ANY WAY you look at it, rasgulla is round. That’s perhaps the only thing about the sweet delicacy that West Bengal and Odisha agree upon. To settle the debate over the rest, the Odisha government on Saturday set up three committees.
All possible hands have been brought to the table. So if the order came from the office of the Odisha Science and Technology Ministry, the committees will include members from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Culture Departments.
Odisha Science and Technology Minister Pradeep Panigrahi said the committees would consider how to go about getting a Geographical Indication (GI) registration for rasgulla, so that Odisha can “file a claim over it”. “We have never filed a GI for a food item. The rasgulla is a first for us,” he added.
Now that it has got a taste of it, Odisha will go in next for GI registration for Mayurbhanj mudhi, a popular snack.
But, to be fair, the Naveen Patnaik government wasn’t the first to set the rasgulla ball officially rolling. The Bengal Science and Technology Department earlier started the process to approach its central counterpart for a GI authentication for the sweet, roping in historians.
The three Odisha rasgulla panels have three distinct goals, and a very short deadline: a week. The first panel will look into evidence regarding its origin in Odisha, the second will study the grounds for West Bengal staking claim to it, the third will collect necessary documents to validate Odisha’s stand.
Odisha’s claim is that rasgulla was first served at the 12th-century Lord Jagannath Temple. This makes it at least three centuries old in Odisha, while Bengal only traces it back 150 years.
West Bengal historian Haripada Bhowmik, who specialises in Bengali sweets, says that belief is misplaced. “The spongy white delicacy called rasgulla is made from chhena, which has distinct characteristics. It’s the unquestioned truth that Nobin Chandra Das (who called himself the inventor of rasgulla) was the pioneer of it. Even (Odia leader) Biju Patnaik acknowledged Nobin Chandra Das’s rasgulla and its Bengali origins,” Bhowmik said.
The Odia variety of old, he argues, is the “kheer mohana rasgulla” of Pahala. “It is in no way similar to the chhena rasgulla of Bengal.”
As for the claim that rasgullas have been offered at the Jagannath temple for 300 years, Bhowmik says, “Any sweet made of chhena can never be offered to any god.”
The first shop selling rasgulla in Odisha was opened by Bikalananda Kar in 1956, he adds, and Das’s predates it.
Dhiren Chandra Das, a descendant of Das, is getting ready to celebrate “150 years of the invention of rasgullas very soon”. Nobin Chandra Das, Dhiren adds, invented the rasgulla in 1868 at a house in Baghbazar in north Kolkata. “What Odisha is claiming is only about 75 years old.”
But the Pahala businessmen also have their case ready. A group of them selling the famous Pahala rasgulla on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar has formed the Pahala Rasgolla Production and Packaging Society as a first step towards claiming GI status. Around 60 families are dependent on the Pahala rasgulla, they say.
In Odisha, they tell you, legend goes that every year, after the annual Rath Yatra, Lord Jagannath offers his consort Goddess Lakshmi a rasgulla in order to pacify her.
Pacifying Bengal may be another matter.