History of Wine from Ancient India

Did you know that the alcoholic drinks you consume today had origin in ancient India? Beverage made from malted Barley were brewed in Sindh-Punjab region over 4,000 years ago? Red wines such as Syrah and Shiraz are based on ancient Indo-Aryan drink called Sura? ... moonshine Rum was distilled from sugarcane Punjab-Haryana region for over a thousand years, and Mead, a Norse beverage made from honey, was called Madhu or Madira, the favorite drink of our ancestors?

Distillation in Indus Valley

In Indian subcontinent, the earliest sign of alcohol production comes from the Indus Valley Civilization. The people living in the region that comprises modern India and Pakistan, practiced both fermentation and distillation of beverages using sweet and starchy items. Distillation vessels have been found from the ruins of Indus Valley.
Distillation equipment from ancient India
Humankind's first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred as an accident. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication. In Iran of all countries, where alcohol consumption is now punishable by whipping, the American scientist found vessels containing the first evidence of prehistoric beer. At first he puzzled over the purpose of the bulbous vessels with wide openings found in the prehistoric settlement Godin Tepe. Previously known wine vessels all had smaller spouts.
Beer Vessels - Godin Tepe (Iran)
McGovern was also perplexed by crisscrossed grooves scratched into the bottoms of the containers. In the laboratory, he isolated calcium oxalate, known to brewers as an unwanted byproduct of beer production. Nowadays, breweries can filter the crystals out of their brew without any difficulty. Their resourceful predecessors, working 3,500 years B.C., scratched grooves into their 50-liter (13-gallon) jugs so that the tiny stones would settle out there. McGovern had discovered humankind's first beer bottles.

Indra, the Drinking God of Rigveda

Rigveda, the oldest of Indian scriptures, describes Indra, the King of Aryan Gods who conquered North-West India from the native "Dasa" as addicted to alcohol. After suffering losses at the hands of Asuras (Assyrians), Indra has ceased to be worshiped and took to alcohol. His wife, Indrani taunts him for being alcoholic and obese. She chides him to get up and take his place as king of Gods or she will go with another God. Here are some excerpts from Rigveda:
We strain Soma, the intoxicating draught, which is drunk chiefly by Indra. 
Indra consumes a whole roasted bull; and his thirst then assumes such proportions that he drains three lakes of Soma.
He drinks more than a buffalo. His belly is compared to a pond in which there is room or the most enormous quantities of drink.
He cannot wait until he gulps down cask and faucet and all. He staggers about at the sacrificial feast, tottering like a boat in the water, and receives the honorable title Mthwroastar, the reeling archer.
Indra, the pot-belly God of Rigveda
Hymns praising Soma constitute the 9th mandala of the Rig Veda which is devoted to the purification of Soma. The Rigveda lists a set of rules to guide prudent drinking. It prohibits alcohol for Brahmins and students, but allows it for the Gods and Kshatriyas. 

Alcohol in Ramayana

The Kshatriya (Khatri) royalty was forbidden to drink grain-based liquors as its the drink of the peasants. Instead, they enjoyed Maireya, a wine made out of fruits and flowers with a natural sugar base. This is the drink offered to Sita by Rama in the Valmiki Ramayana. And later, with hands folded in benediction, Sita offers a thousand pots of the alcoholic drink Sura along with meat cooked with rice to the great river goddess Ganga, upon their safe return to Ayodhya after exile.
Sura Ghat Sahastrena mans bhutodanen cha 
Yakshye tvam preeyatam devi, pureem punrupagata (Ayodhya Kand-89)

Alcohol in Mahabharata

Even in Mahabharata , many places alcoholic beverages are mentioned. For example, In Virata Parva Draupadi disguises herself as "Sairandhri", was ordered to bring wine by queen Sudheshna (Queen of Virata) from the palace of her brother and the villain of the chapter.

उभौ मध्वासवक्षिप्तावुभौ चन्दनरूषितौ ।
स्रग्विनौ वरवस्त्रौ तौ दिव्याभरणभूषितौ ॥
(I saw) both of them (Krishna and Arjuna) drunk with Madhvâsava (sweet spirituous liquor made from honey), both adorned with sandal paste, garlanded, and wearing costly garments and beautiful ornaments.” (Mahabharata - Udyoga, LVIII. 5)

Drink of the Gods - Surah

Surāh (Sanskrit and Pāli; Devanāgarī: सुरा) is a alcoholic beverage made from grapes with its origin in Indo-Aryan Persia. It was drunk by the Xšāyaθiya (Ancient Persian) or Kshatriyas (Sanskrit), the élite warrior class. 
Kalals making Sura from Grapes in Northern Pakistan
Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown originally in Persia and used primarily to produce red wine. The term Sharab comes by combining two Persian words "Shar" and "Aab" meaning the water from Shiaz region of ancient Persia indicating a red wine. 

Legends claim the Syrah grape originated in Shiraz and then was brought to Rhône 1,800 years ago. Œnologie Française, an old book written in 1826 states that, "according to the tradition of the neighborhood, the plant [Scyras] was originally brought from Shiraz in Persia, by one of the hermits of the mountain" called Gaspare de Stérimberg."

Soma, the drink of Seers

Soma (Sanskrit: सोम) or haoma (Avestan) is a Vedic ritual drink of importance among the early Indians. In the Persian literature Avestan of the same period, Haoma has the entire Yasht 20 and Yasna 9–11 dedicated to it. By contrast, the drinking of Soma, a spirit-like beverage, was regarded a high privilege and its consumption was restricted to nobles and saints, seers or holy men . Is said to have been prepared by pressing the sap from an as-yet unidentified plant to obtain a juice that was mixed with water, milk or honey.

In my opinion, Soma is none other than Bhang, a drinkable preparation of cannabis. It was used in drink as early as 1000 B.C. in the Indian subcontinent. Using mortar and pestle, the buds and leaves of cannabis are ground into a paste which can be added to foods. For a beverage it is mixed with milk and filtered, then often flavored with kusha grass, sugar, fruit, and various spices. Bhang is drunk as a holy drink during festivals such as Shivratri and Holi. Orthodox Sikh warriors, known as Nihangs also partake Bhang during Hola Mohalla.

Madhu, the drink of Elite

Madhu (Hindustani: मधु or مدهو) is a word used in several Indo-Aryan languages meaning Mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey. The related terms mad (मद, مد) and madira (मदिरा, مدِرا), also mean the same. These words are all derived from the Sanskrit language, and are Indo-European cognates of the English mead, Greek μέθυ, Avestan madu, Persian may, Latvian and Lithuanian medus, German Met and Old Church Slavonic мєдъ (medŭ).
Mead - Norse Viking Legend
The first known mention of honey based wines in Indian subcontinent comes from the 4th Century writings of Chanakya, the renowned royal adviser to the emperor Chandragupta Maurya. In his writings, Chanakya condemns the use of alcohol while chronicling the emperor and his courts frequent indulgence of alcoholic beverage  known as Madhu. The wine bars were known as Madhushala in ancient India.

Sharab, the drink of the Mughals

Moghul emperor Akbar’s son, Jehangir, was a hearty consumer of wine and drank well and long. His successor, Shah Jahan, was a moderate drinker, but Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son, was a religious fanatic and teetotaler. His unmarried sister Jahanara, however, liked her glass of wine.
Jahan Ara, the Mughal Princess

Lost Heritage

Sadly, the ancient art of wine making and distilling alcohol in traditional way has disappeared in India. Kalals, the ancient winemakers of India have disappeared over time. Both the Buddha and Mahavir, the founder of the Jain religion, discouraged the use of alcohol, as did Shankaracharya, the great mystic and philosopher of Hinduism in the 9th Century. Islamic rule in medieval India forbade the consumption of alcohol. Sikhism also forbids consumption of intoxicants.

Alcohol consumption is prevalent in modern India and Pakistan but people drink western beverages like, beer, mead, wines, or spririts without knowing that most of these have their origin in ancient India.

Alcohol Problem in Sikh Communities

Studies have shown that men born in India but living in Britain have higher than expected treated prevalence rates of alcohol-related disorders. A community survey of random samples of 200 each of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu men and 200 white English-born men, concluded that heavier levels of alcohol consumption were reported by Sikhs and Hindus born in India than by Sikhs and Hindus born in Britain. Among regular drinkers Sikhs had higher average Alcohol Problem Scale Scores than did white men or Hindus.

SIKHS could do more to protect young people in the community from becoming addicted to alcohol, doctors, community workers and recovering alcoholics have said, as figures show a rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths among those aged over 50. Parents need to be aware of this issue and educate their young on healthy habits and moderation in alcohol consumption.


  • https://scroll.in/article/834765/from-the-vedic-age-to-the-mughals-and-the-raj-the-colourful-history-of-alcohol-consumption-in-india
  • http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/alcohol-s-neolithic-origins-brewing-up-a-civilization-a-668642.html
  • https://www.quora.com/Were-alcoholic-beverages-and-wine-available-during-Ramayana-and-Mahabharata
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p058dh8y
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2378993
  • https://www.easterneye.eu/drink-addiction-rife-among-young-old-sikh-community/
  • https://www.geni.com/surnames/walia
  • https://medium.com/@nayadaurpk/spirits-having-flown-a-pictorial-history-of-alcohol-consumption-in-pakistan-a34ad435e0e1
  • https://www.dawn.com/news/1214128
  • https://www.dawn.com/news/1049725
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soma_(drink)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhang


  1. in iran use of homemade wine is widespread, lot of households make and consume; it is prohibited in public places; it is so popular that even mullahs cannot stop it

    1. in my view: it was the original rigvedic soma, later as haoma, as described in rigveda 8.48.1. Sweet, nourishing, both as drink and food. In very much later times the original rigvedic soma seems to have exploded ethymologically. see: rigvedischersoma.de
      you delete this again? Would not be surprised of. of course, as expected it was

  2. Of course, madhu in rigveda was honey, partly intoxicating and hallucinogenic honey harvested from tall trees or rocks... see rigvedischersoma.de

  3. Why do you not take rigvedic 8.48.1 literally? There rigvedic soma was definitely honey. If you cannot believe, please have a look at honey hunters in Nepal, "harvesting" sweet, nourishing drink or food with sometimes already intoxicating properties?
    I suppose you delete this as usual - but I have at least printed it before deletion.

    1. I agree.Wine,the real one is from sweet fruits.Iven't come across such specific mention yet neither from grspes.Hence my surmise is,at the most we had Mead in wine family.Rest of alcohols were of beer,gin,vodka and of rum class.Wines came thru Persian visitors,businessmen contemporary or post Alexander.We thereby went on generalising all alcohols as wine.I have my stronh doubts in nsming Soma,Sura too as wine.Madeira,post Alex may be bit nearer.Influence or direct imports from Persia,Georgia and then since 15th century,traders,adventurers of Europe,Spain Portugal, Holland,France and finally England.(+91 9321147797)

    2. even at the risk that you delete it again:
      rigvedic soma was madhu = honey as said in rigveda 8.48.1
      it was drink, food, intoxicating, hallucinogenic, the drink of rigredic gods
      harvested as even today from tall trees or from the rock

  4. Excellent piece of research work.my investigative study on,History of Wines in India,last 600 yearsgot substantial support.Thanks.Founder,CEO,Apex Wine Club India,Mumbai.(+91 9321147797)

  5. this time you were faster: you could delete my comments before public insight - true interchange?

  6. Thanks a lot for the extensively researched work! Great job.


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