Why is Rasogolla so famous in Puri

Bengal vs Odisha: Whose rosogolla is it at all?

Mamata Banerjee has celebrated “sweet news” of GI status for the Bengali Rosogolla. (File photo)

Earlier this week, after a chat with Odisha, started in 2015 about who invented the famous dessert that sweet lovers in West Bengal tasted delighted with. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “Sweet news for all of us. We are very happy and proud that Bengal has been granted GI (Geographical Indication) status for Rosogolla. ”

What was later determined was that the GI tag was for the "Banglar Rosogolla" - the rosogolla originating in Bengal. Not the generic rosogolla (pronounced “rasgulla” in North India).

Why a GI?

Who needs a GI tag for a syrupy, spongy dessert you can eat anytime, anywhere, anyway? Before you chew on that, here's what a "GI" is: a "geographical indication" that recognizes certain products as being associated with a specific location or place of origin. As the World Trade Organization (WTO) member, India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999 on September 15, 2003. Under this intellectual property area, a GI tag means that only authorized users (or those in the specific geographic area) can use the registered product name.

In 2004-05, Darjeeling tea became the first GI-labeled product in India. Other GI tags include Mysore silk, Jaipur, blue pottery, Kashmiri pashmina, Kannauj perfume, Goa feni, and Rajasthan Thewa painting, with gold on glass.

But why the rosogolla?

The fight for a GI label goes back to a dispute about the sweet origin. Odisha claims it invented rosogolla, which, as legend goes, was offered as a bhog on the ninth day of Jagannath Rath Yatra, during a Niladri Bijaya ritual to the goddess Mahalakshmi who was in the famous Puri temple. The sweet, named "Pahala rasagola" (Odia pronunciation) after a hamlet near Puri, has been dated back to the 12th century - scholars citing religious texts and temple records for evidence that the rasagola, too as khira mohana, was a part of the Puri sacred ritual.

From there, it was argued, the rosogolla swelled in popularity - Odia Cooks took the recipe with them to Bengal, Bengali visitors brought home the technique, times obviously he was in Bikalananda Kar himself, the legendary sweetmaker from Salepur in Cuttack who is believed to have changed the original khira mohana.

Did Bengal swallow this story?

No. Bengali have very different views of how the rosogolla was born. They claim it was invented in 1868 by the Kolkata-based sweetmaker Nobin Chandra Das. Legend has it that the rosogollas is made by cooking a well-rounded mixture of chhena and the semolina and sugar syrup. In 1930, Nobin the son of Krishna introduced vacuum packaging, keep the candy fresher for longer. Over the next two decades, the family established businesses to manufacture, package, and sell that sweet.

And did Odisha digest it?

No. In 2015 the state government initiated a movement to get GI status for its Pahala rasagola. She formed three committees to establish that rasagola is of Odia origin, and it was underlined that last year a 16 century Odia version of Ramayana, the Dandee Ramayana, mentioned the sweetness of cheese offered in rituals.

Besides, rasagola campaigns increased in popular culture. On July 30, the day of Niladri Bijaya in 2015, the hashtag #RasagolaDibasa celebrated the sweet Odia origins on social media and in the newspapers, and the sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik made a sculpture on Puri beach depicting Lord Jagannath offering rasagolas the goddess Lakshmi.

Does it have something stickier?

Yes. Bengali experts insisted that rosogolla couldn't have existed in India until the 17th century when the Portuguese brought up recipes for curdling milk. By then, Indian sweets were made with khoya, not chhena, she argued - besides, sour milk wouldn't have been offered to a deity at all.

So did Bengal really win, now?

That is the bitter pill that - despite the initial euphoria that GI-tag does not give the rosogolla to Bengal. It simply states that "Banglar Rosogolla" (which has some specific characteristics, such as the way it feels in the mouth and how sweet it is) originated in Bengal - not that the rosogolla / rasgulla has itself. Odisha is, in fact, in the process of applying for the GI for its own rasagola.

Why this fear in food?

The rosogolla is not alone. 1996, Japan and South Korea came across kimchi, the fiery fermented food. In 2008, Israel and Lebanon argued about hummus. In 2009, then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key claimed the pavlova, meringue-and-fruit candy usually associated with Australia, was, in fact, entirely of kiwi origin.

There are church reasons for these arguments. As globalization advances, local contexts sometimes feel apprehensive about losing "your" products to others. Try to emphasize your uniqueness, to demand that a particular product, say - champagne from the French district, name, or scotch whiskey - just isn't the same when it's elsewhere.

There are commercial reasons too. The hummus trade, for example, is worth over a billion dollars annually. In such cases, above all, the "brand" matters, and the food battles are as much about the senses as about the regional sensibility.

In the end, though, whatever you call it, a rosogolla from anywhere tastes just as sweet.

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