The Mauryan empire put the tavern and petty sell of beer under control.


The operation and layout of the drinking establishments gives us a glimpse of the social context and drinking patterns in India more than 2000 years ago. Alcohol consumption is not only controlled but also encouraged as a source of fees income for the local and provincial administration.

« Lest workmen spoil the work in hand, and Aryas violate their decency and virtuous character, and lest firebrands commit indiscreet acts, liquor shall be sold to persons of well known character in such small quantities as one-fourth (0,052 kg) or half-a-kudumba (0,103 kg), one kudumba (0,206 kg), half-a-prastha (0,412 kg), or one prastha (0,825 kg). Those who are wellknown and of pure character may take beer (surā) out of shop. » (Book II chapter 25)

Weighing beer astonishes the Western mind that expects units of volume to measure liquids. In Maurya times, the Indian system of measuring volumes refers to weight. Apart from the technical and mathematical reasons which governed these choices in ancient India, the weighing of beer is justified. The surā-beer is kept in a semi-solid state when brewed with the amylolytic fermenting technique. The thick matters from cooked grains and the beer ferments are mixed so that saccharification and alcoholic fermentation occur simultaneously. It can be assumed that a surā-beer is kept in a fermented mash state until it is sold and therefore weighed by the collector. After having been diluted with water, it is not known whether the fermented liquid is further filtered by beer drinkers with a straw or just filtered at the time of beer drinking.


The Arthashastra then explains how a place of sale of surā becomes a police checkpoint :

« Or all may be compelled to drink surā-beer within the shops and not allowed to stir out at once in view of detecting articles such as sealed deposits, unsealed deposits, commodities given for repair, stolen articles, and the like which the customer's may have acquired by foul means. When they are found to possess gold and other articles not their own, the superintendent shall contrive to cause them to be arrested outside the shop. Likewise those who are too extravagant or spend beyond their income shall be arrested. » (Book II chapter 25)

Even the detailed design of taverns, inns and other places for selling beer are given :

« surā-beer shops shall contain many rooms provided with beds and seats kept apart. The drinking room shall contain scents, garlands of flowers, water, and other comfortable things suitable to the varying seasons.
When customers under intoxication lose any of their things, the merchants of the shop shall not only make good the loss, but also pay an equivalent fine.
» (Book II chapter 25)


These last paragraphs make it clear that the owner of the establishment is responsible for his/her tavern or cabaret. Moreover, male or female brewers and beer merchants come from outside to sell their beers and dishes on the premises. All are responsible in case of theft, whether they are accomplices or not.

The Arthashastra justifies torture for the security of the empire or in case of crime. Only the members of the Brahmanas class escape this punishment, but they suffer the infamous branding with a red-hot iron. The brand symbol of the crime of drunkenness committed by a Brahmin imitates a flag, the one that signals a place where beer is sold:

« Whatever may be the nature of the crime, no Bráhman offender shall be tortured. The face of a Bráhman convict shall be branded so as to leave a mark indicating his crime: the sign of a dog in theft, that of a headless body in murder; that of the female part (bhaga) in rape with the wife of a teacher, and that of the flag of vintners for drinking surā-beer. » (Book IV, chapter 8. Trial and Torture to Elicit Confession.)

The taverns and beer houses are identified with a kind of flag or banner of characteristic shape. Brahmins were not to drink alcohol, or at least be seen when drunk.

Jainism and Buddhism will renew this proscription for monks who follow the teachings, a fortiori for those who teach them. (Buddhism and alcohol abstinence).


The police side of the imperial policy can be perceived in the management of the taverns and their customers. The consumption of fermented beverages and beer in particular is an opportunity to stake out the movements of the population and spy on beer drinkers:

« Spies stationed in the shops shall ascertain whether the expenditure incurred by customers in the shop is ordinary or extraordinary and also whether there are any strangers. They shall also ascertain the value of the dress, ornaments, and gold of the customers lying there under intoxication. »
« Merchants seated in half-closed rooms shall observe the appearance of local and foreign customers who, in real or false guise of Aryas lie down in intoxication along with their beautiful mistresses. »(Book II chapter 25)




02/05/2012  Christian Berger