Wine in Ancient India

Aug 2, 2012 by

I found an interesting old book originally published in 1922 called WINE IN ANCIENT INDIA by Dhirendra Bose.  It is a fascinating.  Here are a few paragraphs to give you a feel for it:

“The Vedas. Of all religious books of the Hindus the Vedas are the most respected and the most ancient. There are four Vedas, of which RigVeda is the chief. In the RigVeda we find mention of wine. Grog shops were in existence then. Wine or beer was stored up in leather vats for the use of the public (1. 191. 10). In the sacrifice called Sautramoni-yajna wine was drunk. But the chief intoxicating drink of those days was the Soma-juice. According to the Rig Veda the Golden-winged Hawk, brought Soma from the Heavens. (IX. 43-62) Soma-juice was the fermented milky juice of a creeper called Soma (Asclepias-acida or Sarcostemna viminale) a plant of the family of milk- weeds. It is described as having hanging boughs, bare of leaves along the stalks, of light, ruddy (or golden) colour with knotty joints, containing in a fibrous, cane-like outer rind, an abundance of milky acid and slightly astringent sap or juice. It is this juice which when duly pressed out and mixed with other ingredients and allowed to ferment yields the intoxicating sacrificial beverage. The process of preparation is given by Windischmann as : — ” the plants plucked up by roots, collected by moonlight on mountains are carried on a car drawn by two goats to the place of sacrifice where a spot covered with grass and twigs is prepared, crushed between stones by the priests and then thrown into a sieve of loose woollen weave, whereas, after the whole had been further pressed by the hand and the juice trickles into a vessel or kettle which is placed beneath.

The fluid is then mixed with sweet milk and sour milk or curds with wheaten and other flours and brought into a state of fermentation.” In this way the juice was kept for nine days to ferment. “The beverage is divine, it purifies, it is a water of life, gives health and immortality and pre- pares the way to heaven.” It was taken with butter, curd, milk, fried or parched grains. — Let me quote a few hymns of Rig V’eda about Soma “O Soma ! jour two leaves alternated and you attained a wonderful glory thereby.  3O Soma ! the leaves covered thee, a creeper on all sides, and you flourished in all seasons. O Soma 1 you have been crushed, you flow as a stream to Indra, scattering joy on all sides, you bestow immortal food.  Seven women stir thee with their fingers blending their voices in a song to thee, you remind the sacrificer of his duties at the sacrifice.” Another : — “Thou Soma art the real Lord, Thou King and Vrita slayer too. Thou art strength that gives success ; And Soma let it be thy will For us to live, nor let us die. Thou lord of plants, who lovest praise.” “Of all the drinks that Indra have, you are the most pleasant and intoxicating” . “This is Soma, who flows wine, who is strength giving ” About the intoxicating properties of this juice there are sufficient evidence in the Vedas. The poet of the RigVeda goes into ecstacy on the virtues and exhilarating powers of Soma. The chosen few, who partook it, give most vivid expression to the  state of exaltation of intensified vitality, which raised them above the level of humanity. It was surely as potent as wine. It was a divine liquor which gave the Gods strength and immortality without which they would lose their might, their eternal youth. This was the Amrita or ambrosia. There was a sacrifice in honour of Soma in which the juice was first offered to the gods after which the priest and sacrificing party partook of the juice themselves. Needless to say large quantities of juice were used. In the invocation we find “O Soma there is nothing so bright as thou. When poured out, thou welcomest all the gods, to bestow on them immortality”‘

A whole book is devoted to the praise of this juice and it is alleged that by the offering of the juice the gods were tempted out of the heavens ! Even the gods were not immune from disease, and the evils of intemperance were evident even among them. Indra, it is said drank so much once, that his stomach assumed huge proportions and saliva flowed freely from his mouth. And in the prayers to Soma we find an entreaty of this nature ” O Soma do not derange our stomach”  In Yayur Veda we find that Vishvarupa the son of Tuashtar, while performing the Soma sacrifice drank so much of the juice that he vomitted over the  sacrificial beasts ! We see from this that the Soma- juice was quite an ardent spirit. Soma was the vedic poets’ chief drink till the end of the period when barley beer was discovered. The original Soma plant did not grow in the Punjab and it had to be collected in the mountains (Hindu Kush) and brought over. So the status of Soma juice become changed. While Sura became the drink of the people, Soma, despite the fact that it was not so agreeable a liquor, became reserved for its old association, as the purest drink, a sacrosant beverage, not for the vulgar and not esteemed by the priest, except as it kept up a rite. In the Atharva-Veda we find in the after-life i. e. after death the devout are provided with seas of wine, butter, sugar, milk etc,”  Enjoy!



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