By – Sathyakāmā Jabala

Intoxicant Consumption in Hinduism

Hinduism is perhaps the only religion in the world which has a deity of liquor called Varuni and a god like Shiva associated with Bhang (cannabis). Intoxicant consumption is not unknown in the Hindu society. In fact, intoxicants like Bhang and liquor have become ceremonial beverages during Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali. Bhang (hemp/cannabis) in the form of drink is widely consumed by Hindus during the festival Holi. Even Sadhus spent their lives smoking weed to please their lord Shiva. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wrote in his book Riddles in Hinduism, “The ancient Aryans were also a race of drunkards. Wine formed a most essential part of their religion. The Vedic Gods drank wine. The divine wine was called Soma. Since the Gods of the Aryans drank wine the Aryans had no scruples in the matter of drinking. Indeed, to drink it was a part of an Aryan’s religious duty…Who were denied Soma drank Sura which was ordinary, unconsecrated wine sold in the market. Not only the male Aryans were addicted to drinking but the females also indulged in drinking. The Kaushitaki Grihya Sutra I.11-12 advises that four or eight women who are not widowed after having been regaled with wine and food should be called to dance for four times on the night previous to the wedding ceremony.”

Consumption of liquor is clearly prohibited in Hindu scriptures and it is considered a great sin (Mahapataka) but some texts allows it on certain condition, moreover there are plenty of examples of Gods, Rishis and even Goddesses enjoying liquor. Some text even suggests the use of liquor for offering libation to Hindu deities. There are approximately 11 types of liquors mentioned in Hindu scriptures such as Sura which is made from grains and was perhaps the most popular drink back then, Maireya which is Rum and made from treacle or molasses, Paista which is made from rice, Madhvika made from flowers, Madhuka made from honey, Panasa taken from jack fruit, Draksa made from grapes, Khajura sambhava made from date fruits, Nalikeraja prepared from coconut palm, Gaudi prepared from molasses, Arista which is a fermented liquor made from soapberry. Wine is praised in various ways in Hinduism, As per Agni Purana 84.1-2 dreaming about ‘wine in the night preceding the day of ceremony, should be held as the most auspicious ones’, As per Srimad Bhagavatam 5.1.32-33 there are seven islands on Earth which are separated by seven oceans and the oceans are of salt water, sugarcane juice, wine, clarified butter, milk, curds and pure water.

Kumraila Bhatta a 7th century Hindu reformer observes, “Among the people of modern days we find the Brahmana women of the countries of Ahicchatra and Mathura to be addicted to drinking.” (Tantra-vartika, I.III.4). He condemned this practice in the case of Brahmins only, but not of Ksatriya and Vaisya men and women, if the liquor was distilled form fruits or flowers (Madhvi) and molasses (Gaudi) and not from grains (Sura). Madhavacharya in his Sankara Dig Vijaya Canto 15, verses 1-23 wrote that Adi Shankaracharya along with King Sudhanva travelled to Karnataka where they happened to confront Kapalikas a Shaivite sect who were engaged in drinking liquor in their worship like the Saktas. Then they had a debate on the issue. Which shows that Sadhus consumed liquor in 8th century also. Consumption of liquor by Kapalin (Shaivite sect of Hinduism) is much older than this, It is mentioned in Skanda Purana I.i.1.33-34 that Kapalins were engaged in drinking liquor. Liquor or cannabis consumption is not a taboo in the Shaivite sect because of that they are censured by Vaishnavite Hindus. Srimad Bhagavatam a Vaishnavite Purana censures Kapalins in the following way,

Srimad Bhagavatam 4.2.28-29 “One who takes a vow to satisfy Lord Śiva or who follows such principles will certainly become an atheist and be diverted from transcendental scriptural injunctions. Those who vow to worship Lord Śiva are so foolish that they imitate him by keeping long hair on their heads. When initiated into worship of Lord Śiva, they prefer to live on wine, flesh and other such things.” Tr. Swami Prabhupada

Swami Prabhupada wrote: “It is sometimes seen that devotees of Lord Śiva imitate the characteristics of Lord Śiva. For example, Lord Śiva drank an ocean of poison, so some of the followers of Lord Śiva imitate him and try to take intoxicants like gāñjā (marijuana). Here the curse is that if someone follows such principles, he must become an infidel and turn against the principles of Vedic regulation. It is said that such devotees of Lord Śiva will be sac-chāstra-paripanthinaḥ, which means “opposed to the conclusion of śāstra, or scripture.’…” Swami Prabhupada on Srimad Bhagavatam 4.2.28

Definition of Sura & Asura

Devas in Hinduism are also called Sura and their enemies i.e. Demons are called Asuras, In later texts like Itihaas and Purana the definition of Sura and Asura given is that the Devas were imbibers of wine hence they were called Sura (literally liquor) and the demons did not accept liquor hence they were called A-Sura. As per stories mentioned in Hindu texts, Varuni (liquor) was born during second churning of the ocean (Samundra Manthan) by Devas and Danavas. The Devas accepted her while the Danavas rejected her.

Brahmanda Purana, Lalita-Mahatmya 9.66-69 “When the ocean of Milk was once again churned by the Devas and Danavas, goddess Varuni with tremulous eyes on account of inebriety, rose up even as the Siddhas in the firmament began to think ‘What is this’? She smilingly stood in front of the Asuras. The Daityas did not accept her. Therefore, they become AsurasThey were given the appellation Asura in the sense ‘Those who do not have Sura (liquor)‘. Thereupon, she stood in front of Devas. On the direction given by paramesthin (Brahma) Deva joyously accepted her. In view of the fact that they accepted Sura, they became glorified by the appellation Sura.” Tr. Board of Scholars, edited by J.L. Shastri

Ramayana of Valmiki, Bala Kanda 1, Sarga 45, verses 36-37 “Oh, Rama, the sons of Diti, namely asuraa-s, have not espoused that daughter of Rain-god, but oh, brave Rama, the sons of Aditi on their part, namely sura-s, have espoused that impeccable Vaaruni. Thereby the sons of Diti are called a suraa-s, and the sons of Aditi are called suraa-s, and gods are delighted and rejoiced on espousing Vaaruni.” Tr. Desiraju Hanumanta Rao

Mahabharata mentions the vow of Asura which was to abstain from drinking alcohol,

Mahabharata Vana Parva 3, Section 255″…And I shall observe the Asura vow…” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

Kisari Mohan Ganguli writes, “The vow of the Asuras was (according to the Burdwan Pundits) never to drink wine…”

Varuni is the liquor deity of Hinduism, some texts call her the wife of Varuna, and some considers her the daughter of Varuna. Wine was born after churning of the ocean as per Hindu texts,

Mahabharata Udyoga Parva 5, Section 102 “…The gods, uniting with the Asuras, and making the Mandara mountain their pole, churned the waters of the ocean and obtained the wine called Varuni…” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

Mahabharata Udyoga Parva 5, Section 98 “…Behold now, O companion of the Lord of the celestials, that abode, made entirely of gold, and full of the wine called Varuni. Indeed, having obtained that wine, the gods acquired their god-heads…” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

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