Among the many things that make Odisha popular around the globe, its sweetmeats are what make its cuisine varied and unique – their history usually entwined with folk mythology and temple cultures of the state. The most recent example being the confirmation of the origin of rasagola as an offering to Goddess Laxmi at Sri Mandira, Puri during Niladri Bije. This makes rasagola almost synonymous with Lord Jagannath and Rath Yatra. Similar is the case with ‘Kora Khai’ that is offered as prasad to Lord Lingaraj at the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar.
It is believed to be one of favourite sweets of the Lord, which has traditionally been prepared by generations of a family of confectioners in the Old Town area, assigned to do the task.
Intrigued by the tradition, MCL talks to Trinath Badu, the Abadha Sevak at the temple, who tells us how Kora Khai is considered one of the primary prasads served to Lord Lingaraj.
“Since the beginning of Lingaraj culture, Kora Khai has been treated as the main sweet among Lord’s offerings. Although there are many shops making Kora Khai in the Old Town area, the ones served to Lord Lingaraj is prepared by specific families of confectioners assigned to make it in the same authentic way as it has been for years. There can be no deviation in its preparation as it is served to Lord Lingaraj,” says Badu.
It is prepared with four basic ingredients – khai, jaggery or sugar, coconut, and cardamoms, involving a unique procedure that makes the taste different compared to other similar preparations of khai. A lot depends on proper caramelisation of all the ingredients in jaggery to give it the unique flavour.
Though initially, it used to be served only in the temple, gradually with many retail outlets coming up, it is easily available in the market these days. There are around 25 shops selling Kora Khai in Old Town locality alone and they are particularly famed for their good taste and quality since they are linked to the Lingaraj tradition.
Founded by Rama Sahoo, ‘Baya Baba Kora Khai’ is among the oldest Kora Khai shops in the city. Sahoo also happens to be the artist of the original Kora Khai preparation. However, in due course of time, two other confectioner families have come up with their shops at Old Town. These days ‘Jagat Bikhayat Kora Khai’ too is becoming popular among the locals and the tourists.
Subash Sahu, owner of ‘Jagat Bikhyat Korakhai’ says, “Yes, these days more and more people are interested to relish Kora Khai. Earlier, people would buy it only as an offering to God but now people buy it for personal consumption.”
Although different varieties of Kora Khai are available in the city, the shops in Old Town basically sell two variants – general and special and both differ in quality and price with the range being between Rs. 180 and Rs. 220 per kilo.
And, the demand isn’t just restricted to local customers. Even tourists from across India and abroad prefer it over other sweet items. Dry and crunchy, it is convenient for the tourists to carry and it also stays fresh for a longer period. Nearly five quintals of Kora Khai are sold in the Bhubaneswar market everyday with around two quintals of it being sold only from Old Town area itself.
Mansi Singh, a housewife and resident of Unit I says, “As one with a sweet tooth, I am fond of Kora Khai and relish it whenever I can. It’s been 25 years I have been buying Kora Khai from the shops at Old Town because of the better quality. Although it is easily available all across the city, it is hard to enjoy the taste of Kora Khai bought from anywhere else. I also send packets of Kora Khai to my sister-in-law who resides outside the state, twice a year.”
Another lover of Kora Khai, Sandhya Jain who hails from Ajmer says, “We had no idea of this sweet dish until four years ago when our priest at the Lingaraj Temple handed over this crunchy sweet to us in the form of Lord Shiva’s prasad. That was the first time I had tasted it and liked it a lot. Since then we have been buying it in bulk whenever we come to Odisha.”
Undoubtedly, the taste of Kora Khai available at Old Town is the best, adds Sandhya who also carries back some packets of the sweet ordered by her neighbours in Ajmer.
Talking about the demand for Kora Khai in the state and outside, Subash Sahu points out, “Anybody who tries this sweet once is bound to like it. We have seen that the customer who buys it once keeps coming back regularly. But sadly, this indigenous sweet of the Temple City hasn’t so far gained the popularity it deserves owing to several reasons.”
“I believe that the government should take up an initiative to popularise this delicacy as it did for rasagola. Moreover, being dry in form, Kora Khai has an added advantage over rasagola wherein it can be easily exported to faraway places,” adds Sahu.