Aaila: The fiery Drink

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Aaila: The fiery Drink image
Image by Amit Banmala

Aaila is a local Newari fiery liquor, mostly made from Barley and Rice. It is one of the potent libations that you could sample while touring the one and only Kathmandu Valley, the Newar community’s ethnic neighbourhood.

Besides having a strong and thrilling smell and taste, Aaila also holds a peculiar meaning and importance in traditional, social, and cultural aspects of Newa etiquette.

In every Newari Suku Bhoye ( a traditional Newari feast), Aaila is considered the main drink to be served. A Suku Bhoye is without the Aaila can’t be imagined. In fact, the purity of Aaila in the feast is considered a determinant factor of the quality of the entire feast.

Excluding being the main course of the feast, Aaila also plays a religious role in the Newari community. Aaila is regarded as Shaga (Sagun) during any auspicious occasions like Birthdays, Anniversaries, Graduation and not to mention the Marriage ceremony.

Aaila for Newari people is the purest form of optimism. Pure enough to serve and offer it to god during Jatras and Pujas (In Hinduism). Before beginning the jatras like Navadurga Naach, it is customary in Bhaktapur to offer aaila to the gods and goddesses (the chosen ones), including Kumari, Bhimsen, and Nawa Durga.

Aaila, on the other hand, is also a social lubricant, the purest means of hospitality, and probably the first social etiquette learned, accepted, and practised by every Newa individual. Every guest in the Newari household is served with Aaila if he/she prefers to drink.

Additionally, Aaila is renowned for its health advantages. Colloquially it is called “Wasa” which means – medicine in Nepal Bhasa. It is used to treat illnesses like fatigue, headaches, and other conditions.

Aaila is a staple beverage for traditional Newari farmers, who drink it before beginning laborious fieldwork, after eating lunch, and just before bed to counteract the exhausting long days in the field.

Aaila Brewing process

Aaila is brewed according to a method that has been handed down from generation to generation and holds the significance of the traditional hierarchy.

To prepare Aaila each ingredient is carefully selected and mixed. But, to be finally levelled as Aaila it has to undergo a very complicated and sophisticated process.

Brewing Aaila requires several specially made vessels, including Potasi (an earthen pot with a hole at the bottom), Phosi (a large metal vessel), Aaila bata (a brass vessel), and Dowacha (an earthen pot that collects the wine).

The entire mixture of ingredients for making aaila is poured into the container Phosi, which is positioned at the very bottom. Phosi receives a certain amount of heat from a low to medium flame. Above the Phosi, Potasi is placed. The holes in Phosi make it simple for the vapour produced by the mixture to pass through.

Making aaila in a tradtional way

Making aaila in a tradtional way PC: Bimal Kusi

Aaila bata is perched atop Potasi and is filled with some chilly water. Aaila bata is unique in that it has a bottom that is slightly pointed. The cold water in the brass container, Aaila bata, cools the vapour that emerges from inside Phosi.

The cooled vapour can only be dropped into the Dowacha inside the Potasi because, as was previously mentioned, the bottom has a slight point. The collected vapour then is presented as The mystic drink-Aaila.

The longer Aaila is preserved the more pure and strong it is considered. The pureness of Aaila is examined by pouring a tiny amount of Aaila into any vessel and setting it on fire. The more it burns the purest it is considered.

Special etiquette of serving Aaila
Aaila holds special meaning in every possible way in the Newari community. Holding a special place in history, culture, and tradition, it has special vessels to be poured at and to be poured with.

Aaila is poured in a specially pottered earthen vessel called Sallicha. It is a small earthen pot almost the size of a palm. A special kind of brass pitcher called Antee characterized by a delicately curved snout is used to pour the Aaila into Sallicha.

The Antee is designed with various floral and mandala layouts with a narrow neck and a small open on the top. The opening mouth of Antee is covered with a special cap usually designed with an icon of a peacock.

Pouring Aaila into Sallicha is also considered art itself. It is poured especially by women from Antee. Aaila is gracefully poured from its snout. The Aaila being poured from atop so delicately forming bubbles in Salicha is quite amusing to watch.

Aaila is not just a strong beverage but sentiment, tradition, positivity, and grace that Newari indigenous people hold within.


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