The Heritage of Mahula Drink in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

Imagine 8th Century Odisha and in particular Bhubaneswar! A major Peeth of Tantra Sadhana practiced by a group of esoteric Shaivites, called Kapalikas, who worshiped Bhairava/Shiva and his consort Chamunda!! The central ritual of their tantric communion was to get indulged in alcohol and sexual intercourse.  Kapalaikas were masters in converting both ascetics and lay people of other sects towards their faith for which they had introduced Kapalni, a woman of passion. 

‘Drink this pure nectar which is the medicine for worldly existence. Bhairava has said that this is the instrument to remove the bondage of the soul’ used to be the instruction in the process of conversion while offering a vessel full of alcohol to the targeted individuals and groups.

Today all that Kapalika conventions that were once a common sight in Bhubaneswar may sound mysterious as the present Hinduism revolve around the ideal of Sanatan philosophy.

However one wonders if in the surviving tradition such alcohol based rituals ever exit. In last couple of months I have driven through three/four times on the National Highway 16 that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur and faraway Chennai. However, my destination is mostly Barkul, a small village on the shore of pristine Lake Chilika and the site of ODIART Purvasha Museum where Virasat E Hind works as a consultant.

IMG_3137

IMG_3139

IMG_6708

IMG_6709

The View of Khalikote Hills from the Highway and Lake Chilika

Travel Tips 

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and close to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2 hour drive from the museum. 

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation. 

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisher folk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com 

Each time I drove I was haunted by the beauty of the vast sprawl of Khalikote Hills to the west of the highway and they occupied largely my mind for a while. I was curious to know what lies surround those hills and beyond.  My curiosity finally brought me here to a couple of tiny villages beyond the Narayani Shakti Peeth, only 4 km from the National Highway.  A drive through the forest, hills and interspersed valleys of rice fields was magical at the time of retreading monsoon. Suddenly your car stops in a Sabara village with no vehicles around. For a moment you are drawn to a medieval world or perhaps to a much earlier time.

IMG_5756

IMG_5763

IMG_5775

IMG_5781

IMG_5785

IMG_5802

The Scenic Jungle Road Interspersed with Rice Fields and the Sabara Village around Narayani Peeth

Savaras are Odisha’s most ancient tribe who speak Mundari language of Mon-Khmer group (Mainland Southeast Asia). Once used to be hunter-gatherers, now they are mostly settled subsistence farmers. In the absence of historical records it is difficult to trace their early history in the region, however archaeological finds of Neolithic – Chalcolithic sites reveal aspects of Sabara way of life 4,000 years back in time. In the past they perhaps also exploited marine resources at Lake Chilika, which was a bay then, but their arrival to Odisha was through the land route and can be linked with early migration of modern humans. Biologically speaking they share remarkable similarities with other Austro-Asiatic language speaking groups of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Myanmar and Vietnam.

For Lanjia Saoras Read Here

https://blogvirasatehind.com/2018/04/08/the-ancient-hill-tribe-of-lanjia-saoras-journey-with-a-shaman/

Little wonders, Sabaras were also the original worshipers of Lord Jagannaath and like Kapalikas of Medieval Odisha, offering of alcohol to their tribal deities, are part of their daily rituals. In the village I stepped into, the first sight that fascinated me was the cooking of mahula (mahua) alcohol all around.

For Dongoria Kondh Read Here

https://blogvirasatehind.com/2018/08/03/dongria-kondhs-of-nimayagiri-mother-natures-own-children/

IMG_6048

Offering of Alcohol to the Forest Deity by Sabara People

Indigenously fermented food and beverages have been used for centuries and are treated essential for the well-being of many people across the world. These are prepared in the household or cottage industry using relatively simple techniques and equipments. According to scientists fermentation improves the digestibility by detoxifying the toxic elements in the food and on the other hand it improves the flavour, aroma, nutritional values  and texture in less cooking time.

IMG_9707

IMG_9722

Mahula Flowers are Spread for Drying in a far flung Desia Kondh Village in Rayagada District

In mahula drink, the flowers are thoroughly washed in water and submerged in plastic drums for 4 days with the addition of ‘bakhar’ (syn. ‘ranu’). Fermented mahula flower mass is distilled in a metallic container by keeping another earthen pot on the top of the first container in a reverse manner. The joints of two vessels are sealed by using sticky mud pond. A metallic pipe is connected to the upper earthen vessel, which passes through water and opens into a collecting vessel.

IMG_5955

IMG_5954

IMG_5798

IMG_5799

IMG_5801

IMG_5805

IMG_5806

IMG_5808

IMG_5816

IMG_5950

The lower metallic container containing fermented mahula flowers is heated at lower temperature with wood fire. Finally steam is condensed in metallic pipe and collected in collecting vessel.

The preparation of mahula drink at the village has remained traditional and is part of indigenous knowledge system.

As in the film, it began with a ritual offering to forest deities (a group of triangular slabs) in the remote past, a practice still followed among the tribes.

However, with the increasing demand among the people of the plains, today brewing mahula alcohol has become a cottage industry deep inside forest villages. People from the non-tribal villages around Chilika come here regularly for partying and buying the country liquor. Thanks to this new patronage the traditional know-how has survived in the otherwise fast changing world dominated by fast food and foreign beverage in large quantity but expensive prices.

IMG_6013

IMG_6017

IMG_6022

IMG_6023

IMG_6028

IMG_6045

IMG_6054

IMG_6068

IMG_6070

I returned back after spending a couple of hours with a determination to explore more and bring untold stories of sabaras in the next part.   

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s