Holi High

The Asian Age | March 01, 2015
One is 114 times more likely to die from overdosing on alcohol than from cannabis, reports a study from the Scientific Reports journal. If true, it would seem that Lord Shiva wasn’t way off the mark with his habit. According to legend, the shade of a tall marijuana plant brought Shiva relief from the blazing sun. Curious, Shiva chewed some of its leaves and felt so invigorated that he adopted its use. Hence, the widespread use of Bhang in Shiva worship in India.

Of course, Bhang does not always refer to the plant itself but rather to a mild liquid refreshment (or Thandai) made by boiling a mixture of milk, sugar, cannabis, poppy seeds, pepper, ginger, cloves, cardamom, almonds, nutmeg and rosebuds. The two other cannabis preparations in India are Ganja (made from flowers and upper leaves of the plant) and Charas (made from flowers that are in full bloom) both of which are far more potent than Bhang.

The earliest reference to Bhang is contained in the fourth book of the Vedas, the Atharvaveda, which refers to Bhang as one of the “five kingdoms of herbs which release us from anxiety.” By the tenth century Bhang is called the “food of the gods”. Five hundred years later its virtues are listed as astringency, heat, inspiration and the capacity to remove wind and phlegm. By the sixteenth century, a Sanskrit play Dhurtasamagama, depicts two vagabonds quarrelling before a corrupt judge. Before passing a verdict the judge demands payment for his decree and is readily offered Bhang! The Rajvallabha, a seventeenth-century text goes on to equate Bhang with Amrit by saying that it was manufactured like nectar from the ocean by churning it with Mount Mandara.

Bhang soon became a symbol of festivity and hospitality and no social celebration—marriage, coronation, harvest—was complete without it. It even became indispensable in war. Indian folk songs from the twelfth century talk about Bhang and Ganja as the “drink of warriors”. Soldiers would usually take a swig to eliminate any fear or panic. Bhang also become inextricably linked with religion when sadhus and fakirs began to use it to improve their meditation and concentration.

‘Shivaya Vishnu roopaya, Shiva roopaya Vishnuve; Shivasya hridayam Vishnu, Vishnoscha hridayam Shivaha.’ In effect, the ultimate truth is that Shiva is merely a form of Vishnu and Vishnu is merely a form of Shiva. Shiva resides in the heart of Vishnu and Vishnu resides in that of Shiva. Nothing explains this unity better than the use of Shiva’s Bhang in Holi, a festival dedicated to Vishnu (or Krishna).

Churchill, once when asked about his position on whisky is said to have replied, “If you mean whisky, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason… then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fibre of my being. However, if by whisky you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together... then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favour of it!”

Churchill could almost have been describing Bhang!