How many of us know that the ‘Gobindobhog’ rice, grown in West Bengal for the past 300 years in Bardhaman district, got the Geographical Indication (GI) status in August 2017? Or that two other Bengali sweets – ‘Bardhaman Sitabhog’ and ‘Bardhaman Mihidana’ – also got the GI tag this year?
Did the media and the chief minister share this ‘sweet news’ so competitively?
However, notice the victory claim for ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ (Bengal's Rosogolla) that has a history of just 149 years (1868-2017)! West Bengal has been celebrating this ‘win’, having earned the GI tag for this popular sweetmeat.
In fact, much before any GI, Bengal had always claimed the sweet – most of India and the world have always associated the ‘rosogolla’ with Bengal, and not with Odisha.
The ‘rosogolla magic and controversy’ have captured the world's imagination in such a way that even nations like Qatar have reported this news. However, most media reports have been quite misleading.
Even the officials at the Geographical Indications Registry, Chennai, are shocked to read these reports in which facts have been distorted and the authorities have been misquoted.
The reasons aren’t too tough to guess!
150-Page Proof of Rosogolla’s ‘True’ Origin
It is surprising why the Odisha government did not even apply for the GI tag or raise any objections to the ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ despite having about 150 pages of proof of the sweetmeat’s Odisha origin.
Cultural researcher Asit Mohanty had submitted an application on the true origin of the rosogolla in July 2016. The ‘rosogolla report’ should have come to light for the world to know its true origin. So why did the Odisha government delay the process?
Now Bengal has the ‘first-mover’ advantage, while Odisha is yet to apply for a GI tag.
The description given by Bengal of the colour of ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ and other rosogollas is incorrect. There are many varieties of rosogollas in different parts of Odisha like Kukudakhandi, Jatni, Nimapada and Nuapatna, which are white or off-white in colour.
If a rosogolla is white, it does not mean that it is from Bengal. Each region of Odisha has its own unique preparation.
How ‘Bengal Rosogolla’ Got its GI Tag
The West Bengal government’s application has described the state’s version of the sweetmeat as “a syrupy dessert made of pure chhana dumplings, dipped in light sugar syrup”. Rosogollas across India follow the same process. Does it mean they can apply for GI too?
The GI registration application requires the submission of a map of the geographic region to which the product belongs. The application for ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ depicts the West Bengal map. So, does the whole of West Bengal prepare the sweetmeat in the same way?
The ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ was supposedly “invented” in 1868, while the rosogolla in general has a centuries-old history and culture associated with Odisha.
Products that are essentially of the same kind may receive separate GI tags due to the virtue of their unique "geographical" origin and distinction. Here, geography is a major factor as the rosogolla has been a part of the Puri Jagannath Temple’s rituals, since the time bhog has been offered at the historical temple.
Odisha’s Lethargy, Bengal’s Gain
The Naveen Patnaik government had ample opportunity and valid legal reasons to object to the West Bengal government’s application. But the lethargic ‘babudom’ of Odisha slept over the report submitted by scholar Asit Mohanty over the last two years and it’s West Bengal’s gain now.
Does GI registration for ‘Odishara Rosogolla’ stand a chance? If and when the Odisha government files for a GI tag for the same, will it file a single application for the ‘Rosogolla of Odisha’ or multiple ones to highlight other varieties like ‘Pahala’ and ‘Salepur’?
Even though the rosogolla originated in Odisha, once the state applies for the GI tag, objections may be raised due to ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ bearing the GI tag. The Odisha government’s inaction will have economic ramifications for the state’s traders. Apart from the emotional connect of the Odias with the rosogolla, it’s a huge loss for all those involved in producing and selling rosogolla.
Instead of applying for a new GI registration for ‘Odishara Rosogolla’, the Odisha government must challenge the GI registration for ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ in court for multiple reasons.
Bengali Propaganda Against ‘Odishara Rosogolla’
Many don’t know that rosogollas have been an integral part of the Puri Jagannath temple culture and Ratha-Yatra festivities for centuries. As per tradition, Lord Jagannath, upon his return from the 9-day car festival, is ‘allowed to enter the temple’ only after ‘he offers rosogollas’ to his wife goddess Laxmi.
The rosogolla also finds mention in the 15th century epic, the ‘Odia Ramayana’, composed by Balaram Das, and other ancient texts like Madala Panji.
Bengali propaganda, emotions and business interests have been inspiring West Bengal to adopt the same strategy that it had once employed to obliterate Odia language in the 1870s.
Just like Bengal’s rosogolla claim, the Odia language conflict in the state too had an economic origin, with power and government jobs as the end goal. Odisha held its own then, and today, Odia is the 6th classical language of India.
In the end, truth must prevail – irrespective of where rosogollas are manufactured or consumed in the world, Odisha must be given her due, as the birthplace of the now controversial sweetmeat.
Until such time that the Naveen Patnaik government takes the right steps for the rosogolla, a sweet congratulation to our Bengali friends.
(The writer is a food and travel blogger, who started the Twitter campaign #RasagolaDibasa in 2015. She also writes about Odia culture. She tweets @anitaexplorer. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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