chapter  1
16 Pages

Alcohol in pre-modern South Asia

WithJAMES MCHUGH

There is a very long history of the production and consumption of alcoholic drinks in pre-modern South Asia. In the texts called the Vedas, our earliest surviving textual sources for South Asia, there are references to what is evidently a fermented and intoxicating drink called sura . For later periods, references to intoxicating, alcohol-containing drinks are numerous in many genres. A number of sugars and grains were available in South Asia, and thus from around the turn of the Common Era many varied intoxicating drinks are named, and in many cases described, as being made from wheat, rice, barley, palm sap, sugar cane products, honey, fl owers, and fruits, including dates and grapes. Texts on religious law and on statecraft legislate the consumption and sale of these drinks, and medical texts describe the virtues and dangers of intoxicating drinks in some detail. Literary texts in Sanskrit sometimes portray scenes of drunkenness, a state that often has erotic and humorous associations.