute language! why are you guys stomping it down to non-exitence and these guys want their language to prosper just like yours. give them their due!
    oh, btw, i forgot to mention YOUR BEST CM (infact my best CM too, one of the best CMs our country ever had) doesn’t even speak Oriya! ”
    KAMONASISH AAYUSH MAZUMDAR
    (MBA, IMT Ghaziabad)
    Vertical Head – Mobile Internet Products & Data Services at Airtel
    Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

      • Mr Kam,

        People like you never believe on data which exists for last seven decades.Grow up man….rather fighting like a communist.You guys save money for whole year and come to our Puri and enjoy ur yearly Budgeted Holiday.Its not about you or us.its about getting recognition.If you have many things to shpw off then you should.Lets see who wins the War!!!!…

  2. Mr. KAM your state was the first state to be colonized by Britishers and your people were the loyal servants to them. Your language came from maithili, thanks to Tagore that your language survived. You claim everything of eastern India is yours. Your language is not sweet its a language spoken by people whose vocal chords are under developed. You guys speak every language as bengali or whatever it is. Despite having so much intellectual you voted for communists then your esteemed Didi. Your state is under developed, your politicians are all rowdies. First give due credit to maithili from where your language got derived. Who was your hero muslim invaders then british colonizers. Naxalism started from your so called pious intellectual state. Anyways your language is bastardized form of Magadhi and Maithili languages. You people didnt have the guts to fight Ashoka so you submitted to him neither you people had the guts to go for Jaya Jatras. May be the reason is that your language was so sweet that even war crys from your soldiers sounded like wailing of a woman. Accept the truth whatever heritage you claimed as bengali is a myth, where your shrewd historians manipulated history.
    We are very proud of our language and heritage, our language is not a food item to be called as sweet sour or whatever. Give due credit to tribal languages existing in your state dont force Bengali and your naxalism menace,
    And its Koshali not Sambalpuri, it has been requested by state govt for inclusion in the official languages list in India. Mr.KAM stop being jealous help your state find a good CM. I challenge you without fish your bengali cuisine is dead and in years to come even your food culture which you got from ODIA cooks will be gone.
    Truth always prevails !!

    • “Remember that Bengali households still are known for their amazing food culture and this fact is known world-wide 🙂

      tansen was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today? so was subash chandra bose and sri aurobindo 🙂

      and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders.

      we are the fifth largest speakers!

      these guys are not just making India proud but half the world knows about these guys dude 🙂

      c’mon

      we bengalis have won pretty much every award in the world stage

      you name it we have it and we are damn proud of what we have 🙂

      its the only country in the world which took rebellion because it couldn’t speak its mother tongue and it won! and won so hard that the UN had to adopt that day as the international language day, which celebrates languages from all over the world.

      did you know that the FAMOUS SEARS TOWER is architectured by another bengali?”
      KAMONASISH AAYUSH MAZUMDAR
      (MBA, IMT Ghaziabad)
      Vertical Head – Mobile Internet Products & Data Services at Airtel
      Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

  3. Kamonasish,

    Orissa, Kalinga was a powerful empire. Today you can find name of Srilankans having Kalinga name. Example, Kalinga Athulathmudali is an IT professional of Sri Lanka and Kalinga Indatissa is of Sri Lanka Telecom PLC. If you come to Orissa and go to visit Konark sun temple you can enjoy the temple and beach and go visit nearby town Nimapada to sample some Oriya sweet delicacy and you will be surprised.

  4. Bengalis are very poor people and Kolkata is a slum city. Bengal’s GDP is equivalent to Sub Sahara African countries. Kam don’t be too egotistic and proud of your colonial past. Ashok was a criminal. He killed his won brothers. He should have been hanged and India should not be proud of a criminal. You may be ignorant about the great Kalinga emperor Kharabela who took the revenge by taking Magadha and almost all India was under his domain. Kalingans are very powerful people whose cultural influence you still find in entire southeast Asia. The indian community in Malaysia called Keling (Kalinga). The english Bay of Bengal was called Kalinga Samudra.

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