The Ganja Culture of India

The Ganja Culture of India

CANNABIS CULTURE – In India we are dealing with a sacramental role for cannabis ranging from ancient times to the present day. This continued use of cannabis through the millennia offers many insights into the beliefs and role of cannabis likely held in the ancient world.

The general consensus among botanical historians is that cannabis came to India, via the Indo-Europeans. “By ca. 3000 BP, Cannabis had most likely migrated west and south over the Himalayas and into India, probably coming with nomads and traders over the trade routes that crossed the region” (Clarke & Fleming, 1998).

The original Aryan tribes probably introduced the hemp plant into India sometime in the second millennium B.C. These migrating invaders most likely entered the Indian sub-continent via accessible passes in the high mountainous regions bordering the area… Thus, in the early phases of Indian history, hemp probably was a relatively obscure plant for the mass of population centered on the lowland doabs (interfluves) and in the riverine valleys. (Merlin, 1973)

Indeed, the Sanskrit word for cannabis comes from an earlier Indo-European root for the word. As Alphonse de Candolle noted in Origin of Cultivated Plants, “It has Sanskrit names, bhanga and gangika. The root of the word ang or an, recurs in all the Indo-European and modern Semitic languages: bang in Hindu and Persian, ganga in Bengali, hanf in German, hemp in English, chanvre in French, kanas in Keltic and modern Breton, cannabis in Greek and Latin,  cannab in Arabic” (de Candolle, 1886).

In light of the generally accepted antiquity of cannabis in Indian culture, it is curious to note that no remains of the plant have been found at archeological sites in the area. “Although archaeological and historical data provide a foundation for our understanding of Cannabis dispersal in Asia, there remains a severe lack of palynological and archeological references with which to correlate these data” (Clarke & Fleming, 1998).

We were not able to find many references dealing with analytic evidence of Cannabis pollen for the entire Asian region and no archeological finds of Cannabis remains at all from southern India. Certainly, archeological sites have been investigated, but translations of foreign studies appear to be rare. This may simply be the result of researchers focusing their investigations on other topics besides Cannabis remains. Many early excavations overlooked botanical evidence in their search for cultural objects. Long core samples dating further back in time may reveal Cannabis pollen grains giving us a much earlier time scale for the origin, evolution and migration of Cannabis. This is an area worth pursuing and will help broaden our biological and historical knowledge of this important crop plant. (Clarke & Fleming, 1998)

However, as shall be shown, the use of cannabis in India, as both a medicine and spiritual intoxicant, clearly goes back to ancient times, although as has been discussed there has been some debate about this. As the late pioneer of medical Marijuana Dr. Todd Mikuriya noted “There seems to be some disagreement on the nature of the earliest medical applications of cannabis in India. It was used as medicine before 1000 B.C.” (Mikuriya, 1973). “Medical and sacred use in India… predates written records (Atharva Veda, 1400 B.C….” (La Barre, 1980). “For millennia in India, Cannabis has been cited as a medicine for almost any ailment: to ameliorate catarrh, to relieve haemorrhoids, gonorrhoea, asthma, ‘stitches on the side’, and diarrhea.  It was cited as aphrodisiac…” (Nahas, et al., 1999).

Ayurvedic image

The ancient Ayurvedic system of Indian medicine contains a number of references regarding cannabis. The Ayurveda traces its mythological roots back to gathering of sages in the Himalayas that took place about 5000 years ago. The Sages, who arrived from all areas of the country, exchanged their knowledge of healing, and this was passed down verbally for some generations until finally being committed to writing sometime around the first century AD.

Ayurvedic physicians of India use bhang to treat dozens of diseases and medical problems including diarrhea, epilepsy, delirium and insanity, colic, rheumatism, gastritis, anorexia, consumption, fistula, nausea, fever, jaundice, bronchitis, leprosy, spleen disorders, diabetes, cold, anemia, menstrual pain, tuberculosis, elephantiasis, asthma, gout, constipation, and malaria… (Robinson 1996)

There is also considerable agreement that cannabis in ancient India was not regulated to only the use of it for medicinal and fibre purposes, and that hemp was also revered for its intoxicating properties as well:

The Fourth Book of the Vedas refers to it sometimes under the name of Vijahia (source of happiness) and sometimes under that of Ananda (laughter-provoker). It was not, therefore, for its textile properties that hemp was used in India to start with; at the beginning of the Christian era the use of its fibre was still unknown there…. It is solely to its inebriating properties that hemp owes the signal honour of being sung in the Vedas… (Bouquet, 1950)

As others have also noted: “In India and Iran, it [cannabis]was used as an intoxicant known as bhang as early as 1000 BC.” (Goldfrank, 2002); “The narcotic properties of C. Sativa were recognized in India by 1000 BC.” (Zohary & Hopf, 2000);“The narcotic and euphoric properties of cannabis were known to the Aryans who migrated to India thousands of years ago and there is little doubt they made use of these properties” (Chopra & Chopra, 1965); Cannabis’ “narcotic properties were known in India by (1000 BCE)” (Southworth, 2005); “The ancient sacred book of the Aryans, the Artharva Veda, [1400 B.C.,] called it [cannabis]a ‘liberator from sin’ and ‘heavenly guide’” (La Barre, 1980); “The Atharva Veda of India dates to between 1400 and 2000 BCE and mentions a sacred grass, bhang, which remains a modern term of usage for cannabis. Medical references to cannabis date to Susruta I the 6th to 7 th centuries BCE” (Weiner, 2002).

In the Indian scripture of the AtharvaVeda, the fourth book of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of the Brahman religion (ca 2,000–1,400 BC), bhang (hemp) was identified as one of the five sacred plants of India.  Bhang is “a sacred grass” and its use is considered to “preserve one from disease . . . and prolong the years we have to live.” [both qualities of Soma]In the Book II, Hymn IV, 5, we can read “May the hemp and may gangida protect me against vishkandha [hostile demon]! The one (gangida) is brought hither from the forest, the other (hemp) from the sap of the furrow.” (Hanus, 2008)

Writing at the end of the 19th century, G. A. Grierson also noted the following early references to cannabis, in his well researched essay ‘On References to the Hemp Plant Occurring in Sanskrit and Hindi Literature’:

The name Bhanga occurs in the Atharvaveda (say, B.C. 1400). The hemp plant is there mentioned simply as a sacred grass. Panini (say, B.C. 300) mentions the pollen of the hemp flower (bhanga). In the commencement of the sixth century we find the first mention of vijaya which I have noted. It is a sacred grass, and probably means here the hemp plant….

Cir. B.C. 1400.

In the Atharvaveda (cir. 1400 B.C.) the bhang plant is mentioned (11, 6, 15) once:

“We tell of the five kingdoms of herbs headed by Soma; may it and kuca grass, and bhanga and barley, and the herb saha release us from anxiety.”

Here reference is evidently made to the offering of these herbs in oblations.

The grammarian Panini (5, 2, 29) mentions bhangukata, the pollen of the hemp flower, as one of his examples.

Cir. B. C. 300.

The fact that the pollen of this special flower was quoted is worth noting. (Grierson, 1893)

Evidence of cannabis near the area is not limited to literary evidence. “It should also be noted here that recent archeobotanical evidence for Cannabis dating between 400 B.C. – 100 A.D. has been found in the Kali Gandaki Valley of Nepal which connects the Tibetan plateau with the plains of India” (Merlin, 2003). “In Nepal, ascetics, shamans, and magicians have been consuming small amounts of this agent [cannabis]since ancient times in order to induce trance states” (Gruber,1991). Thus, cannabis has clearly played a pivotal part in ancient India, as a medicine, a mild social intoxicant, and a religious sacrament.

The renowned anthropologist Weston La Barre believed that use of cannabis in India even predated written accounts:

In India, the use of cannabis as a narcotic has been continuous since prehistoric times…. One is tempted to suggest that even if cannabis were indeed not as early as Mohenjodaran-Harappan India (suspiciously adjacent geographically to Mesopotamia Sumeria and/or to Scythian southwest Asia), whence the shamanic Pasupati “master of animals” prototype of pot-loving Shiva emerged, then cannabis might just as well have been brought by the first Aryan invaders, given the pan-Indo-European extent of the hemp-word…. (La Barre, 1980)

Shiva Lord of Bhang

Shiva, the oldest continually worshipped God on Earth, is well known for his fondness for bhang (cannabis). In the Rudrayamal Danakand and Karmakand Shiva tells his consort: “Oh Goddess, Parvati, hear the benefits derived from bhang. The worship of bhang raises one to my position.” As the 19th century Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report recorded of Shiva’s cultic connection to cannabis:

It is chiefly in connection with the worship of Siva, the… great god of the Hindu trinity, that the hemp plant, and more especially perhaps ganja, is associated. The hemp plant is popularly believed to have been a great favourite of Siva, and… the drug in some form or other is… extensively used in the exercise of the religious practices connected with this form of worship… [R]eligious ascetics, who are regarded with great veneration by the people at large, believe that the hemp plant is a special attribute of the god Siva, and this belief is largely shared by the people… There is evidence to show that on almost all occasions of the worship of this god, the hemp drugs in some form or other are used… these customs are so intimately connected with their worship that they may be considered to form in some sense an integral part of it. (IHDCR, 1894)

This relationship between God and Plant, has generally been traced back to Shiva’s role in one of the most important myths of Hinduism.

Shiva Preparing bhang

The Churning of the Ocean of Milk

In Hinduism, Samudra manthan or The Churning of the Ocean of Milk is one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas (500-300 BC) and the story is still celebrated in the popular festivals known as the Kumbha Mela. Interestingly, this ancient myth, composed within about two centuries after the initial pogrom against Soma, seemingly takes sacramental hemp use out of the cult of Indra, and instills it with the devotees of Shiva.

The Churning of the Ocean of Milk tells the story of the search for the elixir of immortality, “amrita” by both the gods in order to restore their waning strength. The myth relates that long ago, Indra, king of the gods and all of the three worlds, had grown rude and arrogant. As a result of this insolence, when the great rishi Duravas, a portion of Shiva, placed a garland as an offering before Indra, who rode upon an elephant, Indra placed the offering on the trunk of the elephant, who grew irritated at its smell, throwing it off and stomping on the garland in front of the insulted Duravas, who called down a curse on Indra for his arrogance.

Due to Duravas’ curse, Indra and all his domain of the three worlds, including the other Gods, were weakened and sent into ruin and this allowed the demons the opportunity to exert their strength against the weakened gods. The Gods turned to Brahman, who advised them to seek Vishnu, the tamer of demons. Brahama led the gods along the edge of the Ocean of Milk to Vishnu’s seat, where they prayed for his aid.

Contemporary painting of Vishnu seated in the Ocean of Milk, as Brahma, Shiva and other deities approach from the shore, (by Kailash Raj).

Vishnu promised to restore their strength by ordering them to prepare the amrita, a sacred substance that bestows immortality and vigor, telling them “Do now as I command: cast into the Milky Sea potent herbs, then take Mount Mandara for churning-stick, the serpent Vasuki for rope, and churn the Ocean for the dew of life [amrita]” (Coomaraswamy & Nivedita, 1914). Thus wrapping the huge serpent around the mountain, together they could use it as a giant pestle in order the churn the “potent herbs” they cast into the Ocean of milk and make amrita! Here we see a cosmic account that clearly parallels the use of the mortar and pestle to grind milk and cannabis in order to make the earthly bhang.

Vishnu tells the Gods that the job before them will be far too large for them to complete on their own, and they will need the help of the daityas (demons) to accomplish the task. Vishnu then tells the Gods to promise a share of the amrita to the demons, and to tell them it will bestow immortality upon them. But this was a trick, as Vishnu explained “I shall see to it they shall have no share of the water of life, their share will be of the labor only” (Coomaraswamy & Nivedita, 1914).

As the Gods and demons joined together in churning the Ocean of Milk, various things began to rise out of as a result, first the wish-giving cow, Surabhi, rose out, delighting gods and demons alike,  then Varuni, with rolling eyes, the divinity of wine, followed by the Parijata, the fragrant tree of Paradise, then the graceful troops of apsaras. These were followed by the moon, which was grasped by Shiva and placed upon his brow, and then a draught of deadly poison, also taken by Shiva who drank of it, lest it should destroy the world, a selfless act that is said to have turned the God blue when the poison became stuck in his throat. Then appeared Dhanwantari holding in his hand the vessel of amrita, the dew of life, lighting up the eyes of both the Gods and demons with desire.

Painting depicting the gods and demons using a mountain as a pestle to churn “potent herbs” into the Ocean of Milk in order to produce the sacred amrita, i.e making the cosmic bhang. Right, contemporary image of Shiva “Concocting Bhang” by churning hemp with a pestle into a bowl of milk.

The story has it that after the amrita appeared in the Kumbha (urn)  the demons attempted to gain control of it and as a result a 12 day battle, equal to twelve earthly years , took place between the Gods and the demons in the heavens. During the battle, the celestial bird, the Garuda, (known for his association with Soma) flew away with the Kumbha of amrita to protect it from the hands of the demons.

To insure that the precious amrita did not fall into the hands of the demons, the Kumbha (vessel)  of nectar was temporarily hidden at four places on the earth – Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. At each of these places, a drop of the nectar was said to have spilled from the pot and from these drops of this precious water of immortality it is believed that these places acquired mystical power. A Kumbh Mela is celebrated at the four places every twelve years for this reason. Ancient tradition has it that one of the miracles that resulted from the spilling of the amrita was the creation of Hemp.

[Cannabis]…  was originally produced, like nectar from the ocean by the churning with Mount Mandara, and inasmuch as it gives victory in the three worlds, it, the delight of the king of the gods, is called vijaya, the victorious. This desire-fulfilling drug was obtained by men on the earth, through desire for the welfare of all people. (Grierson, 1893)

With the aid of Vishnu, the Gods finally overcame the demons and eventually gained control of the pot of amrita. Invigorated by the sacred elixir, the Gods were able to drive the demons down to hell and order and prosperity was restored to the three worlds. In honour of their success against the demons the Gods gave cannabis the name Vijaya (“Victory”) to commemorate the event.

The God most closely associated with the collecting of the amrita, was Shiva, and his devotees still partake of cannabis in commemoration of this event to this day.  “The votaries of Eudra-Siva are addicted to Cannabis sativa” (Chakbraberty, 1944). “According to the old Hindu poems, God Shiva brought down the hemp plant from the Himalayas and gave it to mankind” (Chopra, 1939). This close association clearly goes back back to the myth of The Churning of the Ocean of Milk: “Shiva on fire with the poison churned from the ocean was cooled by bhang” (Campbell, 1894).

According to one account, when nectar was produced from the churning of the ocean, something was wanted to purify the nectar. The deity supplied the want of a nectar-cleanser by creating bhang. This bhang Mahadev [Shiva] made from his own body, and so it is called angaj or body-born. According to another account some nectar dropped to the ground and from the ground the bhang plant sprang.  It was because they used this child of nectar or of Mahadev in agreement of religious forms that the seers or Rishis became Siddha or one with the deity.  He who despite the example of the Rishis, uses no bhang shall lose his happiness in this life and in the life to come. In the end he shall be cast into hell. The mere sight of bhang, cleanses from as much sin as a thousand horse-sacrifices or a thousand pilgrimages. He who scandalizes the user of bhang shall suffer the torments of hell so long as the sun endures. He who drinks bhang foolishly or for pleasure without religious rites is as guilty as the sinner… of sins. He who drinks wisely and according to rule, be he ever so low, even though his body is smeared with human ordure and urine, is Shiva. No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of bhang. The students of the scriptures at Beanres are given bhang before they sit to study. At Benares, Ujjain, the other holy places, the yogis, bairagis, and sanyasis take deep draughts of bhang that they may center there thoughts on the Eternal.

The Hindu poet of Shiva, the Great Spirit that living in bhang passes into the drinker, sings of bhang as the clearer of ignorance, the giver of knowledge. No gem or jewel can touch in value bhang taken truly and reverently. He who drinks bhang drinks Shiva. The soul in whom the spirit of bhang finds a home glides into the ocean of Being freed from the weary round of matter-blinded self.

…. So the right user of bhang or of ganja, before beginning to drinker smoke, offers the drug to Mahadev saying, lena Shankar, lena Babulnath:  be pleased to take Shankar, take it Babulnath. According to the Shiva Parann, from the dark fourteenth of Magh (January-February) to the light fourteenth of Asbadh (June-July), that is, during the three months of the hot weather, bhang should be daily poured over the Ling [sacred phallic image]of Shiva every day, bhang should be poured at least during the first and last days of this period. According to the Meru Tantra on any Monday, especially on Shravan (July-August) Mondays, on all twelfths pradoshs, and on all dark fourteenths or shivratris still more on the Mahashivratri or Shiva’s Great Night on dark fourteenth of Magh (January-February.), and at all eclipses of the sun or moon, persons wistful either for this world or for the world to come should offer bhang to Shiva and pour it over the Ling. (Campbell, 1894)

Contemporary depiction of Shiva partaking of bhang,  which is being offered by his wife Parvati while his elephant headed son Ganesh prepares more of the sacred elixir with a mortar and pestle in the foreground, (by Kailash Raj). Considering this image of family bliss and the making of bhang, it is interesting to note that in one myth about the discovery of cannabis, Shiva “enraged with family worries…withdrew to the fields. The cool shade .of a plant soothed him. He crushed and partook of the leaves, and the bhang refreshed him… So the right user of bhang or of ganja, before beginning to drink or smoke, offers the drug to Mahadev saying, lena Shankar, lena Babulnath: be pleased to take Shankar, take it Babulnath”(Campbell, 1894).

The amrita of the Puranas can be seen as the “Heavenly Soma” which was drunk by the gods from the receptacle of the moon, and when the nectar spilled from the khumba (vessel) which held it, fell upon the earth, the earth produced cannabis, the worldly portion of amrita, an identification clearly marking hemp as the earthly counterpart of the heavenly Soma/amrita.

Drinking of cannabis in the form of bhang can be traced considerably back in time. The current form follows the tradition of ritual use prescribed for soma, such as washing, grinding, mixing with milk and spiritual invocation…. The use of bhang by Brahmans and householders at festivals has a form and style that may be traced to soma… (Morningstar, 1985)

Video supplements: The God of Cannabis, a National Geographic video on Shiva and Cannabis 

Dr. Mike Aldrich discusses the role of cannabis in India

A group of Bhang Drinker depicted in an early 20th century postcard

To this day, Hindu Holy men, sadhus, and other worshippers, celebrate their most important festival, the Kumbha Mela, smoking chillums of hashish, and drinking draughts of bhang in honour of Lord Shiva every 3 years at one of the four sacred spots that the amrita is believed to have been spilled, returning to each of the four holy sites in a twelve years cycle. Over 60 million worshippers are said to have attended the 2001 Kumbha Mela, making it the largest human gathering ever.

The Chillum, youtube video

The Sacred Smoke

The smoking of cannabis and hashish in chillums or Hookahs is believed to be a relatively new development, a method thought to be introduced after the New World discovery of smoking tobacco, and may have spread in popularity due to attempts to control the ritual use of bhang:

In Hindustan, in distant ages when the secret of the priests was revealed or stolen, hemp was used solely for the preparation of potions. The Brahmins appear to have attempted to control its use. They authorized it only on the occasion of certain important religious celebrations (Kali festivals, Druga-Puja etc.). We cannot know whether the people readily accepted the restriction of their consumption of Cannabis potions to the permitted dates; nor can we say whether it was not precisely in order to gratify the passion for the intoxicating drug, while at the same time respecting the law promulgated by the ministers of the divinity, that the custom of smoking hemp arose. This practice, more attractive, quicker in its effects, and less dangerous [?], spread with great rapidity, and at the present time smokers form the great majority of the hashish addicts of India. (Bouquet, 1950)

In Sadhus—India’s Mystic Holy Men, Dolf Hartsuiker explains more about Shiva’s special relationship with cannabis and the development of smoking it:

…the smoking of charas [cannabis]is… regarded as a sacred act…Intoxication as a ‘respected’… method of self-realization is related to soma the nectar of the gods, which is recommended in the Vedas as a sure means of attaining divine wisdom.

Mythologically, charas, is intimately connected with Shiva: he smokes it, he is perpetually intoxicated by it, he is the Lord of Charas… Babas offer the smoke to him; they want to take part in his ecstasy, his higher vision of reality. (Hartsuiker, 1993)

Lord Shiva, with half closed eyes, perpetually stoned, smoking a chillum, and with the crescent moon in his hair symbolizing the drained cup of celestial Soma. (illustration by author).

1842 illustration by W. Taylor, ‘The Sunyasees’, depicting two sadhus, one smoking a ritual chillum, also with a traditional ‘nargila’, coconut water-pipe at his feet.

marble carving of a sadhu smoking a chillum

– 8A –

Shiva holding up a chillum

Here is a very simple chillum ritual to perform as puja to the Lord of Bhang: The Three Chillums of Trinath ritual dedicated to the Three Faced Shiva.

NOTE BY BABU ABHIILAS CHANDRA MUKERJI, SECOND INSPECTOR OF EXCISE, BENGAL, ON THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF TRINATH WORSHIP IN EASTERN BENGAL,. ‘
Date of origin.–In 1867 Babu Annnda Chandra Kali or Kailai, of Dhamrai, a village in thana Sabhar of the Dacca district, first started the worship at the house of his father-in- law at Fattehpur in the Atia pargana of the Mymensingh district (sub-division Tangail). Antecedent: of the originator.–Dhamrai is an important village in the Dacca district for its car festival, which is annually held in honour of a local idol named Madhab Thakur, and which is witnessed by a large gathering of people. Ananda Chandra received education at the Dacca Normal School. After leaving school he served for some time as a pundit (schoolmaster), and then entered the Police Department, but was there only a short time. He is a Barendra Brahman and belongs to a respectable family. He learnt to smoke ganja when he was only a boy. His present age Is 60 years. He has the reputation of being a versifier. He smokes two pice worth of ganja every day.

He married at Fattehpur in the Mymensingh district. There he introduced Trinath worship 27 years ago. A panchali (poem) reciting the praises and exploits of Trinath was first published at Dacca in 1871 and the first edition (l,000 copies) was sold in a few months.

The circumstances under which the worship was first started.-Ananda Chandra Kali was at the time living in the house of his father-in-law. He was thinking of introducing the worship of a common god, who might be worshipped by all classes, rich and poor, Brahman and Chandal, and by all creeds, Saktas, Baishnavas, and Shaivas, and the idea occurred to him of having the present worship at which ordinary and inexpensive things, such as ganja, oil, and betel-leaf, were alone to be used. ·
Trinath (from Sanskrit Tri, three, and Nath, lord) is represented to be Brahma, Bishnu and Shiva, the Hindu Trinity in one.

Being a ganja-smoker himself Ananda Kali may have also thought that by introducing the worship he would be able to save the ganja-smokers from disrepute, as then ganja could be consumed in the name of a god and under colour of doing a religious or pious act.

Religious aspect of the worship.–The following translation of the Introduction to the Trinath Mela Panchali gives some idea of the subject :

The universe consists of the earth, the heaven, and the nether world, and Trinath is the lord of these three worlds.
“There was an incarnation of God in the form of Gour (Chaitanya), who delivered· the sinners by preaching the name of Hari, but the Lord was not satisfied with this, and became concerned for the created, and soon he became incarnate again. Brahma, Bishnu and Shiva, gods in three forms, manifested themselves in one form. The one God, the Lord of the. universe, seeing the miseries of mankind, came to their deliverance. Ananda (Ananda Chandra Kali, the originator)declares that the true and sincere worshippers of Trinath are sure to obtain salvation. Brahma, Bishnu, and Shiva met together and expressed their desire,

to come to this world in one form to receive worship. .

“He is a truly pious man who worships Trinath, and blessings are showered on the worshipper.

“The worship should be made in a form in which the rich and the poor may equally join and may perform it easily.

“Only three things, each worth one pice, are required for this puja (form of worship)..

The things which please all must be selected. The offering should consist of siddhi (ganja),. pan (betel-leaf), and oil, each worth one pice. .

“The votaries should assemble at night and worship with flowers. The ganja should be washed in the manner in which people wash ganja for smoking. The worshipper must fill three chillums with equal quantities of ganja, observing due awe and reverence. When all, the worshippers are assembled the lamp should be lit with three wicks, and the praises of Tri- should be sung. As long as the wicks burn, the god should be worshipped and his praises chanted. The god should be reverentially bowed to at the close of the puja. When the reading of the Panchali is finished, those that will not show respect to the Prasad (the
offering which has been accepted by the god), i.e., chillum of ganja, shall be consigned to eternal hell, and the sincere worshippers shall go to heaven. ,

How the worship spread.–Anauda Kali commenced the puja with the aid of some ganja smokers in the village of Fattehpur. A large number of people consume ganja in the Dacca and Mymensingh districts, and the worship soon became popular. In fact it spread like wild-fire from one village to another among the ganja-smokers. Those that were not in the habit of consuming ganja also followed their example.

The following circumstances assisted the spread of the Worship :

I.–The puja is open to all classes from Brahmans to Chandals and to the rich and the poor. Caste does not stand in its way, and it may be performed almost every day and in all seasons.
II.–The pup is a Manarik Puja (made in pursuance of a vow on the fulfillment of the object desired).. People have been led to believe that Trinath possesses the power of .healing the sick and fulfilling desires, and .that those who. neglect his worship meet with disgrace, while those who observe it attain success in life. There are several stories m the Panchali narrated in illustration of this statement. It is also popularly believed that in the house where Trinath is worshipped cold: fever and headache do not appear.

III.–This is a cheap form of worship. The puja can be performed by even the poorest, only three pies being required.

IV.–People of the lowest class can mix with those above them without distinction of caste or creed on the occasion of these pujas.

V.–Ganja can be consumed by all in the name of a god, and the practice cannot be looked down upon, because it is done under certain forms and religious ceremonies. It is also popularly believed that those who mock the worshippers of Trinath shall be ruined and shall be the victims of misfortune.
The worship prevails not only among the poor, but also among the well-to-do. The latter often entertain their friends after the puja.

The worship is more or less general in the following districts :–(1) Dacca, (2) Mymensingh, (3) Faridpur, (4) Backergunge, (5) Noakhali, (6) Tippers, (7) Chittagong, (8) Bogra, (9) Sylhet, and (10) Pabna (SerajgaDj side). .,,

The worship is on the decline. It is almost dying out among the educated, but among the masses it Still exists.

I have ascertained the above facts from Dr. Chandra Sekhar Kali (brother of the originator, Ananda Chandra Kali) and many other respectable persons, and also from personal inquiries in the Daces, Chittagong and Rajshahi divisions. (IHDC, 1894)

3 faced Shiva smoking a chillum and drinking bhang

bronze 3 faced Shiva

Kali Weed

 Although Shiva is the Lord of Bhang, cannabis appears in offering to a number of other deities such as those dedicated to Shiva’s consort Kali, Goddess of Life and Death. Kali’s cannabis mantra is, “Om, Hrim Ambrosia, that springeth forth from ambrosia, Thou shalt showerest ambrosia, draw ambrosia for me again and again.  Bring Kalika within my control. Give success; Svaha” (Avalon, 1913). In Tantric rites, cannabis retained its ancient Vedic epithet of ‘Vijaya’ (Victory). As Arthur Avalon (aka, Sir John Woodroffe) explained: “Vijaya, (victory) used in ceremonies to Kali: That is the narcotic Bhang (hemp)… used in all ceremonies” (Avalon, 1913).

In medieval India and Tibet, sorcerers in search of magic powers glorified the use of a marijuana drink (bhang)… in Tantric sex ceremonies derived from the ancient soma cult. A circle of naked men and women is conducting an experiment of the central nervous system. They consecrate a bowl of bhang to Kali, goddess of terror and delight. As the bhang begins to take effect, the worshippers mentally arouse the serpent at the base of the spine, sending waves of energy up tothe cortex. (Aldrich, 1978)

Cannabis also played an important role in the Durga Puja, the annual Hindu six day festival that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. Up until the 19th century, at the close of the Durga Puja, it was customary to drink bowls of bhang and to offer them to others. As the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report recorded:

The custom of offering an infusion of the leaves of the hemp plant to every guest and member of the family on the… last day of the Durga Puja, is common in Bengal, and may almost be said to be universal. It is alluded to by many of the witnesses who refer to its use on this occasion as well as on other days of the Durga Puja festival. But, while there can be no doubt as to the existence of the custom, there is considerable divergence of opinion as to the true nature of it. The custom itself is a simple one. On the last day of this great festival the male members of the family go forth to consign the image to the waters and on their return the whole family with their guests exchange greetings and embrace one another. During this rejoicing a cup containing an infusion of the leaves of the hemp plant is handed round, and all are expected to partake thereof, or at least to place it to the lips in token of acceptance. Sweetmeats containing hemp are also distributed. Opinion is almost equally divided as to whether the custom is a mere social observance, or whether it is an essential part of the religious ceremonial of the festival. There is difference whether there is any injunction in the opinion among the witnesses as to Shastras rendering obligatory the consumption of hemp; but Tantric religious works sanction the use, and the custom whatever be its origin may now be said from immemorial usage to be regarded by many people as part of their religious observances. From the evidence of the witnesses it would appear that there is no specific direction in the Shastras of the manner in which the drug should be used but from the references quoted it would appear that the use alluded to is authority that of bhang in the form of an infusion. (IHDCR, 1894)

Kali and Shiva embrace, carved from black marble

Vishnu’s Party Plant

Cannabis was consecrated to the Vedic God Vishnu as well, which is not really surprising considering the important role Vishnu played in the Puranic myth The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.  This relationship likely goes back to the earlier days when cannabis was consecrated as Soma, as Vishnu’s love of Soma, was duly noted in the Vedas “Drink of this meath… Viṣhṇu; drink ye your fill of Soma… The sweet exhilarating juice hath reached you” (RV.6.69). In the late 19th century Campbell recorded: “Vaishnavas [Vishnu worshippers]… make offerings of bhang. The form of Vishnu Or, the Guardian to whom bhang is a welcome offering is Baladev… in the worship of Baladev all present, worshipper and, ministrant alike, join in drinking” (Campbell, 1894). Kaemper recorded an ecstatic celebration involving bhang taken in honor of Vishnu in this 300 year old account:

In Malabar, at the time of the sacrifices in honour of Vishnu, virgins pleasant to behold and richly adorned were brought from the temple of the Brahmins. They came out in public to appease the god who rules over plenty and fine weather. To impress the spectators, these young women were previously given a preparation with a basis of hemp and datura, and when the priest saw, by certain symptoms, that the action of the drugs was about to show itself, he began his invocations. The Devadassy (servants of the gods) then danced, leapt about yelling, contorted their limbs, and, foaming at the mouth, their eyes ecstatic, committed all sorts of eccentricities. Finally the priests carried the exhausted virgins into the sanctuary, gave them a potion to destroy the effect of the previous one, and then showed them again to the people in their right mind, so that the crowd of spectators might believe that the demons had fled and the idol was appeased. (Kaemper, 1712)

Cannabis is also ritually consumed by the Jagannath cult in Puri, particularly in their famous “Festival of Chariots”, a traditional remnant of the chariot riding Aryans and which is of pre-Vedic origins. Jagannath, “the Lord of the Universe” is a form of the God Vishnu. The Temple of Lord Jagannath is one of the major temples in India. The worship of Lord Jagannath is so ancient that there is no accurate record of how long it has been going on. It is strictly forbidden for non-Hindus to enter the Jaganath temple.

The Jagganath Temple in Puri.

As the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report recorded, “bhang is largely used by the attendants and worshippers at the temple of Jagannath at Puri” (IHDCR, 1894).  In this ancient, and still partially performed rite, massive elaborately decorated chariots (representing the world in motion) are drawn carrying the veiled figures of Jaganath and his bride.

The Jagannath Mandir was the last temple to maintain classical  [Indian] dance, up until the mid-1950s – now it is strictly a theatrical art… The British… suppressed this aspect of liturgy as rude, calling the devadasis or maharis (the ritual wives of the god) nuatch-girls or prostitutes (they performed naked, judging by the sculpture on the natamandapas or natamandiras, ‘dance platforms or temples,’ for the public, and among their duties was maithuna-type ritual sex with the Brahmins in the temple, with which Cannabis use seems to be associated, to please Indra and bring on the monsoon).  As a result the practice, once widespread throughout India… all but disappeared, except in Puri, and the other styles were preserved only in villages by gotipuas, boys dressed as girls, only to be revived as classical art in our time… (Ott 1996)

India’s Festival Intoxicant

In his exquisite essay on the importance of cannabis in Indian spirituality, On the Religion of Hemp, J.M. Campbell noted that “So holy a plant must play a leading part in temple rights” (Campbell, 1894). Clearly with celebrations like the Kumbha Mela and other holidays where hemp products have been commonly consumed in India for centuries if not millennia, the same can be said of Indian festivals as well. It should also be noted that the “use of bhang by Brahmans and householders at festivals has a form and style that may be traced to soma…” (Morningstar, 1985)

It has been suggested that the Holi festival of India, in which thousands of participants drink bhanga and playfully throw colored paint on each other in a celebration of life and joy, is a remnant of the Soma cult. The Holi festival “the Saturnalia of India… terminates with feasting, drunkenness, obscenity and a bonfire…” (Boleton, et al., 2000).

The whole festival is one of sex and fertility worship and presents in India the pictures of bands of noisy and excited revellers parading the streets, unrestrained in demeanour, gesture and speech… their dress dip wet and bespattered with daubs of red powder and yellow water…. the red powder… and yellow… water… with which the Holi revellers bespatter one another… appear to have their origins in Hinduism and the soma tradition of Mount Meru…. the intoxicating juice of the soma plant when mixed with milk represents the nectar of the gods (Indra): the wine of immortality among men; the elixir of life: the heavenly water….In seeking an explanation of the red powder and yellow water used in the Holi… we are reminded that Vedic ritualists recognized two elements in the immortal properties of  Soma, the one food, the other a beverage… it may be possible that the red powder… and the yellow water… used in… the Holi… may represent these elements. (Bolton, et al., 2000)

As the 19th century Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report noted of this and other festivities, “at the Holi festival… bhang is commonly consumed; and, according to many witnesses, at such festivals as the Diwali, Chait Sankranti, Pous Sankranti, Sripanchami, Sivachaturdasi, Ramnavami, and indeed on occasions of weddings and many other family festivities” (IHDCR, 1894).

Holi Revellers intoxicated on bhang.

The Warriors Herb

Just as Soma was the drink of the warrior God Indra, cannabis continued with this role on the earthly plain, as Grierson noted at the close of the 19th century:

In folk-songs, ganja or bhang (with or without opium) is the invariable drink of heroes before performing any great feat. At the village of Bauri in Gaya there is a huge hollow stone, which is said to be the bowl in which the famous hero Lorik mixed his ganja. Lorik was a very valiant general, and is the hero of numerous folk-songs. The epic poem of Alha and Rudal, of uncertain date, but undoubtedly based on very old materials (the heroes lived in the twelfth century A.D.), contains numerous references to ganja as a drink of warriors. For instance, the commencement of the canto dealing with Alha’s marriage, describes the pestle and mortar with which the ganja was prepared, the amount of the intoxicating drink prepared from it (it is called sabzi) and the amount of opium (an absurdly exaggerated quantity) given to each warrior in his court. (Grierson, 1893)

As also noted by J.M. Campbell in his essay ‘On the Religion of Hemp’:

Another great spirit time during which bhang plays an important part is the time of war. Before the outbreak of a war and during its progress the Ling of Mahadev should be bathed with bhang. Its power of driving panic influences from near the god has gained for bhang the name of Vijaya, the unbeaten. So a drink of bhang drives from the fighting Hindu the haunting spirits of fear and weariness. So the beleaguered Rajput, when nothing is left but to die, after loosing his hair that the bhang spirit may have free entrance, drinks the sacramental bhang and rushing on the enemy completes his juhar or self-sacrifice. It is this quality of panic-scaring that makes bhang, the Vijaya or Victorious, specially dear to Mahadev in his character of Tripur, the slayer of the demon Tripurasur. (Campbell, 1894)

This association between cannabis and the courage needed for battle, is one of the key reasons why the plant has played such an important role in the Sikh religion for centuries.

19th century illustration by Armitage of ‘The Battle of Meeanee (Sind) – Pakistan,’ which was fought on the 17th of February, 1843, and was an account of British Imperialistic forces encountering fierce resistance from Sikh warriors said to be under the influence of  bhang. According to British sources hemp provided  the Sikhs with a furious excitement under which their assaults against the British were made, so  much so that the usually steady front of the 22nd regiment, armed with rifles against the Sikh’s swords and spears, lost many soldiers to the Sikh’s cannabis inspired courage.

The Sikhs and Sukhnidhaan

Besides its prominent role in Hinduism, cannabis has also played an important part in the later Sikh religion of the Punjab region. Sikhism grew out of Hinduism and began in the 16th century AD, but is now one of the world’s five major religions. The name Sikh itself comes from a Sanskrit root śiṣya meaning “disciple” or “learner”, or śikṣa meaning “instruction”. In a chapter on “Social and Religious Customs” the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report reported on the 19th century Sikh relationship with cannabis:

Among the Sikhs the use of bhang as a beverage appears to be common, and to be associated with their religious practices. The witnesses who refer to this use by the Sikhs appear to regard it as an essential part of their religious rites having the authority of the Granth or Sikh scripture. Witness Sodhi Iswar Singh, Extra Assistant Commissioner, says: “As far as I know, bhang is pounded by the Sikhs on the Dasehra day, and it is ordinarily binding upon every Sikh to drink it as a sacred draught by mixing water with it.” Legend–Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, the founder of the Sikh religion, was on the gaddi of Baba Nanak in the time of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the guru was at Anandpur, tahsil Una, Hoshiarpur district, engaged in battle with the Hill Rajas of the Simla, Kangra, and the Hoshiarpur districts, the Rains sent an elephant, who was trained in attacking and slaying the forces of the enemy with a sword in his trunk and in breaking open the gates of forts, to attack and capture the Lohgarh fort near Anandpur. The guru gave one of his followers, Bachittar Singh, some bhang and a little of opium to eat, and directed him to face the said elephant. This brave man obeyed the word of command of his leader and attacked the elephant, who was intoxicated and had achieved victories in several battles before, with the result that the animal was overpowered and the Hill Rajas defeated. The use of bhang, therefore, on the Dasehra day is necessary as a sacred draught. It is customary among the Sikhs generally to drink bhang, so that Guru Gobind Singh has himself said the following poems in praise of bhang: “Give me, O Saki (butler), a cup of green colour (bhang), as it is required by me at the time of battle (vide ‘Suraj Parkash,’ the Sikh religious book).” Bhang is also used on the Chandas day, which is a festival of the god Sheoji Mahadeva. The Sikhs consider it binding to use it on the Dasehra day-The quantity then taken is too small to prove injurious.” As Sikhs are absolutely prohibited by their religion from smoking, the use of ganja and charas in this form is not practised by them. Of old Sikh times, is annually permitted to collect without interference a boat load of bhang, which is afterwards distributed throughout the year to the sadhus and beggars who are supported by the dharamsala. (IHDCR, 1894)

In the 19th century, one of the 12 confederacies of the Sikhs was identified by the name “Bhangi, called from their fondness for Bhang, extract of hemp” (Eastwick & Murray, 1883). However, for the most part, it seems the use of cannabis preparations have fallen out of favor with the devotees of the Sikh religion. “The Nihang of Punjab, who are the defenders of Sikh shrines, are an exception. They take cannabis to help in meditation” (Beck & Worden, 2002).

The Akali Nihang claim direct lineage from the founding Gurus of Sikhism. Their itinerant lifestyle, rites and rituals have been sanctioned from the time of the sixth Sikh Guru – Hargobind Singh.

Yet as Sikhism has grown and spread around the globe, the Nihang have been outcaste by their own people. Once seen as heroes and demi gods, they are now vilified as thieves and drug addicts. (Kandola, 2009)

The Nihang also referred to as the Akalis, are a largely nomadic Sikh military order known for their military prowess, and historical victories in battle even when they were greatly outnumbered. Nihang are easily identifiable by their steel iron bracelets, weaponry and particularly by their “electric blue” attire and tall turbans. The Nihang’s defence of Sikh sacred sites has earned them the title of “Knights of God”. With their cannabis use, prowess in battle, excellent horsemanship, and nomadic lifestyle, it is hard not to see this sect in parallel with the ancient Scythians who are known to have left a cultural imprint in Northern India.

Nihang Sikhs preparing Suhka

Up until 2001, Cannabis use was a condoned part of Nihang ritual and spiritual practice and this use was identified by them a “time-respected tradition’ bestowed upon the order by the tenth Guru of Sikhism, Gobind Singh (1666- 1708). The Nihang used the name of Suhka, meaning ‘Peace-Giver’ for the preparer of their ritual cannabis preparations which they used in the form of baked cookies and a bhang like beverage referred to as sukhnidhaan. As described in Nav Kandola’s fascinating film The Nihang – A Secret History of the Sikhs, cannabis is clearly viewed as a”sacred herb”, that is used to “help meditation, reciting mantras and is cooling internally”, other names for cannabis used by the Nihang include Shaeedy Degh, meaning the “Martyr’s Sacrament” and also “the Guru’s herb” (Kandola, 2009).Nihang use of cannabis has been particularly associated with the Sikh holiday Hola Mohalla, a sort of military celebration where it is consumed en mass in a large rowdy celebration.

19th century miniature painting depicting the tenth Guru of Sikhism, Gobind Singh, who is said to have made the following poem in praise of bhang: “Give me, O Saki (butler), a cup of green colour (bhang), as it is required by me at the time of battle (vide ‘Suraj Parkash,’ the Sikh religious book).”

Singh Sahib Bhai Joginder Singh Ji offered the following references in support of the Nihang’s use of Sukhnidhaan:

1. According to the ‘Janamsakhi Bhai Bala’, Mogul King Babur offered ‘Bhang’ to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Delighted on this, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji granted him the boon to have the kingdom for seven generations. Guru Ji recited a ‘Shabd’ also on this occasion, in which he did not condemn ‘Bhang’. On the other hand, when Yogi Jhangar Nath offered a cup of wine to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Ji recited a ‘Shabd’, in which drinking wine was condemned.

2. The ‘Mahant’ (abbot) of ‘Gurusar Satlaani’ got license for ‘Sukhnidhaan’ from the British government.

3. The ‘Sukhnidhaan’ is being offered at Sri Amritsar Sahib, Taran-taaran, and Sri Anandpur Sahib Ji.

4. ‘Nihangs’ of the ‘Budhha Dal’ offer ‘Sukhnidhaan’.

5. There is description of ‘Sukhnidhaan’ on many pages of book ‘Sooraj Prakash’.

6. At ‘Shaheedi Baag’ in the city of Sri Anandpur Sahib, a small room, which was constructed during Guru’s time, has been excavated, in which there were big ‘Suneharas’ (a kind of big vessel). It proves that ‘Sukhnidhaan’ was prepared and offered during the time of Guru Sahib.

7. According to the book ‘Khalsa Dharam Shaastar’, Guru Gobind Singh ordered to take intoxicants to remove sadness. The quantity of ‘Chhatar-dhara’ (opium) and ‘Sukhnidhaan’ was fixed.

8. All the ‘Rahats’ can be known only from Guru history and ‘Rahatnamas’. We cannot know ‘Rahats’ from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Nihang warriors

19th century Europeans certainly held a disdain for the Nihangs, who themselves in return considered the British as a foreign power with clear imperialistic desires to rule over their native homeland. As a Colonel Stienbach recorded of the sect in 1846 after encountering them in the Punjab: “They are without exception the most insolent and worthless race of people under the sun. They move about constantly armed to the teeth and intoxicated on cannabis. Insulting everybody they meet, particularly Europeans. They are quite uncontrollable and the only way to deal with them is to exterminate them.” As we shall see at the conclusion of the next chapter, similar condemnations of hashish ingesting Islamic faqirs, sufis and mendicants for their similar unruly behaviour, was also expressed by the British raj.

It was probably from over a century of such European influence that in 2001 the apex Sikh clergy instituted a prohibition of cannabis products as part of their “campaign against drug addiction”. This prohibition of their sacred cannabis beverage sukhnidhaan was vehemently rejected by the Nihang leader Baba Santa Singh, along with 20 other chiefs of the sect. As the Indian paper The Tribune recorded “Baba Santa Singh pointed out that the consumption of ‘bhang’ among the Nihangs was not a new phenomenon. He said it had been going on ever since the Nihangs came into existence and fought battles against Mughal and Afghan invaders” (The Tribune, 2001) As a result of his refusal to accept of the prohibition of cannabis products, Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated and replaced by Baba Balbir Singh who complied with the apex Sikh clergy’s ban on the use of hemp, and although many Nihang still reject this prohibition, in orthodox circles this controversial ban has been maintained until the present.

The People’s Medicine

Like these other aspects, the medicinal qualities of Soma continued on as cannabis medicines in India. Later Indian texts such as the Tajni Guntu, the Rajbulubha, The Bhavaprakaca and the Susruta list cannabis as a treatment for clearing phlegm, expelling flatulence, inducing costiveness, sharpening memory, increasing eloquence, as an appetite stimulant, for gonorrhea, and as a general tonic.

The Bhavaprakaca,… [a]medical work written by Bhavadevamicra (cir. A.D. 1600), has as follows:

“Bhanga is also called ganja, matulani, madini (the intoxicating), vijaya (the victorious), and jaya (the victorious). It is antiphlegmatic, pungent, astringent, digestive, easy of digestion, acid, bile-affecting; and increases infatuation, intoxication, the power of the voice, and the digestive faculty.” (Grierson, 1893)

Much of cannabis’ medicinal attributes were combined with the magical and ritualistic beliefs from the Vedic period and this influence lasted well into the 20th century:

Bhang the cooler is a febrifuge. Bhang acts on the fever not directly or physically as an ordinary medicine, but indirectly or spiritually by soothing the angry influences to whom the heats of fever are due. According to one account in the Ayurveda, fever is possession by the hot angry breath of the great gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. According to another passage in the Ayurveda, Shankar or Shiva, enraged by a slight from his father-in-law Daksha, breathed from his nostrils the eight fevers that wither mankind. If the fever-stricken performs the Vijaya abhishek, or bhang-pouring on the Ling of Shankar, the god is pleased, his breath cools, and the portion of his breath in the body of the fever-stricken pleased to inflame. The Kashikhanda Purana tells how at Benares, a Brahman, sore-smitten with fever, dreamed that he had poured bhang over the self-sprung Ling and was well. On waking he went to the Ling, worshipped, poured bhang this cure brings to Benares sufferers from fever which no ordinary medicine can cure. The sufferers are laid in the temple pour bhang ever the Ling whose virtue has gained it the name Jvareshwar, the Fever-Lord. In Bombay many people sick of fever vow on recovery to pour bhang over a Ling. Besides cure for fever bhang has many medicinal virtues. It cools the heated blood, soothes the over-wakeful to sleep, gives beauty, and secures length of days. It cures dysentery and sunstroke, clears phlegm, quickens digestion, sharpens appetite, makes the tongue of the lisper plain, freshens the intellect, and gives alertness to the body and gaiety to the mind. Such are the useful and needful ends for which in his goodness the Almighty made bhang.

…. Shitaladevi, the Cooler, the dread goddess of small-pox, whose nature, like the nature of bhang, is cooling, takes pleasure in offerings of bhang. During epidemics of small-pox the burning and fever of the disease are soothed by pouring bhang over the image of Shitaladevi. So for the feverishness caused by the heats especially to the old no cure equals the drinking of bhang. (Campbell, 1894)

From most ancient times, to the near present, cannabis “remained one of the important drugs in the Indian Materia Medica… until 1945. Cannabis was widely used in the rural areas for asthma and bronchitis” Nahas, et al., 1999). Not surprisingly, current research into medical marijuana has reawakened practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine to the use of the ancient healing plant of their ancestors, as Ancient Wisdom has become modern scientific fact.

As well, numerous Indian texts indicate Soma’s reputation for ensuring longevity continued on with cannabis, The Mahanirvana Tantra (XI,105-8) recorded: “Intoxicating drink (containing bhang) is consumed in order to liberate oneself, and that those who do so, in dominating their mental faculties and following the law of Shiva (yoga) – are to be likened to immortals on earth.” Again, “the well-documented Indian treatise, Anandakanda, ca. 1200 c.e., suggested strong neuroprotective effects of cannabis as part of a rigorous medical, religious, and ritualistic regimen of celibacy… ‘it is claimed that the man lives 300 years free from any disease and sign of old age’” (Russo, 2007). “…[T]he Root of Bliss (¯Anandakanda)…. has been called ‘the most encyclopaedic work of the entire Hindu alchemical canon’…and although much of the work is derivative of earlier authors, one innovations a long and detailed chapter on cannabis (vijay¯akalpa: i.15.313–499)” (Wujastyk, 2001).

[T]he Anandakanda describes rejuvenation treatment based on cannabis. This involves treatment over a long period in a specially constructed hut (kut.i). This procedure is strongly reminiscent of a similar rejuvenation procedure described in the earliest Sanskrit medical literature, one that requires not cannabis but the unknown plant Soma. And that procedure itself echoes a rite of ritual rebirth that dates from the mid-first millennium BC. (Wujastyk, 2001)

The Religion of Hemp

Clearly, it was in the continued medicinal and religious use of cannabis in India, that Soma has left its greatest historical echo. The role of cannabis as a religious sacrament in India was most eloquently captured in J.M. Campbell’s report for the British Raj, who were trying to decide whether to tax or prohibit the popular intoxicant of the Indian people at the close of the 19th century. Not before or since the Vedas sang the religious praise of the Soma, has a plant been the subject of such sanctifying words as in Campbell’s 1894 essay, ‘On the Religion of Hemp’ from which we have already freely quoted, and now quote again in closing this essay:

To the Hindu the hemp plant is holy. A guardian lives in the bhang leaf… the bhang leaf is the home of the great Yogi or brooding ascetic Mahadev [Shiva].

So holy a plant should have special rearing. Shiva explains to his wife, Parvati, how, in sowing hemp seed, you should keep repeating the spell ‘Bhangi’, ‘Bhangi’, apparently that the sound of that guardian name may scare the evil tare-sowing influences. Again, when the seedlings are planted the same holy name must be repeated, and also at the watering which, for the space of a year, the young plants must daily receive. When the flowers appear the flowers and leaves should be stripped from the plant and kept for a day in warm water. Next day, with one hundred repetitions of the holy name Bhangi, the leaves and flowers should be washed in a river and dried in an open shed. When they are dry some of the leaves should be burnt with due repeating of the holy name as a jap or muttered charm. Then, bearing in mind Vagdevata, or the goddess of speech, and offering a prayer, the dried leaves should be laid in a pure and sanctified place. Bhang so prepared, especially If prayers are said over it, will gratify the wishes and desires of its owner. Taken in the early morning such bhang cleanses the user from sin, frees him from the punishment… of sins, and entitles him to reap the fruits of a thousand horse-sacrifices. Such sanctified bhang taken at day break or noon destroys disease….

Such holiness and such evil-scaring powers must give bhang a high place among lucky objects. That a day may be fortunate the careful man should on waking look into liquid bhang. So any nightmares or evil spirits that may have entered into him during the ghost-haunted hours of night will flee from him at the sight of the bhang and free him from their blinding influences during the day. So too when a journey has to be begun or a fresh duty or business undertaken it is well to look at bhang. To meet some one carrying bhang is a sure omen of success. To see in a dream the leaves, plant, or water of bhang is lucky; it brings the goddess of wealth into the dreamer’s power. To see his parents worship the bhang-plant and pour bhang over Shiva’s Ling will cure the dreamer of fever. A longing for bhang foretells happiness: to see bhang drunk increases riches. No good thing can come to the man who treads under foot the holy bhang leaf.

….[T]oo its devotee bhang is no ordinary plant… [it]became, holy from its guardian and healing qualities….  [T]o the worshippers of the influences that, raising man out of himself and above mean individual worries, make him one with the divine force of nature, it is inevitable that temperaments should be found to whom the quickening spirit of bhang is the spirit of freedom and knowledge. In the ecstasy of bhang the spark of the Eternal in man turns into light the murkiness of matter or illusion and self is lost in the central soul-fire….. To the meaner man, still under the glamour of matter or maya, bhang taken religiously is kindly thwarting the wiles of his foes and giving the drinker wealth and promptness of mind.

….To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so holy and gracious a herb as the hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance and to the large bands of worshipped ascetics deep-seated anger. It would rob the people of a solace in discomfort, of a cure in sickness, of a guardian whose gracious protection saves them from the attacks of evil influences, and whose mighty power makes the devotee of the Victorious, overcoming the demons of hunger and thirst, of panic fear, of the glamour of Maya or matter, and of madness, able in rest to brood on the Eternal, till the Eternal, possessing him body and soul, frees him from the having of self and receives him into the ocean of Being… “We drank bhang and the mystery I am He grew plain. So grand a result, so tiny a sin.’” (Campbell, 1894)

This article has been excerpted from Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010)

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