Colour, Texture, Spelling & ‘Sound’: How ‘Odisha Rasagola’ Hopes to Outdo its Bengali Twin with GI Tag
The news that spread waves of jubilation across the state, came two weeks after locals celebrated the fifth ‘Rasagola Divas’ at the end of the Rath Yatra and eight months after a similar recognition was given to ‘Banglar Rasogolla’.
Representative image. (Credit: Twitter)
Bhubaneswar: It is not so much about the blissful flavour of this widely popular sweet dumpling as it is about the regional pride attached to it by virtue of its ancestry that is disputed enough to bring people of two neighbouring states — Odisha and West Bengal — on the verge of verbal wars.
Known so far in varying spellings such as rasagola, rasogolla and rasgulla across the world, the syrupy dessert made and relished in Odisha has now been granted Geographical Indication (GI) tag. The honour that Geographical Indication Registry (GIR), a Chennai-based organisation of the central government, accorded to the sweet dish on Monday is for ‘Odisha Rasagola’.
This recognition, which spread waves of jubilation across the coastal state, came barely two weeks after locals celebrated the fifth ‘Rasagola Divas’ at the end of Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra and eight months after GIR granted a similar recognition to ‘Banglar Rasogolla’.
Hence, the spelling of the name on the packaging material now matters more than ever. If it is spelt ‘rasagola,’ just as people in Odisha pronounce it, it is certified to have been made in Odisha. The other spelling, ‘rasogolla’, which is how Bengalis pronounce it, would mean that the sweet dish has been made in West Bengal.
Apart from spelling, the two varieties of the same sweet dumpling vary in colour, texture and the sound they produce – or do not – while being eaten.
“The variety made in West Bengal, which got GI tag in November 2017, is white and spongy. The Odisha variety is either brown or white and is extremely soft,” said journalist and author Asit Mohanty, whose research helped establish that the sweet dumpling had a far longer ancestry in Odisha.
The texture of the sweet dumpling is a vital differentiator between the two varieties. “Those who have tasted the Bengal rasogolla know it has to be chewed. The chewing makes a squelching sound, which was once described by (legendary Odia dramatist) Gopal Chotray as a ‘khar khar’ sound. But Odisha rasagola is so soft that it melts inside the mouth with just a little pressure,” said Mohanty.
Entrepreneur Anita Sabat, who had started a social media campaign asserting rasagola’s Odia origin in 2015 after a dispute arose with West Bengal, was thrilled about the latest recognition.
“This is certainly a glorious day for Odisha. I feel proud for being one of the many who worked for this recognition” said Sabat, who had spearheaded the celebration of ‘Niladri Bije’ day as ‘Rasagola Divasa’ on social media that year.
“It is now time that Odisha’s sweets-makers retained the qualitative distinction of rasagola and started marketing it across the country and the world. Branding of Odisha’s unique rasagola would soon establish its popularity and commercial success far bigger than its Bengali cousin,” said Akshaya Kumar Lenka, president of Pahala Sweets Traders Association.
With rasogolla being known as a quintessential Bengali delicacy, the West Bengal government had claimed in 2015 that it originated in that state in the 19th Century. It was created, according to the government government and scholars, by renowned sweetmeat-maker Nabin Chandra Das in 1868.
However, culture scholars like Mohanty, who were part of the three committees formed by the Odisha government, delved into ancient Odia and Sanskrit texts to find that rasagola and similar sweets made with cottage cheese (chhena) was indeed used at Lord Jagannath’s temple as far back as 12th Century.
The Record of Rights of the world-famous temple says rasagola was offered by the Lord to his wife, Goddess Lakshmi, during the age-old ritual of ‘Niladri Bije’.
Besides, as Mohanty discovered, the word ‘rasagola’ is mentioned in the 15th-Century Odia epic ‘Dandi Ramayan,’ written by Balaram Das. This epic describes the story of Ramayana, which became popular is several parts of the country after Tulsi Das wrote ‘Ram Charita Manasa’ in the 16th Century.
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