Of Jalbharas, Jamai Sasthi, & A Sweet Origin Story
Image Credit: The original jalbhara. Photo via @Jalbhara-Surjya-Kumar-Modak/Facebook

This post was published as part of our daily newsletter, Just One Thing. Sign up here to get a free copy delivered right into your mailbox!


Around 200 years ago, allegedly in 1818, in present-day Chandannagore, the Bandopadhyay family, zamindars of Bhadreshwar, held a significant reputation. 

In Bengali culture, there is an annual ritual celebrated in the month of Jaishta, called "Jamaisasthi". This ritual involves a grand feast organised by the maternal family for their son-in-law, wherein a variety of Bengali delicacies are served to the jamai

That year, the zamindar's wife decided to play a sweet prank on her son-in-laws. She summoned the renowned sweet-maker of the town, Surjo Modak, and instructed him to create a food item that would deceive the jamais. This prank was intended purely for amusement, without any serious intent. Surjo faced a challenge as he had to consider the zamindar's wife's request to create something that would both surprise and deceive everyone at the same time.

After much thought, he drew inspiration from the core of a plum and crafted a karapak (hardened) sandesh that resembled a plum core. However, the true secret lay within its hollow center: Modak filled the core of the sandesh with a sweet, thick mixture of rose water and liquid date jaggery. Anxious about the outcome, he went to the zamindar's house and delivered the sweets. 

After completing their meal, the jamais were served the sandesh as dessert. As they took a bite, the sweet broke into two halves, and the liquid core spilled onto their expensive panjabis. Initially astonished, they soon realised that the kernel comprised sweet jaggery. Laughter filled the room, and everyone embraced the innovative technique of eating this sweet. 

They loved the novelty and collectively  named the sweet "jolbhora," which translates to "filled with liquid", quite accurately describing the treat. The popularity of this unique sweet spread throughout Bengal, and people from all corners of the province became eager to try this invention for its uniqueness and taste.

Surjo Modak (also known as  Surjya Kumar Modak) himself became a renowned brand. Gradually, other shops began to produce the same sweet, but the original one shone above all. The shop still stands today, operated by Surjo's descendant, Saibal Modak, in Chandannagore. It continues to sell authentic jolbhora, its legacy intact even after 200 years. While other versions of the sweet were later created with changes and alterations in flavour and shape, the original nolen gur and rose water combination still remains unmatched. 

And to think that it all began with a prank!

Follow more such snippets of Bengali history and culture from horekrokom on Twitter and Instagram. Check out Slurrp's guide to underrated Bengali sweets here.