History Of Batasha: The Sugar Drop Candy From India

‘Batasha’ has been ingrained in the history and lore of the Indian subcontinent, for centuries now. It is an integral component of our festivities and religious practices and this age-old confectionary is offered to our deities in hopes of better fortune. Typically made from a concoction of sugar, water, jaggery and sodium bicarbonate, this coin-sized sugary treat has its roots back to the times of the Mughal era. It is believed that back when the Silk Route was operational, the mutual exchange of goods and ideas brought about the creation of batasha. Sugar being one of the profitable exports at the time, this innovation was a godsend, especially because in this aerated form it has a longer shelf life, and could be transported over distances. 

Typically, during Autumn when the sugarcane is harvested from different parts of the country, the traders would invest in employing people to turn this expensive commodity into something more profitable, given how versatile it is compared to milk-based desserts. Although people mostly associate batasha as offerings in religious places, it was especially likened by the elite class in those times. Legend has it, that this desi sugar drop candy played a significant role in the meeting of Emperor Jahangir and Begum Noor Jahan. At Meena Bazaar in Delhi, a makeshift market during Mughal times as part of the annual Navroz celebrations when Jahangir met his Noor Jahan (then, Mehr-un-Nissa), he was enamoured at the first sight of her, as she had her mouth stuffed with batashas. 

Regardless of its origin, Batasha cuts through religious, regional and socio-economic lines and has been widely consumed and celebrated throughout the country. The process of making batasha is pretty straightforward but ask the manufacturers and they’ll tell you how much of a backbreaking task it is doing in large batches. The ratio is 1 ½ kilogram of sugar and 200 grams of Palm jaggery to 1 litre of water put together in a huge aluminum container on high flame. The mixture has to be stirred continuously as it boils, and the water gradually evaporates. When the mixture has thickened considerably almost to a caramel like consistency, the pot is taken off the furnace and sodium bicarbonate is added to the mix. Stirred with a bamboo ladle as the syrup starts crystallizing due to the addition of an alkalizing agent, this process traps the air inside the syrup. At this stage, droplets of the mixture are released onto a mat and left to cool down to form beloved Batasha. 

Batashas are offered to the Almighty in mosques and gurudwaras and it finds its place in auspicious marriage events and everyday household rituals. It is a sweet that even provides relief during sweltering summer months when dissolved in a glass of water and turned into a drink. For the nine days during Navratri, batashas are dipped in ghee and offered to deities in hopes of prosperity. In Bengal, batashas by the handful are thrown up in the air for the devotees to playfully catch and collect during ‘Harir Loot’ (organized during Janmashtami). Such rituals were very commonplace once the ‘Sankeertan’ or chorus praising the Lord was over, and devotees would put out the end of their saree or ‘gamchha’ to catch as many batasha in their paunch as they could muster. 

Batashas find their place in Holi celebrations around the country too. The colourful ‘batashe ki mala’ is popular in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh and is typically exchanged between families in hopes of sweetening and strengthening the connection. In Maharashtra ‘battashacha har’ or ‘saakhar gaathi’ along with neem leaves are propped up at the upper end of the ‘kalash’ or metal pot on Gudi Padva where the Gudi is raised at the time of sunrise and taken down before sunset. 

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Panchadara Chilakalu is a traditional sweet used during Makar Sankranti; the annual harvest festival celebrated in January. This special sweet comes in the shape of a parrot depicting the traditional parrot motif as seen on the walls of the temples. 

Even though the small-scale industry of batasha makers face severe dips in demand and workforce owing to modernization, there’s small pockets of artisan manufacturers who’re still dedicated to their craft. In West Bengal we find them in Bhangor, Bijoygunj and Jeebantala; In UP’s Agra and Ghaziabad there’s shops that still thrive on making lakhs of Batashas per day and there’s countless other pockets in the country that continue given how indispensable the confectionery is to our everyday rituals and how integral it is to how we show faith.