Handia: Traditional Rice Beer of India

Handia is a traditional rice beer, fermented drink made from rice, water and a special ingredient called ranu that is popular in many parts of India especially in the eastern and northeastern regions. Ranu is a cake of herbs and spices that helps the fermentation process and gives the beer a distinct flavor and aroma.

Rice-beer is probably the oldest manufactured drink in the world. Many ancient civilizations have Gods assigned specifically to the task of brewing beer. Over the years, beer has grown into types and styles; Indian rice beer is one such type of beer. Handia is one such too. The term “Handia” is used in the Chotanagpur plateau for local consumption. It is known as saki in Japan, lao-chao in China, tape ketan in Indonesia, khao-mak in Thailand.

Alcohol has played a central role in almost all human cultures since Neolithic times (about 4000 BCE). All societies, without exception, make use of intoxicating substances, alcohol being by far the most common. Handia is accepted as a most sacred drink in the Munda and Santhal tribes. Both Munda and Santhal claim to be the inventor of it.

Handia is often prepared for festivals, weddings, rituals and other occasions, and is enjoyed by people of all ages and genders. It is usually consumed during festivals, ceremonies, and social gatherings. It is also believed to have medicinal properties and health benefits.

Any tribal festival is incomplete without the rice-beer called Handia, an indigenous alcoholic-fermented beverage. The word ‘Handia’ probably owes its origin to Handi, a deep, wide-mouthed cooking vessel used in Indian cooking. Handia occupies a pivotal role in the tribal community, socially, culturally and economically. Handia is accepted as a most sacred drink in the Munda and Santhal tribes.

The origin of the traditional drink Handia among Santals is very much connected with their creation story. It is the most sacred and indispensable drink of the Santals. Santals believe in one “supreme being” whom they call Thạkur Jiu (Life Giver) or Marangburu (Great Mountain) who is considered to be the “supreme” among all the “religious beings”.  According to a myth, the Supreme deity, ‘Maran Buru’, taught the first human pair of Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Budhi to prepare handia. Maran Buru brought the Soma to be with man; the first parents then they made a bowl of green leaves and offered a drink to ‘Maran Buru’. It is, therefore, a very sacred drink to them.

Fermented foods and beverages have been very popular since ancient times all over the world. Historically the fermentation technique was used as a way of preserving foods and drinks long before the days of refrigeration. During the process of fermentation, microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds — such as sugars and starch — into alcohol or acids.

Fermented milk products, alcoholic beverages from fruits and cereal grains, and leavened breads were very popular among the early civilisation in the Indus Valley and in the Middle East and later among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It is presumed that fermented foods probably originated during 7,000–8,000 BCE in the areas of Indus Valley. It is evident from the annals of the Harappan civilisation (Vedic period) that people used different clay pots for preparing fermented foods and drinks.

On the Indian subcontinent, fermented foods and beverages are an integral part of cultural heritage, even today. These have been developed throughout the history of human civilisation for sustained nutrition and food preservation. The consumption of foods and drinks that have undergone fermentation contain benefits to health that stretch beyond food preservation. The transformation of sugars and starches enhances the natural, beneficial bacteria in food.

Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria so by consuming fermented foods you are adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and enhancing the immune system. The health-beneficial effects of fermented food were first advocated as far back as 76 CE by the Roman historian Pliny, who mentioned the use of fermented milk for treating gastrointestinal infections.

Fermented food preparation, as mentioned in literary texts, is more than 3,000 years old in India. The Rigveda (ca. 1,500 BCE) shows that fermentation technology took its first step in connection with the preparation of Soma juice (alcoholic beverage). There is also another drink, known as sura (wine/beer), prepared by fermentation of boiled rice/barley. It is known from different sources that during the post-Vedic period (600 BCE to 100 CE) many beverages like medaka (spiced rice beer), prasanna (spiced barley or wheat beer), asava (sugarcane beer), etc., were some of the most popular drinks.

Tribal women play a key role in the preparation and sale of handia. It also generates significant income for the household. By promoting Handia preparation and sale, the tribal women have been able to make economic gains.


Handia has a milky white color and a sour taste. It can be consumed fresh or stored for later use. It is usually served in small bamboo cups or bowls. It can be mixed with water, sugar, or fruit juice to adjust the taste and alcohol content. Some people also add spices like ginger, cardamom, or pepper to enhance the flavor.

Handia is not only a delicious beverage, but also a part of the culture and history of many tribes and communities in India, especially in the eastern and northeastern regions.  It is also believed to have medicinal properties and health benefits, such as improving digestion, boosting immunity and relieving stress.

Handia is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and celebration. It is also a source of income for many rural households who sell handia in local markets or roadside stalls. Handia is a drink that connects people with their roots and their history.

19 thoughts on “Handia: Traditional Rice Beer of India

  1. While its illegal and risky, but yes desi fermentation is ubiquitous. In Himachal Pradesh many tribal formulas of fermentation are better than best malts available in world. Still the tribals don’t part with the secret .

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    1. If prepared properly, handia is safe, but people mix some chemicals and even urea fertilisers for quick fermentation, mass production and increased level of intoxication — that is harmful.
      The tribals claim drinking handia helps to keep the body cool and avoid sunstroke. The brew is also supposed to have medicinal properties since the barks, leaves, roots etc are obtained from medicinal herbs and trees.

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  3. Very informative post. I have seen hadia and often heard about the method of preparing it. But not in such great detail. Our tribal region in Jharkhand is so rich in tradition. Do keep sharing the glimpses of tribal life😀

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    1. Thanks Shivangi.
      Rightly said, our tribal region in Jharkhand is so rich in tradition. The Kolarian tribes are believed to be one of the earliest settlers in the Indian subcontinent. Santhals, Mundas are two major Kolarian tribes and they inhabit mainly in Jharkhand and neighbouring states.

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        1. I am from the Palamau area but probably my father would know about the royal family. I do not know much. Thanks a lot for sharing the links. I will relish it at leisure😀

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  5. দারুন লিখেছিস। হ্যাটস অফ টু ইউ। এত ইনফরমেশান যোগাড় করে লেখা, তুইই পারিস!!
    Very informative and well written, Indro. Hats off to you for gathering up and presenting in such a nice way. Keep it up Bro.

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  7. Sardul singh

    Karib 30 sal pahle jab mai Ranchi me tha ,Mera pet kharab rahta tha kuch bhi pachta nahi tha tab ek adiwasi lady ne mere ghar me Hadia bana ke mujhe ek ek glass 3 din pilaya ,aur uske baad aaj tak mujhe koi pet ka trouble nahi hua.

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