The fight for Indian Independence was fought at many levels – from the boycott of foreign made clothes, to making salt and by making statement through food. And Banaras (Varanasi) led the way by creating special mithai (sweets) during the Independence movement.
The commonly known Tirangi Barfi (tri-colour sweet) was an Independence Day and Republic Day staple during my school days and a lot many institutions follow this norm even today in many parts of the country.
The original tirangi barfi of Banaras was called Rashtriya Barfi and was invented by a small sweet shop Ram Bhandaar founded around 1850 by the current owner’s great-grandfather Shri Raghunath Das Gupta and located in the old city of Banaras in an area known as Thatheri Bazaar. The tri-colour sweet along with others – Jawahar Laddoo, Moti Pak, Madan Mohan, Gandhi Gaurav – named after the famous freedom fighters of that time were invented around 1945 by Shri Madan Gopal Gupta (the owner’s grandfather) in his attempt to contribute to the cause of India’s freedom. Through word of mouth these sweets became famous around the whole city so much so that they started to be served in the kitchens of Britishers and the local British government officers were rumoured to become afraid by this food revolution. The tirangi barfi caught the imagination of many across others cities of India and started being made at other places.
While the current version of this sweet is made using khoya (thickened milk) and edible food colour for saffron and green, for the original in 1945, the inventors used badam (almonds) and pista (pistachios). The almonds were soaked and grinded to be used for both saffron and white layers – original saffron was mixed for the said colour and grinded pistachios for the green bottom layer. A far richer and time consuming invention that became so popular that this sweet after 70 plus years of Independence is still made and consumed albeit with a difference. Primarily the cost would have made it prohibitive for the original ingredients used in production as well as consumption in later years though in today’s diet-conscious era it probably wouldn’t have survived in its initial avatar.
On my last visit to the hometown some time back, I made a special trek to this shop to buy this famous Banarasi mithai and other sweets and I met the current owner of the shop Mr Arun Gupta – who told me this interesting history about the special Tirangi Barfi of Banaras that played a small but revolutionising role in Indian Independence. And as a Banarasi I wanted to document this little nugget of history for posterity!