Ancient India and her beverages for the gods - Soma and Amrita

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The Indian subcontinent and it's alcoholic beverages date back the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation


Historians have found evidence of consumption of alcoholic beverages in The Indus Valley Civilization of the Chalcolithic Era, which is between 3000 BCE and 2000 BCE. Thus Indus Valley civilization is considered to be among the first few civilizations to discover the science of distillation.

Although some historians argue that distillation has been invented in Europe in the 12th century. Some also stated that Indians may not have the right ingredients to ferment, like grapes or barley so the reference is to distilled alcoholic beverage although references in Vedas do not categorically state that the beverages were distilled.

A counter argument is that Indians were into Alchemy since it's ancient past, which lead them to both fermentation and distillation of their alcoholic beverages. For the love of this distillation science it is said that Indians produce variety of drinks and perfumes from the very early stages of civilisation.




Indus Valley Pottery





Rigveda Ancient manuscript


Soma or Somrasa of the Rigveda


Rigveda the oldest of the known scripts from the Indian subcontinent, with hymns composed in around 1700 BCE, mentions of a probably intoxicating or psychoactive drink, Soma has been described by historians and Indic Scholars. Soma is a Vedic Sanskrit that literally means to distill, extract or sprinkle and is often connected to rituals. It is equivalent to the ancient Persian haoma. Soma was probably was intoxicating juice of a plant consumed fresh or distilled, the actual plant has not been identified yet, and there is a difference of opinion between historians and scholars and some point at the herb Somlata, while many point at different mushrooms and other plants capable of intoxications.

The other ancient reference of Alcoholic beverage in ancient India is of Sura, a strong distilled alcoholic beverage, referred to as an anaesthetic by Susruta ( a surgeon in india of around 400 BCE ), other medical treatise like Charaka Samhita also mentions Sura in it's book of ancient medicine.





 Sura, the drink of the Atharvaveda texts


The other ancient reference of Alcoholic beverage in ancient India is of Sura, a strong distilled alcoholic beverage, referred to as an anaesthetic by Susruta ( a surgeon in india of around 400 BCE ), other medical treatise like Charaka Samhita also mentions Sura in it's book of ancient medicine.

Many of the Vedic and post Vedic texts resources had documented and referenced the components of these alcoholic drinks, the process of brewing, the ingredients connected to brewing it. Vedic literature states that in ancient times alcoholic beverages where also consumed by the orthodox population.

In Buddhist texts, Sura is mentioned as one of the intoxicating drinks along with Maireya, a drink made from sugar cane and spices, and Majja or Madhu, which would be an equivalent of Mead. Buddhists texts refer to these fermented drinks that cause heedlessness as drinks to be abstained form as one of the Buddhist precepts of renunciation.

Susruta Samhita or Sahottara Tantra - a Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine Susruta Samhita or Sahottara Tantra - a Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine







Earthern Pottery -Taxila Museum Pakistan Earthen Pottery -Taxila Museum Pakistan




Distillation in the ancient Indian Republics


Distillation was also evident from baked clay retorts and receivers found at Taxila and Charsadda in modern Pakistan, dating back to the early centuries of the Common Era. These "Gandhara stills" were only capable of producing very weak liquor, as there was no efficient means of collecting the vapors at low heat

Distillation was known to ancient Indians, and that is evident from the baked clay retors and receivers found in Taxila and Charsadda, Taxila known for the eistence of the Taxila University, the oldest university of the world, established in around 1000 BCE.

Dating to the early centuries of the Common Era, baked clay retorts and receivers were excavated from Charsadda in Pakistan, from the site of Pushkalavati, the capital of the Mahajanapada Gandhara ( Mahajanapada were sixteen oligarchic republics on ancient India between 300 and 500 BCE ) .
These "Gandhara stills" were only capable of producing very weak liquor, as there was no efficient means of collecting the vapors at low heat.





Evidence beginning from excavations of the Indus Valley Civilisation of the 3000 BCE and right upto the evidence from the early Common Era India, clearly suggests knowledge of distillation and fermentation of alcoholic beverages using sweet and starch laden food like sugar cane and rice.





A foot note on Soma and Sura - the ancient elixirs of Vedic India


Soma


Soma is the juice extracted from a trunkless unidentified plant,used as an offering to the Vedic sacrifices. The stalks of the plant were pressed between stones and the extracted juice were filtered through sheep's  wool and then mixed with water and milk. After the offering, the rest of it were consumed by the priest and those that invoked the sacrifice. It was highly valued for its exhilarating, probably hallucinogenic, effect. - Britannica

Sushruta the ancient sage and doctor, in his famous medical compendium, the Sushruta Samhita, mentioned that one who consumes soma will be immortal thus this was also called “Amrita”. Apart from immortality, soma will stop ageing and the one who consumes soma, will be a master in all Vedas and will have the energy of a thousand elephants.

The Vedic soma also has similarities with the ancient Iranian Haoma. These two elixirs have some similarities like both were mountain plants considered to be from heaven.

"In post Vedic period soma is identified with Moon, which wanes when soma is drunk by the gods. "

Sura





Sura, an alcoholic beverage brewed from  rice, wheat, grapes, sugar cane and other fruits, was popular among the warriors and working class in ancient India. Sura was considered as an anesthetic in Sushruta Samhita.

Ancient Ayurveda and practitioners like Charaka, in his Charaka Samhita, one of the fundamental treatise on Indian Ayurveda, lists 84 alcoholic beverages made from fermented grains, sugar cane, honey, coconut tree sap, palmyra tree sap, various seasonal fruits such as grapes, mangoes, dates and Indian jujube.

Even alcoholic beverages from flowers like mahua and kadamba found place in his Samhita. Three distilled drinks were also mentioned, they were Sura, Madya and Sidhu.

The Vedas also have prescribed particular alcoholic beverage for classes. Brahmins and students for example, were prohibited from consuming Sura, the stronger distilled liquor, but they were allowed to consume Soma, since it was offered to the God.

In later texts, it can be seen that, the King of Heaven and the God of War, Lord Indra, is shown as the one drinking Sura before going to a war and eventually winning wars powered by Sura, which might indicate that Sura gained prominence and acceptance in the post Vedic period, and the teacher of the Asuras/Daityas( Asuram the mythological Titans or anti-Gods which had further clans namely Daityas ( Monsters )  and Danavas ( Giants)), Guru Shukracharya, the purest Brahmin, is depicted as a drinked of Sura. 

 

In the Valmiki Ramayana, Sita the wife of Lord Rama, was offered a special alcoholic drink by Rama, named Maireya. This was a spicy wine made from fruits and flowers with a natural sugar base. She it can be noted, was not served Sura, sincein ancient Indian class and caste hierarchy, Sura was not for the royalty and priestly class, but they could consume these wines like Maireya and Soma.

However in this epic it is also written that Sita, when they were banished from Ayodhya for fourteen years, had offered a thousands pots of the alcoholic drink Sura along with meat cooked with rice, to the great river goddess Ganga , upon their safe return. (Sura Ghat Sahastrena mans bhutodanen cha/Yakshye tvam preeyatam Devi, pureem punrupagata – Ayodhya Kand-89.)


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  • Any Glass

    When there is no specific glass suggested for a cocktail, it's up to you to chose a glass.
    Either you just go ahead and serve using any glass available to you following these simple rules
    A. Go for Tall or Collins Glasses, Highball Glasses or even Hurricane Glasses for cocktails with loads of non-alcoholic mixes, and those that require crushed or cubed ices,
    B. But if your cocktail is aromatic and liqueur based, and has a complex character that must reach the nose use a wide mouthed Cocktail Glass.
    C. Red Wine Glasses for cocktails that have a Red Wine as the base spirit. Red Wine Glasses have a wider mouth and a long stem, so that the wine can be swirled an aerated to release the aroma while the long stem keeps the fingers away and avoid quick warming of the wine.
    D. White Wine Glasses for cocktails with a White Wine base, since White Wines must not be aerated as much as a Red Wines, since they oxidise fast when in contact with air, White Wine glassware, in contrast to the wide mouthed bowl of a Red Wine Glassware, is narrow with a narrow mouth. A White Wine has much lighter and delicate notes and the narrow mouth and less surface area in contact with air helps retain the aroma.
    E. If your cocktail is based on a Sparkling Wine like Champagne then a Flute Glass is more suitable since a Sparkling Wine is a White Wine with a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, and the narrow mouth flute prevents the bubbles from escaping.
    F. If it's winter and you are in the mood for some hot cocktails like the Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy, go for the Irish Coffee Glass, it has a heat resistant glass and a handle.
    G. Martini Glasses for Martinis or "Tinis" in general, but since these glasses have fallen off of favour these days, a Cocktail Glass will be good too.
    H. IF you are serving Margaritas, don't look for Margarita Glass if you don't have one at home, Double Old Fashioned Glass or other glasses are more common these days, for serving Margaritas.
    I. If you are the adventurous one, and are serving shots or shooters, of course the Shot Glass is your choice of glass,
    J. Finally, if you are going all out and serving depth charges and car bomb shots, all you need is a Double Old Fashioned Glass or a Beer Mug for the beer and a shot glass to drop the bomb in.

  • Simple Guide to Cocktail Glassware

    When there is no specific glass suggested for a cocktail, it's up to you to chose a glass.
    Either you just go ahead and serve using any glass available to you following these simple rules
    A. Go for Tall or Collins Glasses, Highball Glasses or even Hurricane Glasses for cocktails with loads of non-alcoholic mixes, and those that require crushed or cubed ices,
    B. But if your cocktail is aromatic and liqueur based, and has a complex character that must reach the nose use a wide mouthed Cocktail Glass.
    C. Red Wine Glasses for cocktails that have a Red Wine as the base spirit. Red Wine Glasses have a wider mouth and a long stem, so that the wine can be swirled an aerated to release the aroma while the long stem keeps the fingers away and avoid quick warming of the wine.
    D. White Wine Glasses for cocktails with a White Wine base, since White Wines must not be aerated as much as a Red Wines, since they oxidise fast when in contact with air, White Wine glassware, in contrast to the wide mouthed bowl of a Red Wine Glassware, is narrow with a narrow mouth. A White Wine has much lighter and delicate notes and the narrow mouth and less surface area in contact with air helps retain the aroma.
    E. If your cocktail is based on a Sparkling Wine like Champagne then a Flute Glass is more suitable since a Sparkling Wine is a White Wine with a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, and the narrow mouth flute prevents the bubbles from escaping.
    F. If it's winter and you are in the mood for some hot cocktails like the Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy, go for the Irish Coffee Glass, it has a heat resistant glass and a handle.
    G. Martini Glasses for Martinis or "Tinis" in general, but since these glasses have fallen off of favour these days, a Cocktail Glass will be good too.
    H. IF you are serving Margaritas, don't look for Margarita Glass if you don't have one at home, Double Old Fashioned Glass or other glasses are more common these days, for serving Margaritas.
    I. If you are the adventurous one, and are serving shots or shooters, of course the Shot Glass is your choice of glass,
    J. Finally, if you are going all out and serving depth charges and car bomb shots, all you need is a Double Old Fashioned Glass or a Beer Mug for the beer and a shot glass to drop the bomb in.

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