Rasagola, or rasgulla, as many call it, is a traditional sweet from east India; Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The main ingredient is Chena – cottage cheese, obtained by heat and acid coagulation of milk and cooked and caramelized in sugar juice. Discover history, myth and folklore of Rasgulla in Odisha, India.
I pick up an entire ball and put it in my mouth. It causes an explosion in my mouth. But it is not that of overwhelming sweetness or artificial sponginess; it is cheesy, slightly elastic, and not too sweet. Immediately it dissolves in my mouth, leaving behind a lingering caramel taste.
It turned out to be a delicious sweet ball of doom.
After traveling through India, eating all manner of weird and wonderful food, I got severe food poisoning from a well known sweet shop in the holy city of Puri. For several days I was either crouching over or sitting on the toilet, sometimes holding a basket to relief both exits at the same time. I was lucky enough to get stomach cramps that felt like someone was repeatedly stabbing me whilst twisting the knife, high fever and bad dreams were also part of the journey. It felt like my rib cage was trying to escape through my mouth, unable to keep anything, even water down. My vomiting was so violent that my entire esophagus felt like it was swollen for days afterwards.
I’ve been sick from fine dining at fancy places and I’ve been ill from mystery meet at the market. You simply don’t know when the next bacillus will hit you. Whether it’s salmonella, listeria, or E coli, it seems every where there’s a possibility to get this little friends.
I’ve never felt more betrayed, holy food for goddess Lakshmi and Lord Jagannath poisoned me – enjoy history, myth and folklore of Rasgulla in Odisha
HISTORY : Rasgulla originates from Lord Jagannath’s kitchen
Lord Jagannath temple in Puri – Odia: ଜଗନ୍ନାଥ ମନ୍ଦିର is reputed to be one of the largest permanent kitchens in the world with around 200 cooks (Suaras) and 400 assistants, working around 250 wood-burning clay hearths called chulas, to feed over 5.000 people each day on big festival days, one to ten million may be accommodated.
Government of India’s Registrar of geographical indication GI explains:
“…Odisha rasagola is a sweet from the state of Odisha, made with chhena cooked in sugar syrup, which is very soft to feel, juicy and non‐chewy in consistency and can be swallowed without teeth pressure… Generally, the Odisha rasagola is white in colour with round shape (non‐ spherical) but off white rasagolas in various shades are prepared by cooking rasagola at 110 degrees C for about 40 minutes in which caramelisation of sugar takes place giving the off white colour…”
The dessert is known as Rasagola in Odia and Rosogolla or Roshogolla in Bengali. Rasgulla is derived from the words ras – juice and gulla – ball.
On special occasions 500 Odia dishes are prepared for the presiding deity, including Khir Mohan, which gradually evolved into the soft ball of cottage cheese dipped in sugar syrup, today Rasgulla.
The temple saurasa knew how to obtain curdled milk by an admixture of a creeper called Putika or pieces of the Palasa tree bark to the boiling milk. Sour curd was also used to curdle the milk to extract cottage cheese or chena.
Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the public relations officer of the Jagannath Temple, is quoted by the Times of India saying
“Rasagulla has been part of the Rath Yatra rituals ever since the Jagannath temple came into existence in the 12 th century.”
Chapana bhoga or Mahaprasad :
Odiya hospitality is superb, the food delicious and guests are treated with warm hearts. Lord Vishnu must have know, when according to legend he decided to eat at Puri. No less than 56 (Chappan Bhog dishes for the god) is offered daily to the Lord.
There is a popular belief that the four pilgrim sites or Char Dhams are the favorite abodes of Lord Vishnu on earth:
- In the Nord, Badrinath in Uttarakhand, Narayana is worshiped in the form of Lord Vishnu.
- West, in Dwarka in Gujarat, Vishnu is worshiped in the form of Lord Krishna.
- in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, Vishnu is worshiped in the form of Lord Rama- South of India .
- In East, in Puri in Orissa, Vishnu is worshiped in the form of Jagannath.
It is said that he bathes in the Alaknanda river at Badrinath, dresses at Dwarka, eats meal at Puri and rests at Rameshwaram after completing his duty of preservation.
56 food items also called Mahaprasad (sacred food) are offered to Lord Jagannath and Mahavairabi- Goddess Vimala or Bimala in the holy Temple of Puri every day. This offerings are called Bhoga. According to Skanda Purana Lord Jagannath redeems the devotees by permitting them to partake his Mahaprasad – the food is given to pilgrims and visitors alike.
The main items of Chapana bhoga or Mahaprasad are as follows:
1. Sadha Anna – Simple Rice water
10. Khaja – Made of wheat
During Rath Yatra, Rasgulla are offered as Bhogas but on no other day Rasgullas are allowed
|Cakes, Pancakes and Patties
21. Suar Pitha – Made of wheat and Ghee
34. Khiri – Milk, Sugar with Rice
|Curry with Vegetables
Rituals and mythology from Lord Jagannath’s kitchen
The fire of this kitchen is known as Vaishnava Agni, because it is the fire in the kitchen of Lord Jagannath and used to serve Vishnu Himself. It is never put out.
There are two wells in the temple complex for the purpose of supplying water to the kitchen. These are named as Ganga and Yamuna and both are near the kitchen itself.
It is believed that Mahalaxmi cooks in the kitchen Herself; all are felt to be Her servants. As she is not attentive to the cooking on the days when Lord Jagannath is said to be sick before Rath Yatra, the food is less tasty. During Rath Yatra when Lord Jagannath is in Sri Gundicha Temple, She is said to have no zeal to cook and so the food is tasteless.
It is also said that if mother Laxmi is displeased with the preparations by the cooks, a dog will appear mysteriously on the temple grounds. If the dog is seen, all the food must be buried and prepared again. As no dog is allowed to enter the temple, this dog is said to be Kutama Chandi, a tantric goddess in charge of purification of food.
Myth and folklore of Rasgulla in Odisha – Sweets for the gods
Since sweets and desserts are a part of every puja (ceremony) and meal, they are considered auspicious. This soft sweet is offered in most pujas and festivals, from Durga Puja and Rath Yatra to Diwali and Holi.
Lord Jagannath and Rasgulla
Rasgulla is offered by devotees to Lord Jagannath only once in a year on the last day of the Rath Yatra, and is the preferred mithai – sweet of his wife, Goddess Lakshmi.
FESTIVAL : Rath Yatra literally “chariot ride”
As part of Ratha Yatra, the deities Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra, along with Sudarshan (weapon), are taken out in a procession (Yatra or Jatra literally means travel or journey). And pulled in three Ratha (Chariots) to the Gundicha temple, some 3,2 km or two miles away to the North. After nine days, the deities return to their abode in the Jagannath temple.
MYTH : How to appease a furious wife or Rasgulla for Lakshmi
A ccording to mythology, the triad of deities went on a journey without informing Goddess Mahalaxmi, which left the Goddess annoyed.
Upset with Lord Jagannath for not taking her along for the Rath Yatra, to the abode of His aunt, Sri Gundicha – Lakshmi decides not to let him into the temple.
Upon his return, when Lord Jagannath discovers the doors to his home shut, he pleads with Laxmi to let him enter.
After long persuasion, she allowed Him inside, only after he brings her a pot full of soft, fluffy Rasgullas.
Ever since 12th century AD, it is customary to offer this sweet dish as a Prasad to the Goddess on the last day of Rath Yatra.
RITUAL : Niladri Bije
On the last day of the Rad Yatra, the deities return to the sanctum — literally Niladri Bije.
Following age – old tradition, devotees offer Rasgullas to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra on the chariots.
RITUAL : Bachanika
The sacred ceremony is performed as follows:
A s per the rituals, all deities step into the Shree Mandir, except Lord Jagannath, as his path is obstructed by Goddess Lakshmi. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi furious upon being left alone and hence relieves her anguish at Singha Dwara (door) of the temple by not letting Lord Jagannath enter the temple precincts. Two sets of sevayats (servants) of the temple re-create the heated exchange between the couple near the shrine entrance.
He consoles her and pleads to let him enter the temple. This ritual is known as Bachanika. To appease Lakshmi, Lord Jagannath gives her the irresistibly sweet cheesy Rasgulla ball.
Finally Lord Jagannath is allowed into the sanctum sanctorum and resides again in his temple. Now devotees can visit the Lord in his abode and from today the devotees will get mahaprasad, the food prepared for the gods.
Only for this religious ritual once a year the temple kitchen of Puris Jagannath temple makes Rasgulla.
Historical and literary sources provide evidence for Rasgulla in Odisha
A ccording to Asit Mohanty, writer of the documentation submitted to the Registrar of Geographical Indication GI in favor of Odisha’s demand for GI tag for the sweet:
The reference of Rasagola is found in the late 15th century Odia Ramayana written by Balaram Das. Balaram Das’s Ramayana is known as Dandi Ramayana or Jagamohana Ramayana as it was composed and sung at the Jagamohana of the Puri Temple.
This tradition of offering rasagolas to Maa Laxmi on the day of Niladri Bije has remained associated with the temple and the Jagannath cult since ages and has a mention in the “Madala Panji” – a temple scripture that chronicles the various customs and rituals associated with the temple as well as in other similar temple annals.
In its ‘Ajodhya Kanda’, one comes across elaborate descriptions of chhena and chhena‐based products including Rasagola.
According to the description, after Lord Rama left for the forest, Bharata and Satrughna went to bring
him back and on their way, accepted the hospitality of sage Bharadwaj. The sage served them and their followers
various types of food and delicacies which included dudha chhena (cottage cheese prepared from milk) and the
products from chhena namely chhenapuri, chhenaladu, rasagola and rasabali.
Fakir Mohan Senapati, famous writer of Odisha, in his Utkal Bhramanam from 1892 mentioned about the plentiful use of Rasagola in Odisha during those days.
Similarly, on December 14, 1893, a poem titled, ‘Bali Jatra’ was published in the weekly “Indradhanu” written by poet Damodar Pattanayak. The poem was an eye‐witness of Cuttack’s famous, historic fair, Bali Jatra (Journey to Bali Island of Indonesia) and mentioned that sweets shops were looking attractive in presence of Rasagola and other sweets
The Mohanty committee in its report has also mentioned that selections from Odia literature published by Calcutta University in 1924 had references to the sweet’s origin in Odisha.
Sticky battle: ‘Bengali Rosogolla’ vs ‘Odisha Rasagola’
Who invented Rasgulla?
Bengalis would have you believe that the sugary sphere of pure joy was the culmination of many kitchen experiments. In Odisha, they claim equally vehemently that the rasgulla was invented there and has been offered to Lord Jagannath for centuries. With globalization it’s a story of roots and common history, culture and shared heritage but, more than anything else, a question of status and marketing.
West Bengal had sought for the GI status of ‘Banglar Rasogolla’, which has been accepted. A GI status identifies a product as originating from a certain location, apart from assuring its quality and distinctiveness. Odisha has a few years later, also the approval from the Geographical Indication (GI) Registry of the Indian government. No confectioner apart from those in Odisha would be able to call their product the “Pahala Rasgulla”.
The Bengali Raogolla is white and spongy and slightly different from the Pahala Rasgulla of Odisha and Bihar which are crumbly, tender and ranging in color from off-white to brown. However, questions have been raised whether a GI tag can be awarded to two states for what seems as nearly the same product.
“Both GI tags can subsist without contradiction. Rasagulla is the generic name of a sweet. It has variants from Bengal and Odisha for unique properties in each,”
said Prashanth Kumar, senior examining officer with the GI.
Who invented the Rasgulla? Samrat Nandi offers an answer in “Odisha: Feeding the Divine” from he The Penguin Food Guide to India:
“The most likely story is that the Rasagulla came into Bengal from Odisha but was commercially produced and popularized in Calcutta.”
RASAGOLA DIBAS OR RASGULLA DAY
On 30 July 2015, on the day of “Niladri Bije”, a social media campaign was started by using a hashtag #RasagolaDibasa and it later became a mainstream celebration as the maiden day to celebrate Rasgulla’s origin in Odisha.
Alongside, Rasagola campaigns proliferated in popular culture. On July 30, the day of the Niladri Bijaya in 2015, the hashtag #RasagolaDibasa celebrated the sweet’s Odia origin on social media and in newspapers, and sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik made a sculpture on Puri beach depicting Lord Jagannath offering Rasagolas to goddess Lakshmi.
Travelling between Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar on Orissa’s National Highway No.5, there is a village called Pahala famous for it’s Rasgulla.
LEGEND : The secret spilled
A s per Oriya legend, the closely guarded temple’s secret recipe for Rasgulla was revealed by a priest to the cowherds of Pahala village which had a very large cattle population. The priest could not tolerate the wastage of curdled milk and hence taught the Pahala people how to make Rasgulla.
In the land of Lord Jagannath now, I cannot wait to lay my hands — or spoon — on the legendary Rasgulla. There isn’t much to choose from here. For only three varieties of sweets are sold:
- the Rasgulla,
- the Chennagaja and
- the Chennapoda.
These are the specialties of the halwais of the Pahala village. Some 25-30 stalls selling the same three cottage cheese sweets in a small bypass of 100 meters lining the highway!
We are not alone, buses, trucks and cars are stopping as the shops do a brisk business selling take-out packs of these delicious sweets.
The Pahala halwais allege that one reason why the Bengali Roshogolla is tougher than theirs, is that the Bengalis want a longer shelf-life for their product. They add arrowroot powder to their sweet balls.
In Pahala, they mix 25 gms of rawa or semolina with 1 kg of chenna in the making of their rasgulla.
To this is added elaichi cardamom for flavor. A dough is made, it is rolled into little balls, and dropped into boiling sugar syrup. The semolina is used to hold the chenna together in the sugar syrup.
After getting sick from Rasgulla, I am not sure if I will ever try the Bengali Rasagolla in Kalkutta, but that’s another story…
RECIPE : Odisha Rasagola
I learnt this recipe from Vanja in Bhubaneshwar.
What you need
Milk – 1 litre
Sugar – 2 cups
Water – 3 cups
Maida 3 gm
Semolina – 3 gm
Cardamom – 2- 3
Vinegar or lemon 10 ml
Add vinegar or lemon in hot boiled milk and keep aside for an hour. Once the milk curdles, strain with a cloth to remove the water. When the chenna is ready, mix it with maida and semolina to get a soft dough. Make small balls, they should not have any cracks in it. Add the sugar in water and boil it (five minutes in pressure cooker or 40 minutes in saucepan), add cardamom for flavor. Cool and refrigerate for four hours
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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
Explore INDIA on earthstoriez.
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- Encyclopedia of cheese
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- Patachitra – Art of the Jagannath Cult. http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/features/04-08/features988.htm
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- Rasgulla: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasgulla#Rasagola_Dibasa
- Rasgullas for Lakshmi: https://devdutt.com/articles/rasgullas-for-lakshmi/
- Rashogolla from Orissa. http://www.shantanughosh.com/2007/06/rshogolla-from-orissa.html
- Rath Yatra: Many Tales Behind The Story. https://swarajyamag.com/culture/rath-yatra-many-tales-behind-the-story
- Rath Yatra. https://rathjatra.nic.in/about.html
- The better India: https://www.thebetterindia.com/82618/history-rasgulla-origin-odisha-west-bengal/
- The temple kitchen of Lord Jagannath.https://medium.com/@ashishsarangi/the-temple-kitchen-of-lord-jagannath-b6dc80fb34fd
- Who deserves credit for Rasgulla? https://tarikhpartarikh.blogspot.com/2015/08/who-deserves-credit-for-rasgulla.html