The Spirits of India

The earliest mention of alcohol is found in records made about the Harappan Civilisation in 3000 B.C. Interestingly, alcohol says as much about Indian culture and customs as Indian costumes, food or rituals. It is found that drinking was a vital feature of the cultural landscape and that locally brewed rice beer; palm wine and distilled country liquor were the so-called Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in those days. So lets trace the local spirits of India over time.


Each spirit is identified with particular segments of society and setting in the various communities in India. In a world dominated by Western and urban studies, research clarifies features of alcohol availability, use and acceptance in a neglected rural area of India. Alcohol use is, in large measure, a culturally patterned feature of both secular and sacred life in most societies. India is a large country with diverse socio-cultural and historical patterns of drinking. There are special alcoholic drinks brewed by the locals, which can scintillate your senses. Here are 10 of them:


Rice beer made by tribes in Assam (alcohol content- 18-25%) It is a locally fermented rice beer famous in the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This rice beer is famed to have been made of a fairy’s breast milk. This rice is roasted until it turns black, then it is allowed to ferment. It takes about 3 months to prepare Apong and the process includes drying the rice, smoking it, fermenting and filtering and then finally pouring it into a tall bamboo shoot. This rice beer is made of almost 30 different kinds of tree leaves, creepers, and grass. Ashes of bamboo and banana leaf are also used in the process along with rice. It is preserved with Bhoot Jolokia peppers, one of the hottest chilies in the world. Apong is served at room temperature, and it is sweet, malty, spicy and quite potent. It is sort of the party alcohol for the tribes and batches of Apong are especially made during annual festivals, weddings and happy occasions. Folklores have said that the people of the ‘Mising’ tribe came together to drink the ceremonial beer to put an end to all their communal conflicts and restore peace and harmony. Apong is considered a cultural heritage of the indigenous tribes of North- East India. The alcohol content believed to be 18-25% ABV, however, it is said to be pretty intoxicating.


The love potion from Mizoram (alcohol content- 13-18%) Commonly known as ‘Love Potion’ in the state of Mizoram, it is a premium variety of Lubrusca grape wine. Zawlaidi is believed to possess the power to enable anyone who used it to make another person fall in love with him/her. The winery is present in a small village Hnahlan in Champhai district of Mizoram. Zawlaidi ranges in strength from 13-18% alcohol content by concentration. After the prohibition on alcohol and spirits was partially lifted, this intoxicant hit Tripura with a thunder.


A drink made from cashew apples in Goa (alcohol content- 43-45%) This drought is made of cashew nut apples and coconut sap, which tells us the story of the Goan ingenuity. Feni is strong smelling liquor from Goa. The Portuguese brought the Cashew nut trees to Goa, and the folks discovered a way of converting the fruit into spirit. The juice produced through the extraction process is known as ‘neero’ and is refreshing to drink, however it is not used in the fermentation process generally for making Feni. It is classified as ‘country liquor’ and thus only sold in Goa, where it is produced. One can drink Feni straight, or use it as a flavoring agent in cocktails, or with soda; it is fruity and nutty, and pale yellow in colour. Those with low-tolerance are suggested sticking to the fruit. The double-distilled alcoholic drink has about 43- 45% alcohol content.


The intoxicant offered to Goddess Kaali (alcohol content- 60-75%) Bangla is traditional spirit from West Bengal. It is the intoxicant offered to Goddess Kaali. This alcohol can prove to be a little dangerous to consume because of the spurious contents. Country liquor is made in a distillery from low-grade molasses, which is often used as cattle feed. Yeast is added to the molasses and fermented, and the brew is then distilled in a covered pot. Water or Soda maybe added to reduce the alcohol concentration from 60-75% to 40- 50%. Bangla is sold in bottles or by the glass in polythene sachets. The heavy drinkers typically take Bangla also known as Chullu regularly, but others choose to drink it only on special occasions. Chullu, country liquor also serves as a currency in social rituals and as a payment in transactions.

Sekmai Yu

A drink of rice from Manipur (alcohol content- 5-15%) In Manipur from time immemorial, both fermented and distilled beverages are being prepared by fermenting different kinds of rice. The local liquor Sekmai Yu is prepared in different communities of Manipur, but restricted to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the preparation of the local liquor the quality and quantity are major factors. It is controlled by the use of tasty rice, which produces good quality Sekmai Yu. On completion of the arduous task of processing this rice wine, it tastes as smooth as vodka. The amount of alcohol content produced increases with the increase in the quality of Hamei, up to a certain limit. Hamei is a major ingredient in the making of the spirit. The poor health condition of women due to irregular menstrual flow, infertility factors, obesity, loss of appetite, low nourishment of foods is regulated through this beverage. Often compared to the Japanese Saki, this drink has 5-15% percent alcohol level.


The fiery, much-coveted Ladakhi whisky (alcohol content- 50-70%) Arak/ Araq is an alcoholic spirit. It is a clear, colourless, unsweetened anise-flavoured distilled alcoholic drink. The Persian version of Arak does not contain anise, as it is usually produced from raisins, dates and/or sugarcane. Arak is the traditional alcoholic beverage in Ladakh. Arak can also be distilled from coconut palm sap, sugarcane, coconut and red rice. Arak ranges in strength from 50-70% alcohol content. Because many varieties of Arak are completely unregulated, they often end up being the strongest and cheapest drinks available in an area. Distillation begins with the vineyards, and the quality grapevines are the key to making good arak. For a quality arak, the finished spirit is aged in clay amphorae to allow the angel’s share to evaporate and thus the remaining liquid is the most suitable for consumption.


A local Spirit in Meghalaya (alcohol content- 70%) Kiad is another rice based alcoholic drink that tastes sweet. This popular local beer is an integral part of the social and cultural life of the ‘Pnar’ tribe of Jaintia hill district. Meghalaya’s own take on this local beer contains 70% of alcohol and is triple distilled. It is served in tall bamboo tumblers with a charcoal piece at the bottom to preserve its tart. It was introduced around the 1800s as a medicinal remedy for cuts and wounds. Due to its medicinal properties, the alcohol liquor is considered to be a powerful magical potent. The people in Meghalaya drink Kiad during naming ceremonies and babies are feed few drops too. The ritual comes out of the belief that by doing so, the infant grows to be healthy and strong.


Versatile Tripuri Whiskey (alcohol content- Langi 6-8%) Chuwarak is a distilled and versatile whiskey from the state of Tripura. This intoxicant is produced through an elaborate process. Its versatile nature allows for a variety of raw materials to be used like rice, pineapple, jackfruit and local ingredients like ‘tokhiseleng’ leaves and ‘thakotor’ leaves. It is said that Tripuri alcohol is the safest in the world, as no death due to its consumption has been recorded or reported. The preparation of Chuwarak is a tedious process, and it takes almost 24 hours for preparation. One has to be very sincere and attentive during the process. There are several taboos that must be observed. Langi a variety of Chuwarak has the least alcohol content of 6-8%. It is usually drunk on social occasions of any Tripuri ceremony as a ritual.


Important part in Sikkimese marriages (alcohol content- 5-7%) Raksi is Sikkimese liquor and has a very important part in marriages. Limoo priests consume this concoction before participating in the process of possession of souls. Drinking of locally fermented beverages and distilled alcoholic drinks is the social provision among many ethnic Himalayan people. It is clear distilled liquor made after fermenting and distilling cereals. Raksi is a stimulator alcoholic drink, which has both social and medicinal importance in the food culture of the people from the Himalayan region.


The local beverage of Hyderabad (alcohol content- unknown until experienced) Gudamba is a local beverage of Hyderabad. It is said to be illicit liquor made of sugarcane. It is important for one to exercise caution in procuring it because of the high chances of bogus and unauthentic content. The main ingredient in Gudamba is the infamous Black jaggery, which is a byproduct and the most impure form of jaggery. The alcohol content is quite high and one must be vigilant before its consumption.

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