Origin of Chai (The drinking product made using leaves of tea plant)

Chai is a delicious refreshing drinking product, an indigenous indian product. The content of chai are tea leaves, ginger and other spices and herbs, milk and sugar. The tea levaes are one of the contents of the Chai.

It is not known since how long ancient India knew about the tea plant.In the ancient Indian epic ,the Ramayana ,it is mentioned that when Lakshmana,brother of Lord Rama,was wounded in the battle with Ravana,his elder brother sent the bhakta Hanuman to the Himalayas to bring back the Sanjivini plant..Leaves of this plant were applied to Lakshmana's wounds,giving him a fresh lease of life.Sanskrit scholars opine that the Sanjivini plant may well have been a wild tea bush!

Yet Chinese and Japanese legends do associate the origin of tea with India,as the tales of Bodhidharma and Gan Lu reveal.The latter, in fact,was supposed to have carried back seven tea saplings from India and planted them in China.

Some Indian scholars also allude to an old Assames medical scriptures titled Nidana,written in Sanskrit in the 10th century A.D.,where tea leaves were referred to as Shamapatra and the brew from its leaves as Shamapani.They also argue that the word cha is derived from Shama.Shamapani was reportedly used as a medicine against cough,cold,drowsiness,headaches,etc.

In the absence of adequate historical references it is impossible to state how far the tea drinking habit prevailed in ancient or medieval India.However it was only after the loss of India's sovereignty to the British,when it was made a transit point from where Chinese tea was shipped to Europe,that tea as a beverage secured popular acceptance among the upper and middle classes.

Chai's (The drinking product made using tea plant) First Martyr

It is somewhat curious that early European historians of Indian tea, with one or two exceptions, did not acknowledge the contribution of the Assamese nobleman, Maniram Dutta Barua, popularly known as Maniram Dewan (1806-1858), to the fledgeling tea industry in Assam.

Indigeneous Assam tea was first brought to the notice of the British by this individual. Samuel Baildon, though somewhat inaccurately, did give him due credit in a pamphlet Tea in Assam written in 1877, and published by W.Newman and Co. of Calcutta. "There are two or three opinions as to who first caused notice to be taken of the tea plant. Some ascribe the discovery to a Scotchman named Bruce, who, travelling in Assam, found the plant growing wild in the jungles. Others say that various merchants in Calcutta were discussing the chance of imported China seeds thriving in Assam, when a native from the province present, seeing some tea said, "We have the plant growing wild in our jungles, " This was Moniram Dewan the first native next the then Rajah of Assam, a very rich man with plenty of local influence." Later, however, in another work, Baildon rectified his earlier error, and acknowledged that Robert Bruce learnt of the existence of indigeneous tea plant from Maniram Dutta Barua.

This historical fact is also mentioned by Stanley Baldwin in his book Assam's Tea. Maniram Dutta Barua was a sirastadar in the British administration from 1824-1832 under Captain Neufville, Assistant Commissioner at Jorhat in Upper Assam. He was a close confidant of Purander Singha. In 1839, after the British deposed the titular monarch, Maniram joined the newly formed Assam Company as a Dewan or land agent. The yeoman service he rendered to the Company in its incipient days is mentioned in the report of William Princep after a visit in 1841. "I find the Native Department of the office in the most beneficial state under the excellent direction of Muneeram, whose intelligence and activity is of great value to our establishment. There is not a question regarding expenditure or return which he is not ready to answer from Book in the most satisfactory manner. The marts which he is establishing at and around location will, he declares, become of considerable importance. The increased intercourse with the people of the Company which it naturally leads to will give them greater confidence in us, and will raise still higher the good name we have already established."

A wealthy individual, it was not for the Rs. 200/- per month salary that the Dewan joined the Company. He was intelligent and perceptive enough to understand that tea was Assam's industry of the future and was determined to stake his share in it. He, therefore worked under the Assam Company to get a thorough knowledge of tea Cultivation and manufacture. Having imbibed the rudiments of tea craft, Maniram Dewan, as he came to be known now, resigned from the Assam Company in 1845 to open out his own tea plantations. He applied for land grants, but due to the vehement opposition was summarily rejected. Undeterred by the open hostility of the Europeans, Maniram purchased land and began planting. His landed property near the town of Jorhat now contains the Cinnamora Tea Estate, Tocklai Tea Experimental Station and adjoining areas. His own residence was close to the spot where the Cinamora Tea Estate's factory is located, and has since his days been converted into a cemetery. That spot is even today called the Dewan plot or Dewan Number. His tea plantations having been opened in the face of undisguised hostility of the European planter commnunity, the latter bided their time to teach the upstart native a lesson. They got their opportunity in 1857, when India's First War of Independence, led by the Sepoys of the British Army, broke out all over India. Maniram was in Calcutta at that time to place the grievances of Raja Purnder Singha, whose consultant he was, before the Governor General. The spirited Dewan was implicated in a "conspiracy" to oust the British from Assam and restore the Ahom King to the throne. He was arrested in Calcutta, brought back to Assam and, after a travesty of a trial, hanged on 26th February, 1858.

The taming of the spirited Maniram Dewan was actually a warning to native entrepreneurs that the white colonialists would not tolerate competition from them except on their own terms. In fact, indigeneous tea planters, till India's independence, remained on the fringe of the tea industry. Thus Maniram Dewan was not only the first martyr for India's freedom from the North East, he was also tea's first martyr.