'The white man goes into his church and talks about Jesus; the Indian goes into his tepee and talks to Jesus'. (Quanah Parker)
Cannabis or ganja is associated with worship of the Hindu deity Shiva, who is popularly believed to like the hemp plant. Bhang is offered to Shiva images, especially on Shivratri festival. This practice is particularly witnessed at temples of Benares, Baidynath and Tarakeswar. Bhang is not only offered to the deity, but also consumed by Shaivite (sect of Shiva) yogis. Charas is smoked by some Shaivite devotees and cannabis itself is seen as a gift (“prasad,” or offering) to Shiva to aid in sadhana. Some of the wandering ascetics in India known as sadhussmoke charas out of a clay chillum.
In Indian tradition marijuana is associated with immortality. The myth of the churning of “Amrita” by Hindu Gods is said to be the making of cosmic ‘Bhang’ (a marijuana drink) . This Amrita is known as the elixir of eternal life. After churning the ocean, the demons attempted to gain control of the Amrita, but the gods were able to prevent this seizure, giving cannabis the name ‘Shudha Vijaya’ meaning ‘Pure Victory’. According to one description, when the elixir of life was produced from the churning of the ocean by the devas and the asuras, Shiva created cannabis from his own body to purify the elixir (whence, for cannabis, the epithet angaja or body-born). Another account suggests that the cannabis plant sprang when a drop of the elixir dropped on the ground. Thus, cannabis is used by sages due to association with elixir and Shiva. Wise drinking of bhang, according to religious rites, is believed to cleanse sins, unite one with Shiva and avoid the miseries of hell in the after-life. In contrast, foolish drinking of bhang without rites is considered a sin. Early Indian legends maintained that the angel of mankind lived in the leaves of the marijuana plant. It was so sacred that it was reputed to deter evil and cleanse its user of sin. In Hindu mythology hemp is a holy plant given to man for the “welfare of mankind” and is considered to be one of the divine nectars able to give man anything from good health, to long life, to visions of the gods. Nectar is defined as the fabled drink of the gods. Tradition also maintains that when the nectar or Amrita dropped from heaven, cannabis sprouted from it.
According to legend, Lord Siva, the Supreme God of many Hindu sects, had some family squabble and went off to the fields. He sat under a hemp plant so as to be sheltered from the heat of the sun and happened to eat some of its leaves. He felt so refreshed from the hemp plant that it became his favorite food, and that is how he got his title, the Lord of Bhang. Cannabis is mentioned as a medicinal and magical plant as well as a “sacred grass” in the Atharva Veda (2000 B.C.) which releases us from anxiety and refers to hemp as a “source of happiness”, “joy-giver” and “liberator”. It has been venerated and used as a sacrifice to the Gods. Indian Tradition, writing, and belief is that the “Siddhartha” (the Buddha), used and ate nothing but hemp and its seeds for six years prior to announcing (discovering) his truths and becoming the Buddha.
Fifteenth-century documents refers to cannabis as endowing light-heartedness, joy and rejoice, and claimed that among its virtues are “astringency”, “heat”, “speech-giving”, “inspiration of mental powers”, “excitability” and the capacity to “remove wind and phlegm”.
Among fakirs (Hindu and Muslim Ascetics) bhang is viewed as the giver of long life and a means of communion with the divine spirit. Like his Hindu brother, the Muslim fakir reveres bhang as the lengthener of life and the freer from the bonds of self. Shirdi Sai Baba, a well renowned Saint used to smoke hemp in a chillum (pipe); this chillum is believed to have magical and spiritual attributes.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the section on “mysticism”:
“The Vedas (Hindu sacred writings) are hymns to the mystic fire and the inner sense of sacrifice, burning forever on the 'altar Mind’. Hence the abundance of solar and fire images: birds of fire, the fire of the sun, and the isles of fire. The symbol system of the world’s religions and mysticisms are profound illuminations of the human-divine mystery. Be it the cave of the heart or the lotus of the heart, 'the dwelling place of that which is the Essence of the Universe, "the third eye”, or the eye of wisdom’ - the symbols all refer back to wisdom entering the aspiring soul on its way to progressive self-understanding. 'I saw the Lord with the Eye of the Heart. I said, “Who art thou?” and he answered, “Thou”’.“
The ancient Indian mystics said, ”…that in the ecstasy of bhang (marijuana) the spark of the Eternal in man turns into light the murkiness of matter or illusion and the self is lost in the central soul fire. Raising man out of himself and above mean individual worries, bhang makes him one with the divine force of nature and the mystery 'I am he’ grew plain. (Taken from the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report which was written at the turn of the twentieth century.)
In the early 20th Century AD, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission set up to study the use of hemp in India contains the following observations :
“…Bhang is the Joy-giver, the Sky-filler, the Heavenly- Guide, the Poor Man’s Heaven, the Soother of Grief…No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of bhang…The supporting power of bhang has brought many a Hindu family safe through the miseries of famine. To forbid or even seriously restrict the use of so gracious an herb as the hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance and to large bands of worshipped ascetics, deep-seated anger. It would rob the people of a solace on discomfort, of a cure in sickness, of a guardian whose gracious protection saves them from the attacks of evil influences…” . I find it so ironic that the British Raj didn’t attempt any prohibition on the plant so as not to hurt the sentiments of the Indian people; The plant was later prohibited much later, by our own Indian Government, post Indian Independence!
According to Earnest Abel in "Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years - 6” , the Sikh community in India used hemp as Sukhnidhan, sometimes referred to as Bhang, is a war beverage, first created and prepared by Guru Gobind Singh, consisting of a mixture of water, almond nuts, milk and cannabis. Narrated by many Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Persian native accounts, the Singhs used Sukhnidhan and consumed Sukhnidhan daily. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report describes the traditional use of cannabis in the Sikh religion.
“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 set out on horse back with his shield and spear to 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 is said to have 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. "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. Sukhnidhan is offered as a holy drink or Kara Parshad to all visitors in a Gurdwara. This is regarded as food blessed by the Guru and should not be refused.”
By the sixteenth century A.D., it found its way into India’s popular literature. The Dhurtasamagama, or “Rogue’s Congress”, a light farce written to amuse audiences, has two beggars come before an unscrupulous judge asking for a decision on a quarrel concerning a maiden at the bazaar. Before he will render his decision, however, the judge demands payment for his arbitration, In response to this demand, one of the beggars offers some bhang. The judge readily accepts and, tasting it, declares that “it produces a healthy appetite, sharpens the wits, and acts as an aphrodisiac”.
In the Rajvallabha, a seventeenth-century text dealing with drugs used in India, bhang is described as follows:
“India’s food is acid, produces infatuation, and destroys leprosy. It creates vital energy, increases mental powers and internal heat, corrects irregularities of the phlegmatic humor, and is an elixir vitae. It was originally produced like nectar from the ocean by churning it with Mount Mandara. Inasmuch as it is believed to give victory in the three worlds and to bring delight to the king of the gods (Siva), it was called vijaya (victorious). This desire-filling drug was believed to have been obtained by men on earth for the welfare of all people. To those who use it regularly, it begets joy and diminishes anxiety.”
Cannabis was also an important part of the Tantric religious yoga sex acts consecrated to the goddess Kali. During the ritual, about an hour and a half prior to intercourse the devotee placed a bowl of bhang before him and uttered the mantra: “Om hrim, O ambrosia-formed goddess [Kali] who has arisen from ambrosia, who showers ambrosia, bring me ambrosia again and again, bestow occult power [siddhi] and bring my chosen deity to my power.” Then, after uttering several other mantras, he drank the potion. The delay between drinking the bhang and the sex act was to allow the drug time to act so that it would heighten the senses and thereby increase the feeling of oneness with the goddess.
There are three types of cannabis used in India. The first, Bhang, consists of the leaves and plant tops of the marijuana plant. It is usually consumed as an infusion in beverage form, and varies in strength according to how much Cannabis is used in the preparation. The second, Ganja, consisting of the leaves and the plant tops, is smoked. The third, called Charas, consists of the resinous buds and/or extracted resin from the leaves of the marijuana plant. Typically, Bhang is the most commonly used form of cannabis in religious festivals.