Modern South Asian Studies seminar MT20: Week 3: “Chai – why?” The making of the Indian “national drink”

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Nayanika Mathur, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Dr Philip Lutgendorf (Iowa)


This illustrated talk details the promotion and spread of tea-drinking in 20th century India. Drawing on both archival and field research, it focuses on the mass popularization of “chai” through innovations in marketing and manufacturing, as well as changes in eating habits and social networks, and gives special emphasis to the role played by advertising and large and small-scale commerce in transmitting the “tea habit” to Indians, both before and after Independence in 1947.



Philip Lutgendorf taught Hindi language and Modern Indian Studies in the University of Iowa’s Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures for 33 years, until his retirement in 2018. His book on the performance of the Hindi Ramayana, The Life of a Text (U California, 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 appeared as Hanuman’s Tale, The Messages of a Divine Monkey (OUP, 2007). His interests include epic performance traditions, folklore and popular culture, and mass media.  He maintains a website devoted to Hindi cinema, a.k.a. “Bollywood” ( ). Five volumes of his seven-volume translation of the sixteenth-century Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas for the Murty Classical Library of India have appeared as The Epic of Ram (Harvard University Press, 2016, 2018, 2020). His research on the cultural history of “chai” in South Asia began in 2010 with a Fulbright Senior Fellowship. He has served as President of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) from 2010-2018 and currently Chairs its Board of Trustees.

Pre-registration required. Please visit to book either for this seminar or the whole series.