Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director : History of alcohol in India   

Consumption of alcoholic beverages has existed from the old ages though it has risen to prominence in the recent decades. Beer, rum, whiskey, which seem the common drinks now were unheard of in a certain time. Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director, takes us to the time when alcoholic drinks found their identity.

Neeraj Sachdeva

Alcohol is mentioned in various forms and methods in mythology writings, ayurvedic texts, and vedas. Soma and sura were the two types of recreational beverages. Soma-ras, which appears in mythological texts as well, was considered a drink of the gods and their elite worshippers. Known as amrit, it was thought to grant the drinker immortality and was thus rumoured to be psychoactive. Sura, a fermented drink made from rice and sugarcane, on the other hand, was considered the god king’s favourite drink. Warriors consumed it in order to gain courage and valour in battle. Despite the fact that neither of the texts mentions the drinks being alcoholic, their effects are strikingly similar to those of an alcoholic beverage.

Distillery in the Indus Valley

The alcoholic beverages that the neo-Puritans in charge of various state governments appear to outlaw have been around for a long time. “It is clear from clay items recovered from excavation sites, such as a complete set of distillation items and vats, that people living in the region that comprises modern India and Pakistan practised both fermentation and distillation of beverages using sweet and starchy items as far back as the Indus Valley civilisation,” says Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director .

The Rigveda is against drinking. However, perhaps realising the futility of total prohibition, it develops a set of guidelines to guide responsible drinking. Alcohol is forbidden for Brahmins and students, but soma, a fermented beverage, is offered to gods who enjoy it. Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director informs, “We have its unknown writers allowing the downing of alcohol on happy social occasions such as the arrival of honoured guests or when a new bride first enters her husband’s home a little later, when the sutras were written.”

Things had become more liberal by the time of the later Vedic culture. There are references to various fermented drinks during this time period, including kilala, which was made from a cereal of the same name; masara, which was made from a filtered rice gruel, or kanji; and parisruta, which were various fermented beverages made from the juices of certain flowers and special grasses. Valmiki’s Ramayana mentions four types of liquors, while Kautilya’s Arthshastra (fourth century BCE) mentions a dozen. The Arthshastra also mentions taverns in most villages, which have seats for regular customers.

White and dark wine were also imported by the Indian nobility. There are references to wine made from two types of grapes imported from Afghanistan: kapisyani (light) and harihuraka (dark). “Archaeological discoveries show that the nobility south of the Vindhyas, who were already engaged in brisk trade with Rome, were also importing Roman wine in amphorae,” says Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director.

Huen Tsang, a Chinese traveller, mentioned caste-based drinking in the seventh century, during King Harsha’s reign in the North. He stated that the nobility (Kshatriyas) drank fruit or flower wines, the wealthy Vaishyas drank strong distilled liquor, and the Brahmins mostly drank fruit juices. Around the same time, a merry Pallava king named Mahendra Varman wrote Matt Vilas Prahasan, an immortal one-act comedy spoofing the drunken orgies of rascally holy men.

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From Mughals to colonisers

Despite the Islamic prohibition on alcohol, the nobility and many of the rulers drank regularly when the Muslims arrived in India, from the Sultanate period beginning in the 13th century to the grand Mughals. During colonial times, the Portuguese added feni, distilled from cashew fruit, to the list of alcoholic drinks found on the subcontinent, while the British observed widespread use of toddy and quickly taxed it rather than attempting to ban alcohol.

Second colonisation

Today, there are numerous arguments against the free sale of alcohol and public drinking, and many of them require examination. But there is one thing that stands out. A total prohibition on liquor has proven to be a failure in several states over the years, including Maharashtra, Nagaland, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh. “All of them had to abandon prohibition after a while because, in addition to a significant drop in excise revenues, there was a surge in illicit bootlegging and shady liquor production that killed thousands,” says Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director.

It is not drinking that kills, but lax regulations and corrupt enforcement officials. Existing laws prohibiting the location of liquor stores near schools and places of worship, as well as strict controls on the distribution of free alcohol to entice voters, should be strictly enforced. Our highways, too, must be constantly patrolled to prevent drunk driving. Those who drink on a regular basis are already circumventing the Supreme Court’s 500-metre restriction on the location of liquor stores near the highway.

Domestic violence, as we all know, is fueled by a tacit social sanction for violence against women, as evidenced by the public lynching of young women dragged from their homes for the alleged sin of being in a relationship with a young man. The arguments for total abstinence appear absurd, but they are more revealing than stupid.

“The invasion of homes and parks by state police and self-appointed guardians of public morality in the name of preserving Hindu culture, with the tacit approval of the police, is not only a triumph of dogmatic Hindutva over liberal India, but also the definitive annexation of our beloved country by the so-called civilisation of a synthetic and totalitarian Hinduism. I’m referring to civilisation rather than the political system or the state,” mentions Neeraj Sachdeva Lakeforest Wines Director.

This is because the India of Shiva, Sufis, Kabirpanthis, and Kanphatas represents a culture alien to the new Hindutva colonisers. At the same time that India is showing its military teeth to its neighbours, it is regressing culturally to its own murky past, which led to its colonisation by a multinational corporation in the nineteenth century.

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