Alcohol consumption can be traced back to times immemorial. There are examples of alcoholic drinks in every known human culture, and they are part of any kind of activity, from parties to religious procedures.
Very few things seem to be as much of a second nature to humans as enjoying themselves and drinking alcohol. Nowadays, around half the world’s population drinks alcohol. Nevertheless, drunk merriness has its limits. Bringing sometimes the best and sometimes the worst in people, alcohol has as many supporters as it has detractors.
With religion in general being one of the latter, it would be safe to assume that Hinduism rejects alcohol. But does it? Read along and discover how such a spiritual religion deals with this mundane pleasure.
Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin In Hinduism?
Well, in short, the answer is: it depends.
Sin. As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, it is “the offence of breaking, or the breaking of, a religious or moral law”. By this definition it would be easy to determine if drinking is a sin. Just read the sacred texts. The thing with Hinduism, is that it isn’t a centralized religion, it doesn’t have one single, universal authority.
This means that there are some Hindus that drink alcohol, and some that don´t. It all depends on what text a certain group follows.For example, the sacred text called the Rigveda, mentions a powerful divine psychedelic drink called Soma:
“We have drunk soma and become immortal;
we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foreman’s malice do to harm us?
What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?!”
In this context, it is ritualistically drunk by the gods to attain a superior state of being. But what about less mystical liquids?
According to the Manusmriti, an ancient legal text and constitution from millennia ago, mentions that the consumption of alcohol is not to be forbidden. It also goes as far as to say that eating meat and having sexual intercourse are natural and allowed. But with one twist: abstinence from these pleasures is supposed to bring great rewards. That being said, there are some inconsistencies between the different manuscripts.
On the other hand, the Vishnusmriti makes a class-based distinction. Out of the four varna (social classes) called Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishiyas and Shudras, only the first ones can’t. This may be because the Brahmins are a group composed of priests, scholars and teachers. Groups who have to keep themselves more “pure”.Many things could be considered a Sin if a person or group decides that said vice can be an obstacle for more noble goals or ideals. For example, can Hindus eat pork?, Jewish people don’t, and that is okay.
Do Hindu Gods Drink Alcohol?
Humans did so, but what about their gods? These superior beings are a reflection of how humans aspire to be, so wherever a society or group allows alcohol, it is because their gods are okay with it. For example, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar says in his book titled “Riddles in Hinduism”, that the Vedic Gods drank wine.
This wine was called Soma.
While the formula to prepare this drink has been lost to time, it is known that the ancient Aryans had alcohol as an essential part of their religion. Those who were denied Soma, had the option to drink Sura, an unconsecrated wine sold in the market. There are even eleven known alcoholic drinks mentioned in Hindu scriptures. Each one is made with very different materials and procedures.
But what’s more, there’s even a Goddess of Wine called Varuni. She was the consort of the water god Varuna.
According to the Vishnu Purana (a type of literary text), she came out during an event called Samudra-Manthan, or “churning of the ocean. She offered her liquor to those who were present. The ones who accepted her were the gods called Sura (literally meaning “liqueur”), while the demons rejected her and were therefore called Asura.Other particular examples exist, like Kal Bhirav, an aspect of the god Shiva and protector of “the eight directions of the universe” among other things. His offerings are usually of alcohol. So yes, Hindu Gods do drink alcohol.
Can a Female Drink Alcohol in Hinduism?
While there are some differences in the way women socially carry themselves, there is a general consensus. Those things that are allowed for men are so too for women, and it is the same with prohibitions. So, if a particular Hinduism group allows drinking alcohol, it usually means that women also can.
It is no secret that throughout the world, women have certain restrictions that men lack. In Hinduism, the decentralization and variety of their faith, allows for many possible interpretations on what can be done and what cannot be done.
It makes sense, considering how important alcohol is in some texts. And also considering that there is at least one goddess that is deeply involved with alcohol.
What seems to be the only general restriction, it is also applied to men: it should not be in excess, it should not be an impediment to social or moral duties.
Hinduism carries a lot of diversity. That, mixed with disinformation allows many wrong interpretations on what it is, and what it does. What is true, is its deep spiritual side formed by thousands of years of knowledge and practice.
And it is in relatively recent times, that some Hindu saints and organizations have modified some doctrines within the society. This created a very sober image that makes unknowing minds assume that Hinduism as a whole is completely against an allegedly disgraceful act such as alcohol consumption.But it isn´t, not everywhere. Through history, different studious groups have agreed on different interpretations on what is good and what is bad. Alcohol is just one of the earthly delight, with benefits and detriments, as with everything else. Is smoking Marijuana a sin?, is Gambling a Sin in any Religion? It depends on who you ask, and where you decide to put guilt on.