For generations, Rooh Afza has been a popular drink in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Especially in the month of Ramadan, this red-colored drink can be seen in grocery stores and pharmacies. Although it is known as sharbat in present days, this drink has a legacy of more than 100 years, and once upon a time, it used to be an Unani medicine. Despite being a popular drink in Bangladesh, many of us don’t know that the Rooh Afza is manufactured by Hamdard Bangladesh. Although it has been manufactured for a long time in Bangladesh, Hamdard Bangladesh doesn’t have any unique presence in the market. That’s why many thought it’s just a random local Bangladeshi company. However, the history of Rooh Afza and Hamdard is quite older than Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
The inception of Hamdard was basically in Delhi, India. Hamdard’s founder, Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, was born in Pelivet, India, in 1883. In his earlier educational life, he fully memorized the holy Quran and later concentrated on learning the Persian language. After gathering linguistic-related knowledge, he earned his highest degree in Unani medicine. In 1906, he founded Hamdard to provide Unani treatment to Delhi’s people. The word Hamdard is a combination of two Persian words, “Ham” and “Dard,” which means “A partner who can help to relieve the pain.” At that time, with several types of Unani medicines, he used to give treatment to his patients for several diseases. Besides, he also made several herbs and Unani medicine for different diseases. While making this type of medicine in 1907, Hakim Abdul Majeed created a new syrup that had several herbs and a mixture of fruits. He tried to create this thick red-colored syrup as an Unani medicine for the treatment of diseases like heat stroke, dehydration, and diarrhea and named it “Rooh Afza”. This drink became very popular in India because it was very tasty to drink with cold water or milk, which can reduce stress in summer.
Because of this reason, Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed took the initiative to promote this product through a proper marketing channel. He took help from Mirza Noor Ahmad to create the logo of Rooh Afza in 1910. However, Delhi’s printing presses weren’t advanced back then, so the logo couldn’t be printed properly by maintaining the right color contrast. So the printing job used to be done from Bombay for better printing quality. Because of its marketing activity, Rooh Afza could reach the general people easily. Also, because of its taste and quality, it gathered popularity very quickly. Especially in 1915, Rooh Afzah became very prominent in Delhi’s Muslim community. But Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed couldn’t see the popularity of Rooh Afza for long. He died in 1922, aged only 34, and his wife Rabia Begum came in charge of Hamdard. Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed had two sons aged only 13 and 2 years old. Upon taking charge, Rabia Begum declared Hamdard as an Islamic Charitable Trust or Waqf, where the entire profits of Hamdard would be used for public welfare.
In the beginning, Rooh Afzah was prepared and bottled in a small kitchen. But as its popularity and demand continued to increase in later times, a factory was established in Daryaganj of old Delhi in 1940. By then, Abdul Majeed’s younger son Hakeem Muhammad Saeed had also completed his graduation with a higher degree in Eastern Medicine. In 1947, India and Pakistan became two separate states after the partition. Abdul Majid’s eldest son Abdul Hamid remained in India and continued to manage Hamdard India. On the other hand, his younger son Hakeem Muhammad Saeed went to Pakistan in 1948, and there, in Karachi’s Aram Bagh, he founded a clinic named “Tibb-e-Unani,” which is currently Hamdard Pakistan. Although due to geographical reasons, not all ingredients are available in Pakistan for making Rooh Afza, some ingredients had to be slightly modified. For example, since Kewra is not available in Pakistan, Muhammad Saeed uses a very small amount of spring rose or Gul-E-Bahar instead of Kewra. Another ingredient is the Turang or Citron flower, which blooms only for one month in northern areas of Pakistan, which he also used as distillate. Despite some minor changes in its ingredients, there was a slight difference between Rooh Afza made in Hamdard, Pakistan and Hamdard in India. Rooh Afza, made by Muhammad Saeed under Hamdard Pakistan, sold only 12 bottles on the first day, but slowly the popularity and demand for Rooh Afza also increased in Pakistan.
To meet this increased demand, Mohammad Sayeed later established a new manufacturing hub in Nazimabad, Pakistan, in 1953. The same year Mohammad Sayeed established a branch of Hamdard in East Pakistan. In 1971, after the independence of Bangladesh, Mohammad Sayeed handed over the branch to Bangladeshi management rather than closing it as a waqf institution. Currently, Hamdard is one of the largest waqf institutions in Bangladesh, with charitable hospitals as well as schools, colleges, and universities. Currently, Hamdard is one of the largest waqf institutions in Bangladesh, with charitable hospitals as well as schools, colleges, and universities.
According to a source in The New York Times, the operations of Hamdard’s India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh run independently. However, the taste of Hamdard’s Rooh Afza in the three countries differs slightly depending on the taste, weather, and environment.
As Hamdard is a waqf-based institution, no sales or financial data is available for Rooh Afza. However, Rooh Afza’s popularity is so high that in India alone, about $45 million worth of Rooh Afza is being sold every year, and the profits go into a trust that funds educational institutions such as schools, colleges, universities, and various hospitals and clinics. Also, according to a source in Business Standard, Hamdard India’s Ruh Afza generated total revenue of ₹ 300 crores in 2015, and Ruh Afza accounted for 40 percent of the total ₹ 750-800 crore powdered drinks and syrup segment during that period. In the month of Ramadan 2021, 2 lakh 70 thousand bottles of Rooh Afza were produced daily at the Hamdard India factory. According to a source in The Indian Express, recently, the Delhi High Court of India ordered Amazon India to remove the Rooh Afza branded as Made in Pakistan from its marketplace.
Amirul Momenin Manik, the deputy director of Hamdard Bangladesh, said to the New York Times that “ in Bangladesh, we brand Rooh Afza as a halal drink” Although Rooh Afza’s sales are relatively low throughout the year, however during Ramadan, the sale of Rooh Afza increases significantly. In fact, Rooh Afzah was an important item as an Iftar drink in Bangladesh even a few decades ago. For a long time, Rooh Afzah’s competitors in the Bangladesh market were only powder drinks and soft drinks like Tang and other similar types of products. However, since the last decade, carbonated drinks and powdered drinks, as well as various flavors and branded drinks like juices, lassi, labang, are now available on the market.
Due to the rising competition against Rooh Afza, from grocery stores to pharmacies and even large retail shops, it is still being sold in large quantities during Ramadan.