Friday, April 22, 2011

Easy access to seventh heaven

Spring has a way of bringing a treasure trove of goodies for us, mere mortals, living in India. And from Holi to Baisakhi, people in several north Indian states have a very ingenious way of achieving a higher plane of existence, using a very local product. Bhang.

This Holi, like everyone else in India, I had my fair share of colors. It was quite enjoyable, since we had a small Holi party in the place where we live. And then, one of my jittery neighbors, pulled out a bottle, full of a greenish fluid, and started mixing it with the thandai, which is a sweet drink made with milk, sugar and crushed almonds. If you grew up in north India, you would immediately realize what was going on. And, if you were a brave soul amongst the uninitiated, you would definitely get ready to take a swig. Yes, the holy concoction of bhang, accompanied by its devoted followers, was blessing us with its presence. And, like Tennyson so famously said, ours was not to reason why. So, I drank my fair share of it. And since this was after many years without, I didn't realize what would hit me in a couple of hours. I had absolutely no idea.

Bhang, as a recreational drug, is a banned substance in most of the world. But, in India, due to historical use in religious ceremonies, it is borderline legal. It is made by grinding the leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant into a fine paste. Then, it is usually mixed with milk and crushed nuts, with a lot of sugar. And, unlike alcohol, the intoxication is delayed. So usually, you will find out how much you drank, an hour after drinking it. If you are someone who strongly believes that every cloud has a silver lining, then you could argue that after drinking bhang, you don't need a designated driver, if you live a short drive away. If the drive is longer, the chances are, that you will see a rainbow around your clouds, and for some strange reason, you will laugh a lot. Uncontrollably. As if, you are in seventh heaven.

Bhang is extremely popular amongst the vagabond ascetics in India. During the breaks they take between Yoga and meditation, they usually smoke pot. And, if the throat gets too dry, they drink bhang. The devotees of Lord Shiva look at the entire process of grinding cannabis leaves, and making bhang, as a religious exercise, and the holy drink is first offered to the Lord before it is consumed. And then, everyone just sits around and laughs. Uncontrollably.

There is a beautiful Bollywood song from the seventies that captures the bhang drinking phenomenon quite accurately. You can see the entire act of preparation, offering and intoxication in a short, but entertaining video clip. And, the beautiful Himalayas, where Lord Shiva lives, are in the background. So is a small but beautiful temple where he is worshiped.  Enjoy!


  1. I've seen how they made the bhang in a Travel Channel... Very interesting! Pot is definitely illegal right?

  2. Desi Babu: Let's plan a Himalayan trip someday if time permits you. Am serious. Nothing -- nothing! -- beats the sight of a small temple perched on a hill.

  3. Ghosh Babu, I will be delighted to make that trip!

    -- पर लाक्षाग्रह दाह को अभी अधिक दिन नहीं हुए, अज्ञातवास का अभी एक साल बाकी है --

    May be, we can go looking for Hastinapur together, disguised as summer?

  4. Dear Daran: Yes, pot is definitely illegal, unless you are a sadhu. I have never seen a sadhu being arrested for smoking pot. Yet. No one wants to mess with the folks who can turn people into cows and goats with their fiery curses...

  5. I've never experienced bhaang,though I confess it has occasionally made me curious about its effects. The closest I've come to the dubious products of the plant is when a friend and I were traveling on the toy train from Solan to Simla. A happy-looking 'sadhu' was our only companion. He got down at Summerhill. In a way, I was relieved, because his piercing eyes occasionally pierces ours. After he got down, we noticed a huge (umm say 12 x 12 inch) clear polythene bag containing a cake that looked a lot like dhoop.
    I confess feeling this intense interest in opening the bag and taking out just a fingertip-full. Fear won.

  6. Dear partialview: Very funny! Yes, you have to watch out for contraband stuff if sadhus happen to be traveling with you..

    I am curious what he was going to do in Summerhill?! I always though that the rich and famous of Shimla live in Summerhill. But, I may be wrong.

    Thanks for visiting!