Philip Lutgendorf

Chai Why? The Making Of The Indian “National Drink”

This presentation offers a report on my ongoing research into the promotion and popularization of tea-drinking in 20th century India. It is inspired in part by recent ethno-historical work on everyday culinary commodities, by anthropological interest in the “social life of things,” and by my own recognition of the remarkable role that tea, modified to Indian taste, has come to play in diet, social intercourse, and public culture in a relatively short span of time. My research focuses on the mass popularization of
indigenized “chai” through changes in manufacturing, marketing, and consumption, and in eating habits, urban space, and social networks, and involves both archival and field research. In my talk, I will emphasize the role played by advertising images in
transmitting the “tea habit” to Indians, both prior to and following Independence in 1947.

Philip Lutgendorf is Professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies and has taught in the University of Iowa’s Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literature since 1985. He regularly offers Hindi language classes as well as courses on written and oral narrative traditions of South Asia, including Indian film. His book on the performance of the Hindi Ramayana, The Life of a Text (University of California Press, 1991) won the A. K. Coomaraswamy Prize of the Association for Asian Studies. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002-03 for his research on the popular Hindu “monkey-god” Hanuman, which has appeared as Hanuman’s Tale, The Messages of a Divine Monkey (Oxford University Press, 2007). His interests include epic performance traditions, folklore and popular culture, and mass media. He maintains a website devoted to popular Hindi cinema, a.k.a. “Bollywood” ( He is presently translating the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas for the Murty Classical Library of India/Harvard University Press, and researching a book on the popularization of chai in 20th century India.