This sweetmeat in Kolkata played a significant role in freedom struggle; Here’s how

The sweet is a three-layered sandesh, which is orangish pink on the top creamy white inside, and pistachio green at the bottom, looking like the Indian flag.

This sweetmeat in Kolkata played a significant role in freedom struggle; Here’s how
Sale of the Sandesh increased following the British government's ban. (IE Image/Shashi Ghosh)

Tiranga sweets are a common sight at confectionaries on Independence or Republic Day. But that has not been the order always, especially during pre-independence times when sweetshop owners turned into patriots and their art formed their voice. So has been the case with Kolkata one of the oldest sweet shops.

The three-layered sweetmeat called Jai Hind Sandesh is a fairly harmless-looking treat. It consists of a three-layered sandesh, which is orangish pink on the top creamy white inside, and pistachio green at the bottom, looking like a replica of the Indian flag. But, Swapan Kumar Das, the 6th generation owner of a traditional sweetmeat shop in Kolkata, said that in the 1940s, if his shop was caught selling Jai Hind Sandesh, his predecessors would have been sent to prison.

Swapan Kumar Das told the Indian Express that his grandfather Manmatha Das made the Sandesh during the early 1940s when the freedom movement was at its peak. He said that the name of the sweetmeat was chosen to encourage fighters.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, various hotels such as Swadhin Bharat Hotel, and Paramount in Kolkata provided safe havens to freedom fighters like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Surya Sen, Rash Behari Bose. They would also make the Sandesh in tri-color to encourage fighters. According to Das, his grandfather wanted the message of Azadi to be on everyone’s lips so he decided to make the Sandesh in these colors. Freedom fighters would even pass on secret messages to their fellow rebels hidden inside the sweets, he shared.

When the British government learned about this, they prohibited the sale and buying of the Sandesh during the 1940s.

But the sale of the Sandesh increased following the British government’s ban. Freedom fighters such as Surya Sen, Badal Gupta, and Rashid Behari Bose would get them to send out secret messages.

The flagship store of a well-known sweet shop in Kolkata’s Natun (new) Bazar no longer attracts many young customers. Its location is in a dilapidated state, but the tricolor Sandesh finds a pride place on the shop’s display table. According to Das, the shop will always be proud of its heritage product.

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