The smells of mysticism and spiritualism!
Updated: Mar 30
India is a land of traditions and festivals, some ancient, some recent, some bizarre and some just downright trippy. Use of Bhang is a well established practice among in India on holy days, particularly on festivals like Mahashivratri and Holi. It is also consumed as prasad of Lord Shiva who is considered as a foremost ascetic himself.
Bhang- the word itself smells of mysticism, spiritualism or just ecstasy. Bhang is a preparation of cannabis plant, which is legally sold by government shops during the festive season. People who has lived in northern parts of India are aware and have gone down the "bhang trip" at least once in their lives. For bhang drinkers, grinding bhang is more like an art, a sonnet, a form of devotion, a ritual. The bhang should be ground to the point where the grinding stones stick together and become one, and before it is drunk, verses in praise of Lord Shiva are recited, and the whole exercise is more of a community event rather than an individual event.
As old as it is, bhang has become a inseparable part of Indian culture and tradition. It has become representation for a lot of things. They might be superstitious believes. But if one understands the sentimental and emotional nature of us Indians, with regards to our traditions, one can very easily feel the relationship people have with bhang.
There are numerous folktales about how bhang was first found on Earth, most of which revolve around the tale when the Hindu gods stirred the cosmic ocean to obtain Amrit. The story tells that marijuana plants grew wherever the drops of Amrit fell on the planet. In another version, when Shiva was summoned to drink up the Halahal poison from the ocean, his throat turned blue which gave him the name Neelkanth, and the pain of the burning poison was a lot to handle. Then goddess Parvati, churned bhang, and he was then relieved of the pain. Much of the medicinal myths around bhang comes from these stories where Lord Shiva uses the plant to cure an illness.
The Atharva Veda refers to cannabis as one the five sacred plants on the planet and says that a guardian spirit lives in its leaves. It also refers to it as a “source of joyfulness” and a “liberator”. Ayurveda considers this plant to be of medicinal importance and in the Sushruta Samhita it is used to aid digestion as well as appetite.
The Unani system practiced by Muslims in medieval India also used the cannabis plant as a cure for diseases of the nervous system. Although Islam forbids the use of intoxicants, cannabis has been quite commonly used by Muslims in India. Mughal emperor, Humayan was fond of a sweet cannabis confectionary, the hash brownie of the medieval age. It could be possible that that his fatal fall down a flight of stairs was under the influence of a cannabis high.
The Sikh fighters often drank bhang while in battle to aid them fight better and numb their sense of pain. The tradition still exists with the Nihang, a Sikh order, who ritually consume the plant.
It is also possible that Mangal Pandey’s doomed-to-fail revolt in 1857 was driven by bhang intoxication. During his trial, he confessed of “taking bhang and opium of late” and claimed that he was “not aware” of what he was doing when he mutinied.
The belief around the benefits of drinking bhang for health and success have grown over thousands of years. In the Vedic texts, bhang is a treatment for a a lot of medical conditions, from epilepsy to depression.
Specially in the northern part of India, bhang is believed to be an omen of success, a dream of bhang is a sign of future prosperity. It cannot be traced, where these myths come from , but they remain a part of the ever-evolving aura that surrounds bhang consumption in India. In the end, bhang is a physical manifestation of Shiva’s deepest belief– that which can destroy can also create.