Sīdhu (Śīdhu): the Sugar Cane “Wine” of Ancient and Early Medieval India





alcohol, medicine, ayurveda, india, Sanskrit


This article considers the nature of one particular drink made from sugar cane called sīdhu (usually m., also śīdhu), exploring the evidence from textual sources. Other drinks were made with sugar cane products, such as āsavas, medicinal ariṣṭas, and the drink called maireya, but I will not consider those here.   As I argue, sīdhu was the basic fermented sugar cane drink, not strongly characterized by additives—“plain” sugar-wine as it were. Though in a manner typical of premodern Indic alcohol culture, even this one drink was a complex and variable affair. Rather than consider this drink in medical sources alone—important as that evidence may be—my methodology here is to examine the history of this drink in the light of a wide range of textual evidence, placing this drink in the broad context of pre-modern South Asian drinking culture.


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Author Biography

James McHugh, University of Southern California

James McHugh studies the cultural and material history of pre-modern India. He works on classical and early medieval Indian materials, mainly working with Sanskrit texts. His first book, "Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture" (Oxford University Press, 2012) is about is the sense of smell and the use of aromatics in South Asian religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. He is currently working on a second book: "An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian Religion and History" (under contract with Oxford University Press), about alcohol in South Asian history and religions. This book will draw on textual, art-historical, and ethnographic research into drinking. He also has an interest in the history of gemstones and magic in South Asia.

Chester Beatty Library, Public Domain




How to Cite

McHugh, James. 2020. “Sīdhu (Śīdhu): The Sugar Cane ‘Wine’ of Ancient and Early Medieval India”. History of Science in South Asia 8 (May). Edmonton, Canada:36-56. https://doi.org/10.18732/hssa.v8i.58.