Some Sugar, Your High-ness?! #HangOver remedy from Ancient India


Considering sugar, by Akanksha Damini Joshi.

Hangover Cure from India

Had too much alcohol? Feeling confused? Or maybe having a hangover?

Try this historically proven hangover remedy offered by the Vidushak, the court jester of King Agnimitra (the second Shunga king, 170 BCE) as portrayed by one of India’s greatest playwrights, Kalidasa (4th-5th CE) in his epic Sanskrit drama, Malvikagnimitram.

Savour this storyline, #Malvikagnimitram, Act III:

The King has fallen head over heels in love with a picture of a servant girl, Malvika. Now he wants to see her, to meet her in person. Oh, this love! Whatto do, whatto do?

Enter court jester. He finds a way to lead him to meet Malvika in the Ashoka Vatika.

Ashoka Vatika… hmmm.

In case the Vatika sounds familiar and you are imagining Ravana’s land, Lanka with Sita Maiyya in it, drop the imagination NOW!

This vatika is the pleasure garden. And this story belongs to another mood, super-sensual.

Malvika has been asked by the queen to kick the… heck, no! Not the bucket, but the Ashoka tree!


Because the golden Ashoka tree is awaiting a kick, well, touch of a lady’s foot in order to… flower!

The queen has broken her leg, so she cannot, errr, fertilise it. The task she has given to the lovely Malvika.

As Malvika waits for the shringaar, the adoration of her feet with colour and what not, scene changes to the intoxicated with love and alcohol, Agnimitra.

The solution to the #love-intoxication is the rest of the play, which I’d rather you read / watch yourself. (I had the honour of watching it in Sanskrit at the Nagri Natak Academy, Varanasi, a few years ago.)

But the solution to the alcohol intoxication is told by the Vidushak, court jester in the very next line: MATSYANDIKA.

Err. What? Matsya = fish , ANDI… Yes yes, egg of a fish?!

Heck no!🙂 MATSYANDIKA is an ancient sugar preparation we find mentioned by various researchers in two ways.


Food historian KT Achaya tells us it was a form of crystallised sugar made in Ancient India that looked like fish roe which is the literal translation of the name.

But the term Matsyandika has also been used for crude sugar when the sugarcane juice is inspissated as to take the shape of eggs of fish; it still exudes a little fluid on drawing.

Sugarcane concentrate has been known to alleviate the effects of alcohol not just in this (likely 375 CE) play of Kalidasa, but we find the documentation of its medicinal use by the Chinese in the 1st century as well.

Now proved by modern research for rapidly metabolising alcohol (sucrose, glucose, fructose combination in sugarcane juice) this simple cure was denied to Europe until recently.


You see, the presence of sugar was first acknowledged in England only in the twelfth century. Only royalty and the very rich could afford sugar at the time.

Researchers tell us that in 1226, Henry III requested for all of THREE pounds (approx 1.4 kg) of Egyptian sugar from the Winchester fair, if the merchants could please let him have so much at one time!

In England, sugar became a commonly desired good only later in the 1600s.


Contrast this with India, where in Sanskrit plays we find the mention of sugarcane as early as 375 CE. And if you look at the epic Mahabharata (hundreds of years BCE ago) there is a mention of Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava, eating Payasa – sweetened milk rice, aka, kheer – in a golden cup.

Check out this wild imagery in translation: “Yudhishthira at the same time, of immeasurable energy, ascending upon a heap of bones, was gladly eating buttered payasa off a golden cup.” (#UdyogaParva, #Mahabharata)

In English, the earliest references to sugar sweetness we are told are found thousands of years later in the works of the poet author #Chaucer (CE 1340-1400), describing its rarity. Sugar became more present in the works of the English playwright #Shakespeare.

Take his drama As You Like It (1599 CE), the clown Touchstone teasing Audery tells her, “Honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.” A dialogue I am sure Kalidasa’s pining Ashoka tree from Malvikagnimitram would approve!

PS: Perhaps now, inspired by Kalidasa we should call this intense longing not “pine-ing” but “ashok-ing”. Ok, ok, I know the etymology isn’t exactly the pine tree, but heck, it’s close! Read here for more on why we are Pining for someone:

PPS: Reading this thought-flow, if you are wondering if the author has had one too much, not to worry, she also has the solution in ancient Indian pharmacology, still contemporary, still effective! Hic & Cheers!


Damini is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer and facilitates immersive storytelling and meditation groups.

Comments are closed.