Nobin Chandra Das
|Nobin Chandra Das|
Columbus of Rossogolla
|Native name||নবীন চন্দ্র দাশ|
Bagbazar, Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
1925 (aged 80)|
Bagbazar, Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Residence||Bagbazar, Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India|
|Other names||Nobin Moira of Bagbazar, Columbus of Rossogolla|
|Occupation||Businessman, Confectioner, Entrepreneur|
|Known for||Inventor of Rossogolla, Dedo Sandesh, Aata Sandesh, Kathaal Sandesh, Abar Khabo Sandesh, Kastura Pak, Baikuntha Bhog|
|Successor||Krishna Chandra Das (K.C. Das)|
|Relatives||Bhola Moira (Grandfather-in-law)|
Nobin Chandra Das (1845–1925) was a notable Bengali confectioner, entrepreneur, businessman and Bengali cultural icon of the second half of 19th century and early 20th century. Widely known as the creator of the iconic Bengali sweetmeat "Rossogolla", a popular limerick of 19th-century Bengal labeled him as the "Columbus of Rossogolla".
Born and raised in Kolkata at the time of its rise to prominence as the capital of East India Company’s Indian possessions, Nobin Chandra Das’s major contribution to Bengali culture and society was his innovative confectionery which created completely new sweetmeats for the Bengali palate. His creations constitute an important and lasting component of Bengali cuisine today. His other creations include "Abaar Khaabo", "Dedo Sondesh" and "Baikuntha Bhog"(both of which use "Kacha Pak" as the base ingredient), the well known "Kastura Pak" which serves as the refined base ingredient for Sandeshes like "Aata (custard apple) Sondesh" and "Kathaal (jackfruit) Sondesh."
It was a flourishing time for Bengal in the second half of the 19th century with prolific intellectual, ethical, spiritual and philosophical developments that culminated in the Bengali Renaissance. From fine arts to commerce, from culture to industry, from literature to science, every aspect of the Bengali identity was in a state of creative flux. The burgeoning spirit of this era also had its impact on the world of confectionery with fresh inspiration from Bengali confectioners of the time. In the 1860s, the man who contributed most to this evolution of Bengali confectionery was Nobin Chandra Das of Bagbazar in north Kolkata, (then known as Sutanotty) India. Also known as ‘Nobin Moira’ of Bagbazar), he set up his sweet shop in 1866; currently located on Rabindra Sarani (then known as Chitpur Road in Sutanuti), Bagbazar. Nobin Chandra's ambition was not to run just a confectionery but to create a completely original sweets ab initio.
It was sometime in the year 1868 that his labours finally paid off when he could create a perfectly formed sweetmeat out of fragmented clumps of casein known specifically as "Chhanna" (a variant of cottage cheese), from the old Sanskrit word "Chinna" due to its crumpled texture and sparse binding capacity. It was Nobin Chandra’s accomplishment that he was able to create a perfectly homogeneous spherical sweet that was both spongy and succulent with a unique and distinctive taste, through a novel method of processing the "chhana" in boiling sugar syrup. Nobin Chandra christened this creation the "Rossogolla" and a popular gastronomic legend was born.
It was an innovation of such significance that it earned Nobin Chandra a place among the legends of Bengal. Connoisseurs of sweets throughout India remember him as "Nobin Moira, The Columbus of Rossogolla". Highbrow Bengalis who had till then used the word "Moira" or confectioner of sweets disparagingly, came to lace it with reverence when linking it to Nobin Chandra’s name. Subsequent generations of Bengali confectioners started earning social acceptance, respectability and recognition because of his achievement. The word "moira" itself was redefined by Nobin Chandra during his time.
Birth and beginnings
Nobin Chandra’s ancestors were classical sugar merchants involved in indigenous sugar processing and trade. They were merchants of considerable social standing in the early 19th century. Originally from the district of Burdwan, the Dases had made Kolkata (then Calcutta) their home for eight generations by then. Their house on a horse-shoe bend on the river Hooghly in Suttanotty (currently on Kashi Mitra-Ghat Street in Bagbazar), was well known even a century ago.
By 1846, one year after Nobin Chandra was born in 1845, their traditional business had ceased to flourish. Nobin Chandra’s father died three months before his birth adding to the woes of his family and their sugar business. In 1864, driven by poverty and with little provision to complete his education, he initially started working for the Indra family, who were confectioners from Shantipur in the Nadia district of Bengal. They were distant relatives of Nobin Chandra's mother and their shop was located on Chitpur road, in Bagbazar, Kolkata. However it turned out to be a futile engagement as Nobin Chandra was reportedly humiliated by the Indras and he left the job to start something on his own. Subsequently, at the age of 18, he started a sweet-shop at Jorasanko along with a close friend. Being respectable and prosperous sugar merchants, Nobin's family did not take kindly to his decision of becoming a sweetmeat seller, due to the social constraints of the times. They disparagingly referred to him as the "moira" (a profession not held in high esteem in 19th century Bengal). Ironically, no one could have foreseen at that time that history would transform their title of contempt into one of lasting adulation.
Nobin Chandra’s Jorasanko business turned out to be a failure as he fell out with his friend. Moreover, In those days, sweetmeat shops depended largely on credit sales and Nobin Chandra had no resources to offer credit to his customers. Not a man to give up easily, in 1866 Nobin Chandra started a new venture with another shop on Chitpur Road situated just opposite Indra's "mithai" shop in Bagbazar, where his confectioner's career had started. Most sweetmeats made at the time were either "Sondesh/Sandesh" (a delicacy exclusively for the affluent, which was remolded and popularized by Bhim Chandra Nag) or sweets made of "dal" (lentils) or flour from various grains. Choices were limited and novelty in confectionery was rare, if not non-existent. Nobin Chandra took advantage of this situation to create his own masterpiece.
Birth of Rossogolla
In the year 1868, with a stroke of both luck and genius, Nobin Chandra altered the oeuvre of Bengali sweets with "Rossogolla" - which was to be his magnum opus. It was the ultimate delicacy of his time which was affordable across all economic segments of society. Despite the novelty and appeal of his creation, it took some time for Rossogolla to become popular in the absence of advertising and media as we know it today.
While there are multiple claims based on oral tradition about "Chhana" based sweets across other parts of eastern India, documented facts indicate that the process of "Chhana" making was introduced first into Bengal by the Dutch colonists of Bandel in the late 18th century. While a form of cottage cheese must have been extant in Indian culture for millennia, the "chhena" manufactured in those days was made by using citric acid derived from natural fruit extracts. This was a coarse and granular variety with no binding capacity and could not be made to shape into a firm and defined form. Dutch and Portuguese colonists introduced into India lactic acid (extracted from whey) to curdle milk, in the late 18th century, along with acetic acid. Nobin Chandra benefited from this know-how that created the fine, smooth modern "chhena" with high binding capacity, that was the basic raw material on which he experimented.
However, despite synthesizing the superior variety of "Chhana" using Dutch and Portuguese technology, confectioners all across Bengal and beyond were unable to bind it into a firm form because lumps of "Chhana" in boiling sugar syrup would either form burnt clumps or crumble. Nobin Chandra's experimentation using the technology of reverse osmosis (which was commercialised in Bengal the early 1820s) finally helped him arrive at the appropriate variety of "Chhana" with the right binding capacity to form the basis of the Rossogolla.
One particular incident propelled rossogolla's popularity in the market. One morning a landau came to a halt at Nobin's shop. A wealthy businessman of 19th century Kolkata, Raibahadur Bhagwandas Bagla, was in the carriage with his family. One of Bhagwandas’ children was thirsty, and their carriage had stopped in search of a drink of water. Nobin Chandra offered his usual hospitality but with a novelty.The little boy was given water to drink along with Rossogollas. The child was so delighted with its unique taste that he offered it to his father. The father was equally ecstatic and immediately bought a very large quantity of Rossogollas for his family and friends. This unorthodox ‘word of mouth’ proved a very useful tool of publicity and "Nobin Moira’s" Rossogolla became famous in no time across Kolkata.
GI Status of 'Banglar Rasogolla'
In 2017, the GI Registry has granted Geographical Indication status to the dessert of worldwide fame. In the entire proceedings before the Intellectual Property India  there is not a single mentioning of Rasgulla but Rosogolla and Rossogolla, legally establishing Banglar Rasogolla different than Rasgulla as we know it. Besides that, the names Banglar Rasogolla, Rosogolla, Rossogolla or Roshogolla are from Bengali origin, while Rasgulla is from Hindi origin, as such intellectual property right awarded to Banglar Rasogolla protects it from misrepresentation by Pahala rasgulla, Khiramohana or any such desserts under the name Rasgulla.
Acquaintances and popularity
There are numerous anecdotes about Nobin Chandra’s creativity. Reportedly, when Maharani Swarnamoyee Devi (the dowager of the house of Cossimbazar and a regular customer at Nobin Chandra's shop), complained that there were no sweets to excite her jaded palate, Nobin Chandra whipped up a delectable confection that made the old lady exclaim " Abar Khabo" (i.e. I want to eat it again) .This marked the birth of the now famous variant of the time-honoured "sondesh".
Nobin Chandra’s confections were also hot favourites with the monks of the then new-born Ramakrishna Mission, who had set up their monastery in the neighbourhood at Balaram Bose's residence, famously regarded as "Balaram Mandir" today. Rakhal Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda), the first President of the mission and a close friend and confidant of Swami Vivekananda, reportedly once said in jest, "Nobin has cut off our tongues and holds them hostage." The "Dedo Sondesh" created by Nobin Chandra was a particular favourite of Sri Ma (consort of Ramkrishna Paramhansa) and to this day, this item is regularly sent from K.C.Das Private Limited as an offering to Sri Ma.
Dr. Pashupati Bhattacharya, a renowned medical practitioner of Bagbazar, would invariably buy Nobin Das' Rossogolla before visiting Rabindranath Tagore. One day the Rossogolla stock was exhausted in Nobin Das' shop when Dr. Bhattacharya arrived. He had to purchase from an adjoining shop. Apparently, Tagore instinctively recognized the difference and asked him to bring Rossogolla only from Nobin Das’s shop.
Later life and contributions
Contrary to the advice of his friends and admirers to take out patents, Nobin Chandra taught the technique of Rossogolla-making to numerous sweetmeat makers of Bengal. He was open minded and believed that his creation could only gain popularity if available in all sweet shops across the country. Nobin Chandra was a thoroughly unorthodox "moira" whose approach to confectionery was ahead of his times. After perfecting the process of making Rossogolla, he diverted his attention to the perfection of "sondesh". From the granular and coarse varieties then in vogue, he succeeded in making it into a smooth and refined sweet and named it "Kasturapak". He was the first traditional Bengali confectioner to incorporate natural fruit pulp in his creations and created the "Aata (custard apple) Sondes" and "Kathaal (jackfruit) Sondesh." Another example of his creativity was the way he transformed the broken or crumbled balls of casein left over from the process of making "Rossogolla". He mixed these crumbs with "kheer" and added pistachios, raisins and saffron to make a unique kind of "Sondesh". He christened it "Baikuntha Bhog" (implying that it was fit to be served at Vaikunth, the abode of the great god Vishnu.
Death and legacy
Nobin Chandra left his legacy to his son Krishna Chandra Das (1869-1934). Krishna Chandra enlarged the inheritance of his father’s genius in the art of Bengali sweetmeats. Reinforcing the family spirit of exploration and experimentation, he himself created new sweets such as the “Rossomalai, another perennial favourite. To popularize the “Rossomalai”, Krishna Chandra opened a new sweet shop at Jorasanko in 1930. He also introduced the canned Rossogolla, which was the first and only canned dessert manufactured in the country at that time. Krishna Chandra died within four years of the opening of his new shop and left the reins of the family business in the hands of his son and successor, Sarada Charan Das.
The enterprising and energetic Sarada Charan quickly expanded the family business and established a company named "K.C. Das Private Limited", after his father, under the Companies' Act of 1946. He added to the number of shops in Kolkata, beginning with the shop at Esplanade East under his father’s name in 1935. This was the first time that the shop’s name was shortened to the crisper ‘K. C. Das’ from the original Krishna Chandra Das. The tradition of innovation continued unbroken with Sarada Charan creating the first sweets for diabetics and the "Amrita Kumbha Sondesh", a significant departure from extant conventions of shape and taste. He also introduced the "Sondesh Cake" and "Ice-cream Sondesh" in order to compete with Western confectionery products and dairy desserts.
Sarada Charan’s greatest contribution, however, was not just the final products of confectionery but also the manufacturing process under hygienic conditions. He conceived, designed and implemented the use of steam generated from a boiler passed through steam-jacketed pans, to replace the traditional coal/wood burning stoves and conventional "kadais". He was the pioneer in modernizing the traditional Indian confectionery industry. Sarada Charan's establishment K.C. Das Private limited continues as a popular and widely recognised brand throughout India today.
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