How Old Delhi’s Rooh Afza became the summer drink of choice in India & Pakistan

From colonial roots to partition and beyond


April 17, 2023

/ By / New Delhi

How Old Delhi’s Rooh Afza became the summer drink of choice in India & Pakistan

Rooh Afza is an quintessential summer drink in India and Pakistan.

Rooh Afza, a quintessential summer drink in India and Pakistan, has a long and fascinating history. Its origins can be traced back to colonial India, and over time, it has become an integral part of the culture and cuisine in both the countries.

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In the scorching heat of summer, nothing beats a refreshing drink to quench your thirst. For millions of people in India and Pakistan, that drink is Rooh Afza, a sweet, herbal syrup that has become a summertime staple. But how did this humble drink become such a beloved part of the culture in these two countries?

“My iftar (end of day’s fast in Ramzan) is incomplete without Rooh Afza. I live away from home, so having a bottle of Rooh Afza in the refrigerator reminds me of home,” Azan Mohammad, a student of chartered accountancy in Delhi, tells Media India Group.

“Even though the price of lemons is really high in the market, I cannot substitute Rooh Afza for anything else,” he adds.

Rooh Afza traces its origins back to the early 20th century, when it was first created in Old Delhi by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, a renowned herbalist and pharmacist, who ran Hamdard Laboratories. It was here that Majeed created the beverage as a summer cooler with an Indian twist to help people stay hydrated during the hot summer months.

The syrup quickly gained popularity all over Delhi and soon gained market all over the unpartitioned subcontinent. The partition of India in 1947 brought significant changes to the landscape of the Indian subcontinent, including its food and beverage culture. Rooh Afza, the iconic summer drink that originated in Old Delhi, was no exception to this impact.

Before the partition, Rooh Afza was a popular drink in both India and Pakistan. However, after the division, since the manufacturing unit was located in Delhi, its distribution in Pakistan was disrupted.

After India’s partition in 1947, the sons of Hafiz Abdul Majeed, Hakim Abdul Hameed, remained in India while his younger brother, Hakim Mohammad Said, moved to Pakistan on January 9, 1948, and established Hamdard Pakistan in two small rooms located in the old Arambagh area of Karachi. It wasn’t until 1953 that Hamdard Pakistan finally began to see profits. Hakim Mohammad Said also opened a branch of Hamdard in East Pakistan, which he later gifted to the people of Bangladesh after their independence in 1971, according to his daughter Sadia Rashid, who is the current chairperson of Hamdard Pakistan.

Despite the challenges, the popularity of Rooh Afza continued to grow in India, where it became an essential beverage for many during the hot summer months. Its refreshing taste and cooling properties were particularly appealing in the scorching heat of the Indian summer.

“I have always had Rooh Afza with lassi or falooda. My father always served me Rooh Afza when I came back from school on a hot day. It is  one of the good childhood memories,” Divya Tiwari, a PR professional based in Delhi, tells Media India Group.

In May 2019, India was hit with a Rooh Afza shortage during the holy month of Ramadan due to a dispute between the owners of the company. Hamdard Laboratories in Pakistan offered to supply the drink to India through the Wagah border in view of the shortage.

In Pakistan, on the other hand, Rooh Afza faced competition from other local beverages, and it gradually lost its prominence as a summer drink of choice. Nonetheless, Rooh Afza remained a nostalgic reminder of the shared pre-partition culture of the subcontinent.

So what makes Rooh Afza so special? For one thing, it has a unique blend of ingredients that give it a distinct, herbal flavour. The syrup is made with a mix of fruits, flowers, and herbs, including rose, mint, and coriander. It is also free of artificial colours and preservatives, making it a healthier alternative to many other sugary drinks.

But perhaps the biggest reason for Rooh Afza’s popularity is its versatility. The syrup can be mixed with water to make a refreshing drink, or it can be used to make a variety of desserts and sweets. In fact, it is a common ingredient in many traditional Indian and Pakistani recipes, including falooda, a dessert made with vermicelli, milk, and Rooh Afza syrup.

“The best part about Rooh Afza is that you can mix it with milk as well as water. When I was a child, my mother used to force me to drink milk, and I hated milk, but it became endurable only after she mixed a bit of Rooh Afza in it,” Sukeerat Kaur Channi, a journalist based in Delhi, tells Media India Group.

Despite its popularity, Rooh Afza has faced its fair share of challenges over the years. In the 1990s, Hamdard Laboratories, was embroiled in a bitter family feud that threatened to tear the company apart and bring the Rooh Afza. But despite these challenges, Rooh Afza has managed to endure, thanks in large part to its loyal fan base. 



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