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Liquor in Ancient Hinduism

Taking liquor in ancient Hinduism was known as Madhupana. Ancient Hindu drinks, soma juice and sura (intoxicating liquor) were prepared from fermented barley or wild paddy after distillation. While soma juice was commanded for drinking, sura was condemned.

Vedas include intoxicating liquor drinking among the seven sins and it is classified with anger, senselessness and gambling. Panini (7th between 4th century BC) mentions varieties of intoxicating drinks, the process of distillation and ingredients for preparation.

Dharmasutras regard intoxicating liquor drinking as a heinous crime and forbade liquor to Brahmins and students.


During 6th century BC, liquor was manufactures and consumed on a large scale in taverns.
Strong liquors are called madya, but the general word for all kinds of intoxicating drinks prepared from cereals is sura.

Arthashastra (latter half of 4th century BC), mentions that there was a superintendent of liquor who laid industry regulated by the state. Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya (from 302 BC), mentions rice-beer as a common drink in India. Kautilya lists various drinks and their preparation. Wines from grapes were common. Two varieties, kapisayana and harahuraka, were imported from Afghanistan.
Liquor, especially imported varieties, continued to be popular in the Kushana times in the North and Satavahana times in Central and South India. Intoxicating drinks prepared with barley, rice, sugar, juice of sugarcane, and so on, were in common use.

Liquors were also prepared from madhutha (bassia latifolia) flowers and honey. Sushruta mentions liquor prepared from dates. From Angavijna, it appears many varieties of intoxicating drinks were in use.

Hiuen Tsang says kshatriyas used intoxicating drinks prepared from the juice of grapes and sugarcane, while vaishyas used strong fermented drinks. The sramanas and Brahmins drank only syrups prepared from the juice of grapes and sugarcane.

Cultivation of the soma plant is referred to in Harshacharita, the first of the historical in drinking, especially wine, as mentioned in Kavya Mimamsa and Karpura Manjari.
Medhatithi says that, while Brahmin women did not drink wine at festivals, kshatriya and other women indulged in drinking on festive occasions. Sukranti condemns excessive drinking. Somadeva equally condemns it by saying drunkards are generally liars.
Al-Beruni (970 – 1039 AD) mentions that some sections of higher castes abstained from drinking but it was quite common among the lower class.

Evidence also occurs in sculptures depicting madhupana scenes datable to the Kushana period.

The depictions of such scenes consists of three, four or six figures with a central character, either a male or a female in an inebriated position, while others are helping or participating in the revelry. The classical motif found in Gandharan relief in northwestern India was adopted in Mathura.

Slightly different is the theme adopted in terracotta prepared in single mould plaques in circular, rectangular or square shapes. The theme consists of male and female indulging in the act of drinking the various sequences arising out of it. They are known mostly form Kausambi and nearby areas, excepting one known from Ahicchatra (now the Bareilly District of Uttar Pradesh). They do not occur after the 3rd or the 4th century AD.



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