In the 12th lunar month of the Hindu calendar, Falgun brings pleasant weather along with a fleet of celebrations after the shivering winters. There are two major festivals celebrated during this month, Holi and Mahashivratri. These festivals are celebrated with color and bhang. Bhang is a traditional drink consumed in India from ancient times and is made using the leaves of Cannabis Sativa.
Bhang is mostly consumed in the northern states of India but during Holi, it is a drink served throughout India. One could say that Bhang and Holi are synonyms. It is a mixture made by drying, grinding, and soaking the buds and leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant to form a paste that’s added to food and drinks. The paste is mixed with spices; watermelon, almonds, rose water, milk, and ghee to make thandai or lassi. One can also find bhang in the form of bhang goli with the street vendors or government authorized shops. Bhang Goli is a chewy green ball, which is a mixture of cannabis, spices, triphala (a blend of spices and herbs), dates, munakka (rasin), and can be either sweet or spicy in taste.
India is a land of magic, mysteries, and culture. It dwells in beliefs and religion. Indian mythology embraces infinite stories of goddesses and gods, festivals, cultures, and traditions. Let us briefly explore how bhang became a part of India with the evolution of mythology, belief, religion, and cultural practices.
Indian Mythology and Bhang
Where there is bhang, there is Shiva!
The moment we hear about Lord Shiva, there is an image formed of a majestic blue-skinned austere, with a damru (type of drum) in one hand and a trishul (trident) in the other, a snake around his neck, crescent on the crown, meditating in the foothills of snowy Himalaya. Shiva is the Lord of creation and destruction, the one from where everything has come, in whom everything is sustained and everything dissolves.
According to the Hindu scriptures, bhang has been closely associated with Lord Shiva helping him to be in deep meditation and concentration. Many stories surround Lord Shiva and bhang. One of the stories goes as, during Samudra Manthan, Devas (Gods) and Rakshas (Demons) came together to churn the ocean in search of Amrit (nectar of immortality), and as a result, a byproduct “Halahala”/””vish” (lethal poison) was obtained which could have destroyed the whole universe. Shiva, the protector, supreme lord, drank the whole poison to save the universe. It is believed that to save Shiva from the poison, Gods offered him bhang.
Another talks about how Shiva introduced the divine plant of Cannabis to humans for its medicinal properties. A drop of nectar fell from Heaven in the snowy mountains, which then grew as a plant. Shiva made a drink of this plant and realized its medicinal and spiritual properties. The plant is believed to be Cannabis and the drink is famously known as bhang.
One other story suggests that, after a heated conversation with family, Shiva wandered in the jungle and fell asleep near a cannabis plant. He awakened and consumed the plant feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and thus it became his favorite extravagance.
21st Century India and Bhang
Bhang does have a little social stigma as it is an intoxicant but at the same time, it has been in Indian history since time immemorial, in religious and cultural practices, in association with Shiva, and in the times of celebration. Indians are extremely religious people and everything that has a religious and cultural reference is widely accepted. The same holds true for bhang.
Although other forms of Cannabis are prohibited under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985, India has been tolerant about the sale and consumption of bhang. There are government authorized shops for selling bhang, bhang parties are organized and it is prepared in the form of thandai and lassi at Indian households especially during the festival of Holi.
Bhang has been a part of celebrations and a lot has been said about its medicinal benefits but it should be consumed in moderation, according to one’s vulnerability and following the local administrative law.