History of Royal Bengal Mangoes
Jiaganj is about eight kilometres from Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal until the fall of Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 that marked the beginning of the 190-year colonial era. The district is also home to 124 varieties of mangoes — many among them hybrids developed under the patronage of the Nawabs. In fact, the culture of raising mango orchards in the area was synchronous with the crowning of Murshid Quli Jafar Khan as the first Nawab of Bengal, who transferred the capital to Murshidabad from Dacca in 1704.
“Dilpasand is one of the endangered hybrid species of mangoes along with Nababpasand, Mirzapasand, Ranipasand, Sarenga, Kalasur, and a few of others. These rare varieties are on the verge of perishing at Raisbag, an orchard named after Begam Raisunnesa, a princess of the Nawab family,” said Tejomoy Banerjee, a surveyor under the Government of West Bengal.
Banerjee’s professional engagement coupled with an inquisitive mind make him a knowledgeable mango lover conversant about mango farming and orchards in Murshidabad and Malda districts. “Among the 124 varieties, at least 10 are matchless in taste the world over,” he added.
Dilpasand, in the words of Khazim Ahmed, is “soothingly sweet”. Ahmed, who owns an orchard where rare varieties of mangoes are grown, can’t eat more than four rasagoollas because they are too sweet. But he can easily consume 10 Dilpasand mangoes. “But don’t expect the quality it had six decades ago,” he warns.
It is claimed that More than ten varieties that are grown are without a doubt better in taste than Alfonso of Ratnagiri or Kehar of Andhra Pradesh. Take the Kohitoor, which once used to be grown in the orchards of Nawabs until the early ‘70s. The orchards of the Maharaja of Cossimbazar had over 50 Kohitoor plants. But real estate promoters were allowed to grab the huge orchards. Trees perished to make room for monetary greed of realtors. Kohitoor saplings were planted elsewhere later but lost their legendary taste. Still, even if you taste the ones available now, you will prefer them to Alfonsos.”
“It would be futile to look for genetic roots of such mangoes, as the quality upgradation of the fruit was due to hybridisation through grafting,” said Swapan De, who was born and brought up at Murshidabad. As a former employee of a public sector bank, he is in the know of mango orchards whose owners were granted credit after spot inspections.
Grown in over 26,000 hectares in Murshidabad, mangoes that are sold commercially include Bombay Green, Bimli, Biara, Bhabani, Bariha, Fazli, Golapkhas, Golapbhog, Anaras, Champa, Mohanbhog ,Langra, Surma Fazli, Chausa, Kalapahar, and Kohitoor. But Dilpasand, Mirzapasand and the like are seldom available.
The department of economic analysis and research, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mumbai, published a working paper, Economics of Mango Cultivation, by Dr G D Banerjee, a few years ago. The paper stated that there are 85 varieties in Murshidabad, without bothering to do a proper survey, ignoring at least 39 other strains. This is but one instance of almost criminal neglect to a heritage.
India is among the largest producers of mangoes, producing nearly 39% of global production. But its share in exports is hardly 1%. A serious effort is needed to revamp Indian mangoes’ image in the global market - the effort could begin with aggressive marketing of Murshidabad mangoes abroad. A heritage is being inexplicably renounced. It deserves to be reversed.