Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Sep 5:
Odisha looks set to lose the battle over the ‘Rasagola’, the syrupy sweet voted the National Dessert in a nationwide poll, to West Bengal, its neighbour.
When the dispute arose over the origins of the most loved sweet a few weeks ago, Odisha looked like winning it hands down. It had everything going in its favour. For once, the government had acted proactively, initiating a move to get geographical indication (GI) status for the famous Pahala Rasagola. It had the centuries-old recorded history of the Lord Jagannath Temple, where the sweet is supposed to have been first used, to back its claim. Why, it even had some Bengali historians and authors backing its claim as the place of origin of the sweet.
But the wheel appears to have turned full circle now with West Bengal stealing a march over the Odisha government which, after setting the ball rolling, has gone into a slumber.
According to sources, the West Bengal government has readied its dossier on the syrupy sweet and will soon file its claim for the GI tag to its ‘Rasagola’ while the Odisha government is yet to prepare the required documents. The state has begun preparatory documentation for getting a (GI) registration for Rasagola.
Leave apart preparation of documents for the GI tag claim, Odisha government is yet to form a society which is a basic requirement for GI tag. That Odisha is losing the battle is evident, opine experts.
The dispute started after Odisha government initiated a move to get GI recognition for Pahala Rasagola in July this year. Both Odisha and West Bengal governments claimed Rasagola to be their own.
However, Odisha government remains far behind its neighbour West Bengal in accumulating material to prove its claim over Rasagola.
Taking the battle over origin of Rasagola seriously, West Bengal Chief Minister has called upon select famous sweet sellers of her state to help in the battle over the sweet dish.
An official of the West Bengal government’s Science and Information Technology department is all set to visit Chennai to file their claim for GI registration for the sweet.
According to the West Bengal government’s claim, making of Rasagola started in Bengal in 1868. Since its history is older, therefore Rasagola belongs to West Bengal.
On the other hand, Odisha government’s argument is that the taste and making process of Pahala Rasagola is different, therefore it should be given the GI tag.
Rasagola making started at Pahala just about 60/70 years back, which is much later than that of West Bengal. Therefore, getting a GI registration for Pahala Rasagola will be difficult. Its origin and how old is its making will determine whether it gets the GI tag for Rasagola.
But the Odisha government, without understanding the issue properly, is all out to claim the GI tag for Pahala Rasagola.
It’s apprehended that since the history of Pahala Rasagola is not very old, Odisha may lose this battle to West Bengal.
Every year, on the day of Niladri Vijay (return to the temple) after the annual Rath Yatra, Lord Jagannath offers his consort Goddess Lakshmi Rasagolas to pacify her for not taking her along during the chariot ride. The tradition is at least 300 years old, which is much longer than the 150-year history of the Bengali Rasagola.
The only way Odisha can win the battle over the syrupy sweet is by resting its case on this centuries-old (some historians say it is 700 years old!) tradition rather then the Pahala Rasagola, which is a recent innovation.
But the Odisha government is yet to collect documentary evidence on this account.
“Since the West Bengal government has claimed that rasagola making started there in 1868, getting a GI registration for Pahala rasagola will be difficult,” says Asit Mohanty, a well-known researcher on the Lord Jagannath cult.
It’s difficult to understand why the Odisha government, instead of claiming that rasagola originated in the Jagannath Temple, is stressing on Pahala rasagola, he wondered.
According to Nityananda Pallai, director, Industries department of the Odisha government, plans are afoot to get a GI registration for Pahala rasagola on the grounds of its distinctive taste and necessary documents for the purpose are being collected.
To get GI registration, a businessman or an institution has to stake the claim while the government can only provide assistance, he said. For the purpose, it’s being planned to form a society comrising rasogola traders of Pahala, which will be registered within 2-3 days, he added.
Commenting on West Bengal government’s claim, Pallai said it can be challenged later. He said “We don’t have documentary proof on rasagolas being offered as bhoga to Lord Jagannath. The Culture department might be having it.”