The origins of alcoholic drinks in the Indian subcontinent date back to the Indus Valley civilisation. Archaeologists have recovered pots and vats from excavation sites that point towards practices of fermentation and distilling. Historians suggest that almost all regions in India practised brewing and promoted a refined culture of ‘daru’ drinking, so much so that several royal families, especially the ones in Rajasthan, used to own and operate distilleries that produced premium-quality liquor.
That said, not much is known of these famous heritage brands today as most royal breweries stopped producing liquor after Independence and princely states were subsequently integrated into India and royal privileges were done away with. Now, a short documentary, Mahansar-The Royal Sip, sheds light on the lesser-known history of heritage liquor in Rajasthan. Directed by Aditya Sangwan, a filmmaker based in New Delhi, the 19-minute film talks about how Rajasthan’s rich tradition of heritage brews is making a comeback now, thanks to recent relaxations in the law.
Sangwan focuses on the story of Maharani Mahansar Heritage Liquor (MMHL), the only privately-held distillery of heritage liquor in Rajasthan. The other heritage brew factory, Ganganagar Sugar Mills, the oldest of its kind, is owned by the State government. “I’m from the Haryana-Rajasthan border and grew up listening to the folklore of the heritage brews of Rajasthan,” Sangwan told Frontline. “These interesting stories prompted me to dig deeper and it took us nearly five months of research to make the film.”
The documentary, which features the likes of Gaj Singh, former MP and Maharaja of Jodhpur, and Surendra Pratap Singh, former royal family member and currently director of Shekhawati Heritage Herbal, offers fascinating glimpses into the history of brewing in Rajasthan. Rules of the princely states used to run their own liquor units. Few had access to the premises and the ingredients that formed the basis of the unique liquors were a closely guarded secret, according to the documentary.
The royals ensured that the entire process of liquor-making was thoroughly monitored and meticulously executed. These were, interestingly, herbal or organic products and hence, many brands were popularised as health tonics and were prescribed widely as libido-boosters and immunity-enhancers. The documentary shows how various brands of heritage liquors were transported using containers made of clay on the back of camels from remote regions to royal courts in Bikaner, Bahawalpur, and Sindh.
According to Sangwan, such products are part of India’s rich culture and heritage and hence, they should be promoted not only as part of efforts to promote tourism but as an attempt to revive forgotten chapters in the country’s history. “When it comes to talking about liquor or intoxicating drinks, we Indians are a bit hypocritical,” said Sangwan. “This is not the case in, say, Europe or America. In those geographies, people take pride in promoting their brews, be it Scotch whiskey or tequila. We should also be proud of our rich heritage.”
Mahansar-The Royal Sip is available on YouTube.