Bhang – The local intoxicant

Bhang – The local intoxicant

When you talk of Holi, only two things come to mind. One is obviously colours and the other is Bhang. Normally, Hindus associate Bhang with Lord Shiva. However, over the passage of time, people started drinking Bhang during Holi as well. One of the reasons could be that Holi comes close on the heels of Mahashivratri. On Mahashivratri night, people from the northern and
central part of India consume Bhang. It is not much prevalent in South India. Let us now see what Bhang is. We shall also look at the Mahashivratri and Holi connection with Bhang.


What is Bhang?
Bhang in its purest form is a traditional Indian opiate, prepared by crushing the buds and leaves of the female cannabis plant. People commonly have it in the form of an intoxicating drink by adding crushed pistachios, rose petals, almonds, and milk. You have people serving Bhang with saffron (Kesar), nutmeg (Elaichi) and aniseed (Saunf).

How do you prepare Bhang?
Preparing Bhang is a big ritual. A lot of preparation goes into preparing the right formula. You need a mortar and pestle to grind the cannabis leaves and buds to a fine paste. The story goes that you grind the paste to such an extent that the grinding stones stick to each other. This ensures that you have a fine paste. This paste is deep green in colour. You add milk, ghee, and various spices like aniseed, nutmeg, and dry fruits like pistachios and almonds. The refreshing drink is now ready to be served as a perfect alternative to alcohol. You can also have Bhang in the form of peppery chew balls known as ‘golees’. Some people love to have Bhang as a ‘halwa’.

bhang preparation

History of Bhang:
Bhang has a rich and cultural history as an intoxicant. There is mention of Bhang in the Atharvaveda, one of the four religious books of Hinduism. There are references to Bhang curing people of anxiety. In fact, the credit of discovering Bhang goes to Lord Shiva. There is a very interesting story about Lord Shiva’s connection with Bhang. Legend has it that Lord Shiva had
some differences of opinion with his family. Yes, even Gods can have marital problems. That is Hinduism for you. Coming back to the story, Lord Shiva ran into the forest after the altercation.

He became tired and rested for a while in the shade of a leafy plant. On waking up, he involuntarily started chewing the leaves of the plant. To his surprise, he found that he felt rejuvenated instantly. This was the cannabis plant. From that day, Bhang became a favourite with Lord Shiva. Hence, people chant Lord Shiva’s praises on Mahashivratri before consuming Bhang.

holi bhang

Atharvaveda refers to the cannabis plant as one of the five most sacred plants on the planet. People also refer to this plant as a source of happiness. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission considers this plant as the ‘penicillin of the Ayurveda medicine’. Ayurveda recognizes the medicinal qualities of the cannabis plant.

The Islam religion prohibits the consumption of intoxicant drinks. But, the Unani system of medicine recognizes the use of cannabis plant as anti-spasmodic and anti-convulsive medicines. There are stories of Sikh warriors consuming Bhang before venturing into battle. They believe that Bhang gives them the energy to fight strongly and acts as a numbing agent for wounds. The Nihang group of Sikhs consume Bhang even today on a regular basis.

Connection between Bhang and Holi
Holi is a festival of joy and colours. There cannot be more joy than drinking Bhang and spraying colours on people. Drinking Bhang gives the revellers a lot of energy to partake in the Holi celebrations. You see Thandai, Bhang pakoras, and golees savoured throughout the entire day while people celebrate Holi.

The popular belief is that you continue to remain the same state of mind throughout the entire period of intoxication. Hence, if you express happiness while consuming Bhang, you remain happy. The same logic applies when you feel sad while having your quota of Bhang.


Bhang and its tryst with Bollywood

There have been innumerable occasions in Bollywood films where you see the main characters swaying to soulful music while consuming Bhang. Some of the popular dance numbers are ‘Rang Barse, Bheege Chunarvali Rang Barse’ from the film Silsila and ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ from the film Aap Ki Kasam.

Bhang works to the best of its capacity when you have it with the Banarasi Paan. You get aninkling of this celebration in the song, ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswala’ from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer, Don. It is true that Bhang is famous along the ghats of the river Ganges in Varanasi.

Bhang is unadulterated enjoyment and so is Holi. In addition, Holi follows the festival of Mahashivratri. Hence, you have people enjoying Bhang during Mahashivratri and Holi as well.

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