The mysterious case of Rasgulla

rasgulla_01The origin of Rasgullas continues to mystify one and all. Some claim that it was first created by Nobin Chandra Das in Bengal, while others assert that it has its origin in Odisha. With certain newspapers speculating that Odisha Government has taken measures to get Geographical Indication (GI) status, for ‘Rasgulla’, others are claiming that it’s ‘Pahala Rasgulla’ for which GI status is being sought. Regardless, the issue of Rasgulla’s origin is once again in limelight.

Odisha’s claim to be the inventors of Rasgullas has come as a sour tasting shock to West Bengal, the latter who have been taking pride in being the creators of this delectable sweet for decades. What is more surprising is that, Laxmidhar Pujapanda, Public Relation Officer of the Jagannath temple, claims that Rasgulla has been part of Rath Yatra ever since the Jagannath temple came into existence. According to legends, Lord Jagannath offered Rasgullas to mollify his consort, Goddess Laxmi, who was angry after he went on the nine-day Rath Yatra without her consent.

However this claim has been vehemently opposed by Animikh Roy, great-great-grandson of Nobin Chandra Das, according to whom, Rasgulla was created by his ancestor. Along with historian Haripada Bhowmik, he has prepared a report which will be sent to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. As per this report, Lord Jagannath can never be associated with‘chhana’-based offerings. The reason being ‘chhana’ is derived from Sanskrit word ‘chinna’ which means a torn, broken and fragmented milk product, an indication of spoilt milk. Hence it is considered sacrilegious to offer sweets or anything made of ‘chhana’ to gods. It further states that Rasgulla is not even mentioned in the Chhappan Bhog of Jagannath temple. However, Laxmidhar Pujapanda refused to accept this argument. He is of the view that the offering of rasgulla on Niladri Bije (last day of Yath Ratra) is provided in Niladri Mahoday, an age-old scripture and therefore it is irrelevant whether Rasgulla is mentioned or not in Chhappan Bhog of Jagannath Temple.

As per section 1 (3)(e) of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (hereinafter as the “Act”), geographical indication, in relation to goods, means an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods, one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.

With the above definition as a parameter, even if Rasgulla did in fact originate in Odisha, it cannot be disputed that it is now a delicacy prepared and enjoyed all over the world. It is no longer a sweet dish that originates only from Odisha where a certain quality, reputation or other characteristics are essentially attributable to Odisha. It is no more associated only with Odisha or Bengal for that matter and therefore is prohibited under Section 9(f) of the Act, which prohibits registration of generic names or indications of goods that are not protected or ceased to be protected, or which have fallen into disuse.

As far as Pahala Rasgullas are concerned, they are brown in color and less sweet than their white counterpart. If Pahala Rasgullas indeed have a distinctive reputation and are known to be available only in Pahala region, then Odisha might succeed in getting Geographical indication, provided all the other requirements of the Act are complied with. In order to reaffirm the oriya roots of Rasgullas, the people of Odisha have started an initiative on the social media, mainly Twitter, to celebrate the first-ever ‘Rasagola Dibas’ i.e. Rasgulla Day, on July 30, being Niladri Bije day. If a Geographical indication is granted in favor of Odisha for Pahala Rasgulla, then no confectioner other than those in Odisha would be able to identify their product as ‘Pahala Rasgulla’.