Language that we speak, clothes that we wear, food that we eat, and our mannerisms speak a lot about the culture of a particular region or community. Jharkhand has been home to many various Adivasis communities for centuries. Each Adivasi group has their own distinct culture but their food habits are almost similar.
Handiya or rice beer is one such drink that is common among all the Adivasis living in Jharkhand. The term handiya probably originates from the term ‘Handi’ meaning – an earthen pot, in which handiya is fermented. While some have argued this drink to be the major causes of the backwardness of Adivasis; it holds deep cultural significance within the community and is consumed during all festivals and considered auspicious. It is customary to offer handiya during certain rituals.
Legend has it that Lutkumbudha (ancestors of Munda tribe) was tired after a day’s work. Seeing him tired Singhbonga (adivasis’s God) gave the herb and asked him to mix it with rice which would become handiya. The drink would help him get rid of tiredness from everyday work. Later he handed over this herb to his clan. At first, handiya was consumed during festivals and if someone fell sick. During festivals like Sarhul and Karma, priest (pahaan) would sanctify it and then distribute it to important people.
During the discussion on the draft Constitution, Jaipal Munda – the lone Adivasis leader had stood by in support of traditional drink of Adivasis. “Bowing to pressure by Gandhians, the prohibition of alcohol had been made a Directive Principle. This, said the adivasi leader, was an interference “with the religious rights of the most ancient people in the country”. For drink was part of their festivals, their rituals, indeed their daily life itself. Thus in West Bengal “it would be impossible for paddy to be transplanted if the Santhal does not get his rice beer. These ill-clad men …have to work knee-deep in water throughout the day, in drenching rain and in mud. What is it in the rice beer that keeps them alive? I wish the medical authorities in this country would carry out research in their laboratories to find out what it is that the rice beer contains, of which the Adibasis need so much and which keeps them against all manner of diseases.'” 
It involves a simple recipe.
- Rice 5kg
- Raanu (a kind of herb)
- 15 – 20litre water
Boil 5 kg of rice in 20 litre water. When it is cooked, rinse water and spread the rice in a large area to get cold. Raanu (made of herbs) is added to it. It needs to be mashed with the rice. Everything is then kept in an earthen vessel. Then it is covered with a plate made of leaves. It is then kept for 2-3 days to ferment. The fermented juice is called “raasi”. People drink it too. By adding water, rice is sieved which is called handiya or rice beer.
Too much consumption of Handiya can certainly be hazardous. Though its usage has many advantages as well. It is an affordable drink during summer to ward off excessive heat as it keeps the stomach cool. Also dysentery can be treated if it is consumed in a reasonable quantity. Many see it as a treatment for jaundice as well.
Adivasi society portrays a just example of gender equality, where men and women both enjoy equal rights to consume/prepare handiya. In fact, mostly it is sold by the women.
Drinking handiya together is also a way of bringing together people, celebrate, as well as discuss issues of the community.
Off late Handiya has also become a way to earn livelihood. With many Adivasis who are daily wage workers, it is a way to get rid of tiredness from daily physical labour. Moreover, one cannot deny its cultural significance. Marriages in the village are incomplete without handiya. People who write books mocking the community that – Adivasis’ fights are resolved over a bowl of drink, do not really understand the deep cultural significance embedded in it. Handiya marks the celebration of resolved fights, of success, achievements, happiness of everyday life.
Picture Courtesy: Savya Sachin Bankira