An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religion


ACLS Fellowship Program




Alcohol has always been an ambiguous substance in India. Medieval texts present intoxicating drinks as forbidden, addictive, and impure. Yet, other sources describe alcohol as nourishing and arousing. This project examines the history of alcohol in early and medieval India, combining textual work with some ethno-archaeological work in India. There are few studies of alcohol in India, and no monograph on the topic. Much previous scholarship has focused on prohibitions, ignoring the flourishing drinking culture of early India. By contrast, this study highlights pre-modern Indian drinking culture; documents the array of beverages and drinking practices; analyzes theories of the religious, legal, medical, social, and aesthetic aspects of drinking, and presents these materials from a comparative and theoretical perspective.