Browse By

Feature || The Rosogolla Affair

A sweet artisan at work in one of the many sweet outlets in Kolkata

It has been a whooping 147 years since Nabin Chandra Das supposedly came up with the deceptively simple idea of letting dumplings of cottage cheese simmer in a pool of sugary syrup to give birth to a dessert. It is 2015 and that dessert by the name of Rosogolla still defines an entire community even after an inconceivable century and a half.

Rosogolla has been the primary mascot of the city without any second guesses whatsoever. Even as the majestic Victoria Memorial, the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the frustrating Bangla Bandhs (General Strikes) and the Maharaj himself, Sourav Ganguly, have all come to represent the city in the global arena at some point of time or the other, they have all had to bear the brunt of the occasional snub or critical barb from some disgruntled ‘outsider’.

Even if one dares insult the Howrah Bridge by comparing it with its counterpart in London (since, as the rumor goes, the city is in the process of being turned into ‘London’), even the most ardent hater of anything from this part of the globe will find it hard to pick up an argument over the indisputable King of sweets.

The iconic status of the Rosogolla has had a vibrant history, right from its humble days in a few shops of North Kolkata to the gradual rise of the specimen created by Das, which caught the attention of Marwari businessman Bhagwandas Bagla’s sweet tooth, the sheer satisfaction of which compelled the man to order the sweet by buckloads, enabling it to attain a legendary status in the City of Palaces.

The sky was the limit for for this sweet as it soon began to travel beyond the borders of Bengal after the introduction of vacuum packaging technology by Das’ son Krishna Chandra in 1930, propelling the rise of Rosogolla as it went on to capture the palate of the rest of the nation and soon, the entire world.

The yellow Rosogolla from Pahala in Odisha which is being claimed as the original version of the sweet by the Odisha authorities

This illustrious history has recently been challenged by the neighbouring state of Odisha, which has moved a petition for the grant of Geographical Indication (GI) status for the rosogolla made in Pahala, Odisha; a move that would officially strip Kolkata & the state of Bengal of its proud claim of being the birthplace of its beloved sweetmeat.

Odisha’s claims, however, have a mythological backing dating back to the 12th century when the dish allegedly originated in Puri by the name Khira Mohana as the bhog (Holy offering) offered during the Niladri Bije (Arrival of the God) when Lord Jagannath returns from his 9 day Ratha-Yatra. According to legend, the Lord comes back to the temple only to be denied admittance inside the sanctum sanctorum by Goddess Laxmi, his consort, who is displeased since the Lord went on the 9 day trip without intimating her. The Goddess is appeased by the Lord by the offering of the Khira Mohana in a ritual known as the Bachanika. It is being claimed that the recipe found its way to the City of Joy via the brahmin cooks from Odisha who were a common sight in well to do Bengali households during the 19th and early 20th century.

Many eminent thinkers and historians have questioned the veracity of these claims by pointing out that the concept of cottage cheese itself came along with the Portuguese in only the 17th century and the fact that the sweet is conspicuously missing from the list of the traditional 56 dishes that are offered to Lord Jagannath as Prasad.

The pearly white Kolkata Rosogolla that has been the world-famous variant of the ‘King of Sweets’

Deeming the ensuing controversy a matter of preserving state pride, the Bengal authorities, with the backing of ‘Paschim Banga Mistanno Byabsayee Samity’ (The council of sweet sellers in West Bengal) have promptly started the process of filing a counter petition for GI, contesting Odisha’s claim for the same.

Whatever the issue boils down to, it can never be as tasty as the very sweet dish over which the conflict has evolved. Having satisfied the palate of generations, be it in Bengal or Odisha or any other corner of the globe, Rosogolla could care less about its murky origin story as it keeps satisfying the yearning sweet tooth and looks to travel further than it has ever gone before.

Come 2016, a dehydrated variant of the Rosogolla is set to reach space, thanks to ISRO’s initiative that will send everybody’s favourite sweet along ISRO’s proposed manned mission, a historic first of its kind. It will be a sweet day indeed for sweet lovers around the world when Rosogolla defies the chains of gravity and reaches the proverbial ‘Final Frontier’. []

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015