Archaeological excavations conducted in 1962 at Pandu Rajar Dhibi in Ausgram II block in the Sadar North subdivision of Purba Bardhaman district in West Bengal unearthed earthen pots using a mix of rice husk in the main mound. Based on scientific tests, archaeologists concluded that the ancient civilization that dates back to 2000 BCE was well-versed in rice cultivation. Historical documentation and literary texts written over the years have further strengthened this theory that the state of West Bengal has traditionally been one of the most important clusters of rice cultivation in India.
The genetic diversity of aromatic rice found in West Bengal is staggering to say the least. As rice is the staple food of the Bengalis, it is estimated that more than 3 lakh tonnes of indigenous rice types are produced every year in the state.
There around 35 – 40 scented or non–basmati rice varieties found in Bengal alone of which Gobindabhog is the most famous and popular. According to historians, a few affluent families moved to Saptagram in Hooghly district and Shibpur in Howrah district somewhere during the late 16th century and early 17th century to further their business interests. Four Basak families and one Seth family crossed the Ganges from Shibpur, cleared the dense forest and formed a village that came to be called Gobindapur. While clearing the jungle, they found an old temple dedicated to Lord Gobinda and sought his blessings to commence rice cultivation. This fragrant fine rice was used for the preparation of bhog offered to Lord Gobinda and came to be known as Gobindabhog.
This short-grained aromatic rice has been grown in the lower Gangetic plains and Rarh region of West Bengal for more than five hundred years. The cultivation of Gobindabhog is mainly concentrated in the eight districts of Bardhaman, Bankura, Hooghly, Nadia, Birbhum, Murshidabad, Howrah and North 24 Parganas. Records state that more than 1 lakh farmers cultivate Gobindabhog rice in Bengal in about 40,000 hectares of land.
Gobindabhog is one of the principal aman rice crops of Bengal and normally sown in the months of Ashar or Srabon and harvested at the end of Agrahan and beginning of Poush. This native variety is still cultivated with traditional knowledge and practices. Gobindabhog is a photosensitive and rainfed crop with tremendous resistance to pests and diseases.
Harvesting is done manually with sickles in the early hours of the morning. It is then sundried for 2 to 3 days. Threshing is done using a pedal thresher or by beating the plants on a bamboo-made platform. The grains are cleaned and stored in thatched granaries with split bamboo walls as the farmers and rice millers feel that the quality of cooked rice is far superior when stored in these age-old storage houses and thereby fetch a premium price in the market.
Earthen pots are also often used to store the paddy as the head rice recovery is 62.1 percent, amylose content is 18.15 percent, protein is 7.35 percent and aroma score is 2.13 after a 6-month period which is greater as compared to paddy stored in jute gunny bags, polythene bags, markin cloth bags and galvanized iron (GI) bins.
This socioeconomically important rice is very popular in both the domestic and international markets. The grains of Gobindabhog are golden yellow in colour while the milled rice is white in colour. Gobindabhog is used in the preparation of payesh, bhog, pulao, chira, pitha and sweets like the famous Bardhaman Mihidana and Bardhaman Sitabhog are prepared from the rice flour.
This delightfully sticky rice with a unique buttery flavour and aroma received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2017.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)