Varuni On Balaram Purnima: The Mythological Alcoholic Drink
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The Hindu puranas or scriptures make a mention of a story where demigods and demons (asuras), churn the ocean of milk, from which goddess Varuni appeared with a pitcher of alcoholic liquid in her hands. Deriving its name from the goddess of wine, the mythological drink – Varuni, features prominently in stories about Lord Balaram, the older brother of Krishna.

Made with a mixture of milk, yoghurt and lots of honey, the heady drink is said to be potent and consumed in large quantities by Balaram and his consorts, while they enjoyed frolicking in the forests of Gokula. Some scriptures also make a mention of Varuni as a liquor distilled from honey, similar to the modern-day mead. With time, contemporary interpretations of the drink have also added apple juice, heavy cream and carbonated water to the mixture to enhance its heady potency.

When drunk in small quantities, Varuni is merely a dairy-based beverage that is best enjoyed cold. However, on consuming large quantities, the sugar present in the honey provides a mild buzz, similar to what one might experience on consuming small amounts of liquor. Typically, the ingredients used to make Varuni and combined in a large pitcher and left to ferment at room temperature for a few hours, before consumption.

The Srimad Bhagavatam, one of the many Hindu scriptures, makes a mention of Varuni in a verse that states, ‘वरुणप्रेषिता देवी वारुणी वृक्षकोटरात् । पतन्ती तद् वनं सर्वं स्वगन्धेनाध्यवासयत् ॥‘, which translates to sent by the demigod Varuṇa, the divine Varuni liquor flowed from a tree hollow and made the entire forest even more fragrant with its sweet aroma. It is said that when Lord Balaram first tasted the drink, he experienced a moment of exhilarating bliss – even considering it to be a medium of transcendent wisdom.

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According to the Charak Samhita, Varuni has also been described as a medicinal drink that possessed the capacity to treat tuberculosis. Varuni has also been referenced as a drink that was made with the extracts of the Kadamba flowers – as scriptures believe the trees first originated from the ocean. What also makes the symbolism of Varuni special on the occasion of Balaram Purnima, is the toddy palm tree symbol on his dhvaja (flag), as a recall to the toddy tappers who extract liquor from these trees that we know of, in Kerala.

Some mythology also indicates goddess Varuni to be the wife of Lord Balaram, reaffirming his fondness for intoxicants. The idea of associating the consumption of alchohol with an ascetic outsider also extends to Lord Shiva, in these scriptures. The perception of alcohol being more than just a medium of intoxication, and rather used to reach a plane of higher consciousness, was also propagated through the mention of Varuni.