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From the most ancient books of the Hindus, and the hereditary profession and usages of some classes, it is evident that intoxicating liquors have always to some extent been manufactured and used in India. Distillation was practised more than three thousand years ago, the ancient Aryans making an inebriating juice of the Soma or “moonplant,” which they thought an acceptable beverage both to gods and men, even for purposes of intoxication as well, as exhilaration, and which was in common use in Vedic times.

The Soma juice is spoken of as exhilarating to the gods, who are invited to drink of it freely and are represented as intoxicated by it. “Thy inebriety is most intense,” says the Rishi to Indra, “nevertheless thy acts for our good are most beneficent.” The Soma drink was the most important portion of the offering.

“It was made from the juice of a creeper {Sarcostemma viminalis), diluted with water, mixed with barley meal, clarified butter, and the meal of wild rice, and fermented in a jar for nine days. The starchy substance of the meal supplied the material for the vinous fermentation, and the Soma juice the part of hops in beer. Its effects on gods and men were those of alcohol.”(“The Vedic Religion,” by Macdonald, p. 41.) In the Puranas also, of more modern composition, Siva is represented as drunken in his habits and his eyes inflamed with intemperance.

That the use of ardent spirits in India was very ancient may also be inferred from the Institutes of Manu, in which regulations for the classes of distillers and vendors of spirits are laid down with much particularity. Almost all nations, indeed, have at an early period discovered the way of procuring alcohol from grain, fruits, or vegetable juices. So in various parts of India the aboriginal races largely distil or ferment strong drink from the cocoanut, sago, date, and palmyra palms, from sugar or rice; or in the great forests of India, from the dried flowers of the Bassia latifolia; and this has been their custom from time immemorial.

The common fermented drink is called kallu or toddy (Hindustani and Sanskrit, tadi) the vinous sap of the palm, drawn in North Travancore, from the cocoanut tree, by the Ilavars and Chogans; in the South from the palmyra by the Shanars. It ferments after standing for a few hours in the heat of the day; and spoils, turning into sour vinegar, in two or three days. Of this pleasant sub-acid drink the people say that a pint, or a pint and a half, will intoxicate a man. It is generally employed for yeast in making wheaten bread and rice cakes.

Arrack is an ardent spirit, transparent and colourless like gin, abundant and cheap throughout India. It is, properly speaking, rum, being distilled from palmsugar with a small quantity of acacia bark — or from the fermented sap of the palm.

To distil spirits jaggery or unrefined sugar is broken up and put in water to ferment along with the bark for four days; then the whole is boiled in an earthen pot, the vapour being caught at the top in a tube of bambu and carried on so as to fall into another pot, or into some condensing vessel placed in cold water. Distillation is effected in half a day. Sometimes the first product is re-distilled. When manufactured from toddy, a quantity, say eight edungalies is taken on the second day after being drawn from the tree, put in a large earthen pot on an oven.

On the top of this a small earthen pan, having three holes at the sides, is placed, and over this a brass pot containing cold water. The edge of the intermediate vessel is tightly secured with cloths so as to retain the vapour, and from a hole in one side a pipe is fixed to convey the spirits into a bottle. The cold water in the upper vessel, which is open to the air and used for condensing, is renewed from time to time as it becomes heated, until the whole quantity is distilled. Women generally attend to this work. Ten quarts of toddy will yield about two of proof spirits.

A small quantity of the first product of the distillation must be thrown away, being sour and hurtful. The first bottle drawn will be first-rate arrack; the second bottle, second quality; the value respectively twelve and ten chuckrams; total twenty-two chuckrams, of which the profit to the distiller will be about five chuckrams. Less than a chuckram’s worth will intoxicate some men.

To make the very best arrack, toddy and arrack are mixed together and distilled. The people believe that it is in order to impart a strong intoxicating quality that the bark of karinja (Acacia letuophloea) is added; but Brandis, in his ‘’Forest Flora,” p. 184, says that it is added on account of the tannin it contains, in order to precipitate the albuminous substances of the palm juice.

On the East Coast, spirits are more commonly distillied from a mixture of rice-flour, sugar and toddy, so that the Government dues are fixed with some reference to the market price of rice. The spirits produced are not considered equal in purity and excellence to those distilled from palm-juice or sugar alone on the Western Coast.

The first introduction of intemperance into India, it will be obvious, is not by any means to be laid to the charge of the European nations. The manufacture and use of such liquors is quite indigenous, and native stimulants are probably more injurious than European drinks. But besides the native habit amongst the lower classes of the population, the early European navigators also unfortunately brought the evil custom and example with them. Canter Visscher, writing about A.D. 1723, says that for strong drink in general the Portuguese have no taste.

“The Dutch, on the contrary, drink to such an extent as to expose themselves to the reproaches of the Portuguese and the Natives : the English are liable to the same imputation.”

Drinking of spirits, according to the modern system of Brahmanical Hinduism, is a great sin; yet this view of matters is not supported by caste discipline, except in rare cases. Bartolomeo speaks of a well-meant attempt of the King of Travancore in 1787 to prohibit the use of cocoanut brandy under pain of the confiscation of property; the smoking of ganja hemp and use of opium were at the same time forbidden. This measure could not, however, have been long maintained or effective, when so large a proportion of the people used these drugs, or were dependent on the profits of their manufacture and sale.

Revenue from tax on the sale of intoxicating liquors appears to have been very ancient, and to have existed under Mussulman and Hindu governments. In Travancore the Abkari or Excise Department was originally under the Amani system, the Dew in having the chief management of its affairs and the revenue being collected by a staff for the purpose. After M.E. 1010 (1834) it was leased out to the highest bidder, and a fixed number of shops were allowed to each contractor, who collected the monthly instalment of rent from sub-renters or the retailers. Each shop vendor of spirits paid annually two pagodas.

The farmer of the duty at that time was bound to purchase toddy and Akkani (the sweet sap of the palm newly drawn) from the ryots at the rate of two chuckrams per pot, containing ten edungalies, and to sell this at from four to five chuckrams a pot; and arrack at eight and six chuckrams respectively for the first and second qualities. He was to erect shops for the retail trade, and to see that liquor was sold only within the prescribed limits.

The present system in force for the collection of Abkari revenue is prescribed in Regulation I. of M.E. 1054.

The whole is under the direct management of the DewAn, who has power to assign by license the exclusive privilege of manufacture or sale of all spirituous and fermented liquors to suitable renters or others, under proper restrictions, and to determine the places at which stills and shops shall be erected, the number of such in each locality, the prices at which liquor shall be sold and the measures to be used; also the transfer or closing of shops. No shops or stills to be opened or built within the limits of any principal town or other populous place. Excepting foreign liquors for private consumption, more than one imperial quart is not to be in the possession of any unlicensed person at one time. Drunkenness and riot are forbidden; also adulteration and illicit distillation.

The Abkari and Opium contracts are determined by competition, and are usually taken, the former by Ilavars and the latter by Syrians. The revenue from this source has steadily and largely augmented. The amount collected in M.E 1010 was 42,584 rupees, which rose in M.E. 1014 to 47,372 rupees. In M.E. 1037, it had risen to 78,000 rupees, and the next year to 87,000 rupees, not varying much from this sum until M.E. 1045, 91,000 rupees, and the next year 100,000 rupees; then it has rapidly mounted up since, as follows : —

M.E. 1047 (including 10,000 rupees for opium) 108,658 rupees.

M.E. 1048 „ „ „ „ 122,447 „

M.E. 1050 Abkari alone 146,781 „

M.E. 1052 „ 159,250 „

M.E. I054 “ 171,648 „

M.E. 1056 » 190,041 „

This makes an average of 1 anna 3 pice per head of the total population for revenue alone and the expenditure on intoxicating liquors must, of course, be many times greater, but no particulars are given in the published reports. To this must be added foreign wines and spirits imported, a considerable proportion of which would be for consumption by Europeans and Eurasians; and which amounted in M.E. 1056 to 2,462 gallons. To this add licenses for the sale of foreign liquors, realizing during the year the sum of 1,206 rupees.

It may still be averred with truth that there is not a great amount of intemperance among the population of Travancore, and there is not much visible drunkenness, as in some European towns. Still there is more than formerly, and sufficient cause appears for anxiety and regret lest this debasing vice should increase both amongst Native Christians, to whom this may be a considerable temptation, and Hindus of the lower, and even of the higher orders.

All over India the lower classes drink. The excise revenue is steadily advancing in its returns to Government, partly through better plans for its collection, and partly in consequence of the increased use of intoxicants. In 1879-80 the aggregate excise collections from all the provinces of British India for licenses and distillery fees and duties levied only on the manufacture and sale of intoxicating spirituous liquors and drugs, including opium, amounted to £ 2,838,021, an average of 2 annas 21/2 pice per head of the total population of British India, taking it at 200 millions.

To this must be added malt liquors, spirits and wines, probably a large part of which is for European consumption, value £ 1,306,113, the customs duty on which is not separately given. The excise income of the Madras Presidency is about 62 lacs of rupees for 31 millions of population, say 3 annas 2 pice per head.

It is to be feared that drinking habits and the use of European wines and spirits are spreading amongst the educated and wealthy classes of natives. I have heard a thoughtful Brahman gentleman complain of this evil as existing amongst students, at Combaconum through the too free and inconsiderate recommendation of alcohol as a medicinal agent by European physicians. Probably the use of wines and spirits for luxury or medicine must inevitably spring from the increase of wealth and intellectual labour, whether this increase came from external contact with European nations or from internal sources. But such habits’ need to be counteracted and controlled by moral principle and a constant sense of their great danger, and they cannot but prove on the whole a vast evil to the Hindus in even greater degree than they have proved to the more muscular, active, and high-fed European nations.

Already cases are known of disease and death brought on by intemperance. “European brandy is the curse of most of the rich idle men, and the evil seems increasing rather than diminishing. They are forbidden by their Shastras to indulge in strong drink of any kind; consequently all they take is in private after dark. They sometimes shut themselves up for days with the enemy close at hand, and feign sickness, so that their drunken state should not be found out”.

As to other classes we have the testimony of Connor’s “Memoir of the Survey,” written about sixty years ago. “Most classes (nor have the Brahmans quite escaped the imputation) indulge in the use of spirits; the temptation is great, as it is so easily indulged, the quantity purchased by a few copper coins being sufficient to intoxicate. Like all other natives, their potations are unsocial, the harsh spirit sufficient for the purposes of their coarse intemperance being more calculated to produce oblivion rather than conviviality : the better ranks, too, are addicted to the use of soporifics (particularly opium), a vice by no means uncommon even amongst the Christians (Syrians), whose pastors are not proof against its allurements; but the placid intoxication it produces is not followed by ferocity, nor do their orgies, however intemperate, ever end in riot.”

The Hill tribes are constantly in distress through the prevalence of drunkenness, and instances have occurred in which European planters or sportsmen have thoughtlessly given them brandy, forgetting that the use of strong drink is almost death to such races, who have little self-restraint or knowledge of moral duty in this matter. Coolies employed on coffee estates are also often exposed to great temptation from liquor shops.

The Hill people suffer much injury from Muhammadan dealers, who set them to drink, let them finish the whole, and can then take what they like out of their houses. Pariahs and Chucklers also drink and quarrel much. Pulayars drink excessively at their harvest festivals, and on other special occasions.

Shanars have often been remarked as abstaining as a caste from intoxicating liquors, and we trust they will retain their reputation for sobriety, especially with the advantages of Christian instruction and discipline, which so many of them are now blessed with. Yet instances of intemperance again and again occur amongst them, such as that mentioned by the Rev. W. Lee in his report for 1867.

“In the village of Santhayadi a rich heathen Shanar was a confirmed drunkard. On one occasion when I went to the village, as a little child of his was being educated in our school I called to see him. I found him locked up in one of the rooms of his house, with his feet in fetters, to restrain him from gratifying his frightful propensity for drink. I induced his sons to knock off the fetters, and come with him to the sanctuary. His case was made a subject for special prayer by the congregation, and he was induced to make a solemn promise that he would henceforth abstain from drinking. During the year which has elapsed he has not even once yielded to temptation, and has continued regularly to attend Divine service.”

Amongst the ancient Syrian Christians who are thus referred to by Lieutenant Connor, less intemperance appears to exist now than in the beginning of the century. Still the evil is present and serious. At Kandenad I was grieved to witness much drinking on their Easter Sunday in 1878, those who had partaken of the holy communion on the previous Thursday, according to their rule, now screaming, yelling, and fighting after the long Lenten fast of fifty days, during which many keep from drunkenness, bursting out again when the time has expired.

Having thus kept right for some weeks, they are allowed to partake, then indulge in excesses and riot. I have seen wine, too, offered as a beverage at a native marriage feast, a most dangerous custom to introduce in India, while it is being got rid of by thoughtful people in England for the sake of the public good.

Amongst the Roman Catholic fishermen there appears to be a good deal of intemperance. Towards Anjengo, drunkenness is said to be very prevalent, chiefly amongst Ilavars and Roman Catholic Christians. Several may be seen intoxicated in a single day. Even children learn early to drink, going with their parents and getting a little from them.

Complaints are also made by our Mission Catechists of trouble in the management of some congregations from the drinking customs of neighbouring people, or even of attendants on their ministry. Of these, and of the earnest efforts put forth by the mission teachers to rescue the unfortunate victims of intemperance, and the good result of their labours, the following quotations may be made in conclusion of this chapter : —

‘At the beginning of the year,’ writes an Evangelist, ‘one difficulty seemed to my sight insurmountable; it was the constant quarrelling of the people living near the chapel. Their nearness to the chapel would lead everybody to suppose they were Christians, and I was under that impression at first; but with the exception of one, all are heathens.

They were addicted to drinking; and every baneful effect which intoxicating drink produces manifested itself amongst them. Often I was tempted to despondency, supposing that all my efforts would be in vain; but I am glad to record that, although they may not be wholly converted to God, they have undergone a great moral change, and the village is now calm and peaceful. They are ashamed of their previous misconduct. There was one family, however, which long withstood all my efforts. The chief man of the family and his wife were both drunkards, and foremost in impiety and quarrelling with others.

One day there was a great contention in the family. Every one was in the highest fit of angry passion. Immediately I ran to them, lest any mischief should happen, and addressed the father emphatically, as he was the leader and cause of all the disturbances. ‘My friend, you are marching to a shameful and ignominious death. You are on the road to ruin, the road which leads to shame and misery. Drink, the curse of millions, leads you on the way as it has led others. Drink, first blinding you, takes you by the hand and leads you step by step on the way, which assuredly ends in everlasting destruction.’ This solemn truth, timely spoken, was impressed deeply upon the hearts of the old man and his wife. The quarrels and brawls have entirely ceased, and they are now improving in worldly circumstances. Some of them now attend the services at the house of God.”

Again, a native missionary writes: — “At Puliady, the last time I visited the congregation, observing a better attendance of the people at Divine Service, I inquired into the reason. ‘It is owing to the co-operation of Caleb with the catechist,’ replied the people. ‘This man,’ said the catechist, ‘goes among his friends, crying out, “Dear friends, you know what a drunkard I have been — what a terror to the village. Few escaped my abusive language day and night. I paid no regard to the earnest remonstrances and advices of my catechist and other friends, and was more than once handed over to the police, to my great shame; but still I would not give up the arrack. Many a time the catechist knelt down in prayer with me for Divine mercy : but I went on as naughtily as ever in my self-murdering career; when one night I got so drunk that while staggering homewards I tumbled into a dung-pit, and lay there insensible all night. In the morning as soon as I came to my senses I ran hastily to the distiller’s house, resolved to drink more than ever.

There I was met by my uncle, who, having heard of what befell me the previous night, shed tears over me, and very earnestly addressed me :

‘O son, the only offspring and hope of our family — how is it that you have turned out such a sot? I am deeply solicitous about you, and beseech you not to kill yourself in this way and plunge me and our family into grief and misery.’

These words entered deeply into my heart. I felt I could not stay longer in the arrack shop; and went home at once strongly convinced of the evil effects of drinking. Increasing terror and thoughtfulness seized me during the restless night, a great part of which I passed in earnest prayer to God for mercy. The prayer-hearing God listened to my poor entreaties and graciously worked the change which you now witness in me.

A Temperance Society was formed at Nagetcoil by Mr. Duthie and his native friends, as an additional means of combined effort in this direction.

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