Shiva, The Lord of Bhang
We often forget that the United States is very young when compared to other countries, so it makes sense that we are still a little uptight about things that are commonplace tradition to people from other parts of the world. One of those things is the use of cannabis, whether for medical, recreational, religious or spiritual purposes (although the tide is beginning to turn on all accounts). People in places like India have been using cannabis in religious ceremonies since we began recording history, and they have long been aware of the beneficial properties of the plant. In India, where almost 80% of the population is Hindu, Shiva the Destroyer is also considered the Lord of Bhang. How did this come to be?
What is Bhang?
Before we get to the potential answers to that question, we should probably take a minute to talk about bhang, which is something many westerners haven’t heard of. Bhang is a drink that is commonly sold during certain Hindu ceremonies, and a crushed cannabis paste, milk, ghee, and spices are the main ingredients. Bhang has been consumed since before the Common Era, and it’s largely due to it’s association with Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva's Connection
There are a number of connections between Lord Shiva and bhang, with one of the most well-known coming from the Vedas, or ancient Hindu scriptures. As the story goes, a drop of nectar fell from the Heavens and landed on a sacred mountain. A plant grew from that drop, and the Gods, Shiva among them, made a drink from said plant. Shiva believed that this wonderful drink held many medicinal properties and should be shared with humankind. He then brought it down from the mountain. The plant is believed to have been ganja.
One more story suggests that Shiva uses bhang to reside in a deep meditative state. As the gods were churning the sea, a poison came out of the ocean that began to heat up the universe. To stop this, Shiva ingested the poison and held it his throat, which made him very restless. To calm him, another God gave him bhang to cool him down. The use of cannabis in the beverage put him in a much calmer, non-agitated state.
Celebrating with Bhang
For these reasons, bhang continues to be a part of traditional Hindu culture, especially during Holi, also called the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love.” The celebration marks the beginning of spring and the triumph of good, and is a time of laughter, family, and joy. Participants also smear each other with colorful powders (the inspiration for the popular “Color Run” fun runs in the United States) and play with water guns and balloons.
In addition, drinking bhang is also an important activity during Maha Shivaratri, a festival celebrating Lord Shiva in late winter. Unlike Spring’s Holi festival, Maha Shivaratri is a quieter, more contemplative occasion, but bhang is still sold and participants drink it in order to reach a meditative state like Shiva’s.
In the United States, we don’t often consider the spiritual benefits of ingesting cannabis, but in other parts of the world, people have been using cannabis religiously for thousands of years. As legalization efforts keep progressing, hopefully we will see more openness towards cannabis being a legitimate part of a person’s religious practice. If you’d like to read more about cannabis and religion, check out our blog on cannabis churches.