The Cryptic Case Of Rasgulla – Combat For Rights Over Geographical Indication Amogst Bengalis And Odiyas

October 6, 2015by Yamini Asthana0

The emblematic, soft hearted-cheesy-sugar syrupy filled rasgulla has again become a victim of a bitter debate with respect to its origin and continues to bamboozle its admirers. Both Odisha and West Bengal have been making claims over the origin of the delicacy and attempting to get the geographical indication tag for this mouthwatering sweet.

The debate gained momentum in August this year at the time of the closing of the festival, Nabakalebara (soul transformation of the holy trinity) Rath Yatra in Puri, with Surya Narayan Rath Sharma, a researcher from Jagannath Temple asserting the origin of rasgulla in Puri and further claiming that the delicacy is offered to Gods every year. Surprisingly furthermore, Laxmidhar Pujapanda, Public Relation Officer of the Jagannath temple, claims that the delectable sweet has been part of Rath Yatra ever since the Jagannath temple came into actuality. As per the legends, Lord Jagannath offered rasgullas to appease his consort, Goddess Laxmi, who was angry after he went on the nine-day Rath Yatra without her permission. However, most food historians in West Bengal consider the invention of sweet in Calcutta in 1868 by iconic confectioner, Nobin Chandra Das, whose son later founded the famous sweetmeat chain K C Das. Animikh Roy, great-great-grandson of Nobin Chandra Das, passionately opposed the claim put forward by Laxmidhar Pujapanda stating that rasgulla was created by his ancestor. In association with historian Haripada Bhowmik, he has prepared a report which will be sent to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. According to the report, Lord Jagannath can never be associated with ‘chhana’-based offerings as ‘chhana’ is derived from Sanskrit word ‘chinna’ which means a torn, broken and fragmented milk product, an indication of spoilt milk. Henceforth, it is considered blasphemous to offer sweets or anything made of ‘chhana’ to Gods. The report also states that rasgulla is not even mentioned in the Chhappan Bhog of Jagannath temple. However, Laxmidhar Pujapanda declines this argument and 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 extraneous whether rasgulla is mentioned or not in Chhappan Bhog of Jagannath temple.

In its proposition to establish that rasgulla has its roots originated from the state and to acquire the geographical indication tag for it, Odisha government has formed three separate committees to substantiate its claim, and the committee includes members from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Culture Departments. Odisha Science and Technology minister Pradip Panigrahi has asked the committee to submit their reports within 15 days. The first committee has seven members while the second one has four and the third one has six members. The first committee would scrutinize the details regarding the origin of rasgulla, the second would study the grounds based on which West Bengal is staking its claim and the third would accumulate the indispensable documents to support and corroborate Odisha’s claim before the authority. In order to reiterate the Oriya roots of rasgullas, the people of Odisha have started an initiative on the social media, mainly Twitter, to celebrate July 30th as the first-ever ‘Rasagola Dibas’ i.e. Rasgulla Day, which is the Niladri Bije day.
Ever since the adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) in 1994, which comprehends a section on geographical indications (GIs), this form of intellectual property (IP) has attracted increasing attention from policymakers and trade negotiators, as well as producers (mostly of agricultural products), lawyers and economists across the world. Article 1(2) of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883 (Paris Convention) refers to “indications of source” and “appellations of origin” as objects of industrial property. The paragraph (3) of the same article stipulates that the term “industrial property” is not limited to “industry and commerce” in proper sense, but applies also to agricultural and extractive industries and to all manufactured or natural products, such as “wines, grain, tobacco leaf, fruit, cattle, minerals, mineral waters, beer, flowers and flour”.

In a layman’s language, a geographical indication (GI) is a sign practiced on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are outstanding and specific to that origin. In order to be identified as a GI, a sign must categorize a product as instigating in a given place and the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be fundamentally due to the place of origin. Meanwhile as the qualities of the product depend on the geographical place of invention and production, there exists a clear link between the product and its original place of production.

There are three main ways to protect a geographical indication: sui generis systems (i.e. special regimes of protection); using collective or certification marks; and methods focusing on business practices, including administrative product approval schemes. Generally, GI’s are protected in different countries and regional systems through an eclectic assortment of approaches and often using a combination of two or more of the approaches outlined above. These approaches have been developed in harmony with different legal traditions and within a framework of individual historical and economic conditions. Few examples of geographical indications in India are Darjeeling tea, Tirupathi laddu, Kashmir pashmina, Goa feni, Pochampally Ikat (Andhra Pradesh); Chanderi saree (Guna, Madhya Pradesh); Kotpad Handloom fabric (Koraput, Orissa); Kota Doria (Kota, Rajasthan); Bhavani Jamakkalam (Erode, Tamil Nadu); Mysore Agarbathi (Mysore, Karnataka); Aranmula Kannadi (Kerala); Kancheepuram silk, Salem fabric, Coimbatore wet grinder, Madurai Sungudi (TamilNadu); Solapur terry towel (Maharashtra); Mysore silk (Karnataka); Kullu shawl (Himachal Pradesh); Kangra tea (Himachal Pradesh); Coorg Orange (Karnataka); Mysore betel leaf (Karnataka); Nanjanagud banana (Karnataka); Mysore sandalwood oil, Mysore traditional paintings, Mysore sandal soap and Mysore rosewood inlay (Karnataka); Bidriware (Karnataka); Channapatna toys & dolls (Karnataka); Kasuti embroidery(Karnataka); and Orissa Ikat (Orissa). Whereas, Cognac (French brandy); Scotch (Scottish whiskey); Havana (Cuban cigar); Thai silk (Korat Plateau in Thailand’s northeast region); Chulucanas ceramics (Morropón, Department of Piura); Roquefort cheese (South west France); Swiss watches (Switzerland); and Tequila (Mexican liquor) are some examples of international goods that are identified by GIs.

As per the above definition of GI serving as the parameter for this issue and based on the yet-to-appear expert’s report, world-wide lovers of the delicate and relished rasgullas need to keep their fingers crossed to obtain a vivid image about the origin of this delicacy. Nonetheless, why to make our taste buds suffer the harsh ongoing dispute…let us all pamper our taste buds with the warm, sweet and soft hearted sweet with the respect it deserves.

Yamini Asthana

Yamini Asthana

Dr. Yamini Asthana, with an academic background in biochemistry and research expertise in the fields of inorganic biochemistry and material sciences, is the technology specialist for biochemical and pharmaceutical inventions. She herself is an inventor for an US patent in the field of nanotechnology.

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