A few years ago, no one would have raised a brow if they were told that Rasagola, arguably the most popular Indian sweetmeat, was a Bengali creation.
To be honest, the origin of this mound of joy did not even warrant a discussion. But somewhere, a group of Odias knew that Rasagola had its deep roots in the state of Odisha.
Surprisingly, not even all Odias were aware of the true origins of the sweet. Like others, they too thought that Rasagola was from Bengal.
There would be the occasional conversation during gatherings where seniors and old-timers would enlighten youngsters about the true origins of Rasagola and how it has been a part of the Jagannath culture in Odisha since time immemorial.
Traditionally Odias have never been boisterous, aggressive and egoistic. Hence these conversations largely stayed within the Odia community. But some things must change for the better, and they did.
It all started when a bunch of Odias took to social media to spread the word – that Rasagola was born in Odisha and not Bengal, contrary to popular perception.
There were Rasagola memes, trivia, blogs highlighting Odia origins and umpteen status updates. Some serious tweeting began in early 2015 and the ‘Rasagola Is Ours’ whispers started getting noticed.
Very soon this ball of cottage cheese united Odias from all over the world on social media like no other issue had in recent times. The campaign to break popular perception and tell the world that Rasagola was born in Odisha snowballed into a movement.
An extremely energetic group of Odia twitterati initiated an online crusade with incessant tweets, blogs and facts that led to 30 July 2015 being observed as the first Rasagola Dibasa (Rasagola Day).
What begun as an enthusiastic online campaign became the talk of the town. Rasagola vendors, mainstream media, top local dailies, radio stations, television channels and the people of Odisha all joined hands to celebrate this occasion.
The previous banter and debates on social media were not really taken seriously by the rest of the world. And specially not by the Bengalis who ridiculed the Odias and wrote them off as wannabe and attention seeking nutcase. But the syrup started bubbling the day this campaigned gained massive momentum on Twitter and governments started getting involved.
The Bengalis did not know what hit them when #RasagolaDibasa was the top trend on Twitter. Emotions flared, claims grew stronger, and there were allegations and counter allegations. Very soon it became a fight between Odisha and West Bengal. That is when the national media took notice. A war between two states over India’s most famous sweet is undoubtedly headline material.
Taking this bittersweet battle to its logical conclusion, both Governments went all out to claim the delicacy as their own. Special committees were constituted, evidence was gathered and researchers hired.
A book was released by the Bengal government, documenting how Rasagola was introduced to the world by Nobin Chandra Das in 1868.
A few days ago, a report was submitted to the Odisha government chronicling the rituals of Jagannath Temple in Puri, where Rasagolas were served as Prasad since the 15th century. There are also records of this in the Dande Ramayana.
Today is the day of Niladri Bije (when the Lords go back to the temple after Rath Yatra) and the second #RasagolaDibasa by Odias. Like the previous year, this year too, this day was celebrated by Odias all over.
Bengal’s contribution in promoting and popularizing Rasagola globally is indisputable; and no Odia has or will ever grudge them the credit they deserve. However, the question is about origin and it seems the Odias are in no mood to surrender their entitlement when it comes to the origin of the sweet.
In days to come, a long drawn procedural battle over GI (Geographical Indication) will undoubtedly follow and it will be exciting to see how events unfold. But at a psychological level, the Odias have fought with so much pride, passion and perseverance, that they seem to be having the last laugh.
(The writer works with a media house in Odisha. You can tweet to her @tanaya_p)