In High Spirits: The Alcohol Culture In India Has Given Rise To Several Local Beverages
- Jasmine Kaur
Updated : January 20, 2022 05:01 IST
From whisky to brandy, there is no end to the kind of alcoholic beverages that are available in the country. However, the locally produced alcohols have their own charm to it.
The love of Indian citizens for alcohol and the importance of it in their lives was quite evident when people queued up outside liquor shops during the peak of Covid in order to satiate their thirst. The visual was appalling which got us thinking. When did the culture of alcohol start in India? Seems like a valid question since the Indian economy also earns huge revenue from the consumption of alcohol.
Of Historical Traces
Let’s revisit our Vedas once. You might be surprised to know that the earliest mentions of alcohol in the form of intoxicated elements, was found in the Rig Veda, which is believed to be about 10,000 years old. This sacred Hindu text, which has religious prayers and hymns inscripted in it, talks of soma and prahama, which were considered intoxicants at that time. Moreover, the medicinal guide of that time which is relevant even today, Charak Samhita, also talks about the alcohol consumption in India.
In his book, “The Untold Story of Alcohol in India”, Magandeep Singh points us to the direction of the British Raj where the Indians developed an inclination towards gin and scotch as well as whisky during period of colonialism. It was only during the year of Independence when Mahatma Gandhi expressed his disregard for the alcoholic drinks, making its way into the Indian constitution for its prohibition. It was later that many states revoked the prohibition except Gujarat, the home of Gandhi ji, which continues to follow the tradition.
While there are several big names that come to mind when we talk of liquor and alcohol, it is interesting to note that punch was introduced to the West by India. In fact, the word punch is derived from the Sanskrit word paanch, meaning five components.
Here are some local alcoholic beverages that are specific to each region of the country.
1. Ladakh’s Arak
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Starting up north, Ladakh comprises of a huge tribal population who drink a grape-based drink called arak. The distilled alcoholic drink is prepared from fermented leaves that are mixed with aniseed to form this beverage.
2. Himachali Lugdi
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The hilly terrains of Himachal Pradesh prepare Lugdi is summers to be preserved in winters. The fermented cereal grains are left at high temperatures (upto 40 degree Celsius) which are then consumed in winters to give the body warmth.
3. Madhya Pradesh’s Mahua
The middle belt of India follows a centuries-old technique of making an alcoholic beverage from a flower. The Mahua flower is extracted from the tropical tree and used to prepared this local drink, which has been known for several generations.
4. Rajasthan’s Kesar Kasturi
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A royal drink with the rarest of components, Kesar Kasturi is a special drink of Rajasthan that only a few sections of society can afford. Sweet in taste, the saffron-based drink is quite expensive given the constituents of the spirit.
5. Northeast’s Apong
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Assam hosts this rich rice beer. Rich because it is made up of approximately 32 herbs, leaves etc. and even bamboo and banana leaves are used to make this delicious rice beer.