Take a tour to the tribal populace of Orissa and it would not be uncommon for you to see people gathering here and there under a tree shade or open place around a lady selling something in a pot. And it would not take time for you to understand that it is not some magic drinks that the lady is selling but country made liquor that draws men in throng.
Handia or Rice beer is the drink of Tribal. Quite popular among all the tribal groups of Orissa, the drink plays an important part in the social, cultural and economic life of the tribal.The indigenous drink which started among the Munda and Santhal tribe is today consumed across all tribal communities of Orissa and Jharkhand. And the popularity of the drink transgresses gender and age group. In fact it is savored and loved by all in the tribal community and is consumed by everybody.
The Santhal and other tribal groups of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal make this Handia at home by fermenting rice. The process which involves grinding the cooked rice, then mixing it with a herbal root mixture and fermenting the mixture in big earthen pots for 4-5 days, is done by tribal women. In fact it is a common practice in the district of Keonjhar to be a Handia haat (market) where the tribal women gather with their home made preparation of the “Rice Beer”.TheRice brew typically has higher alcohol content (18–25%) than wine (10–20%), which in turn has higher alcohol content than beer (3–8%). The Rice Beer works as a thermostat and prevents the occurrence of sun stroke in the high temperatures of summers. It is also believed among the tribal to be full of medicinal properties and energy.
Apart from regular use by the tribal men, Handia is consumed commonly in the the occasion of marriages, birth anniversaries and festivals. It thus provides a common binding link in social meetings and functions. Also it is a common practice among the tribal to take the Rice Beer with them as a present when they go to visit their friend’s or relative’s place.Handia is accepted as a sacred drink in the Munda and Santhal tribes. It has religious uses and values and no religious ceremony of these tribal are complete without offering the sacred drink to their local deities and dead ancestor. During funeral ceremonies, the deceased’s household offers Handia to villagers and relatives. But in these days Handia is not made in the deceased’s house. So the relatives bring Handia with them to help the household.
It is not out of place to say that Handia occupies an important place in day-to-day life of the tribal community of Orissa and to the tribal it is just not any other drink but a part of life.