Holi (also known as Dol Jatra, Basantotsav) is the Hindu festival of colors. It is celebrated at the end of the winter season, on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna. In 2014, Holi will be celebrated on March 17. HuffPost
For millennia, copious amounts of the cannabis beverage have been consumed at the Hindu Holi Celebration, also called the Festival of Colours, which is a popular Hindu spring festival observed in India, Nepal, Srilanka, and other countries with large Hindu diaspora populations. In these celebrations thousands of participants drink bhanga and playfully throw colored paint on each other in a celebration of fertility, life and joy.
Chris Bennett via Cannabis Culture
NEW DELHI: If Holi has an official drink, it’s bhang. It’s difficult to tell when the association of bhang with the festival began, but old-timers say they were always a combo. Perhaps, it was because bhang was Lord Shiva’s nectar, or perhaps because bhang gives a long and sophisticated high – just the thing that goes well with a day-long celebration.
Bhang is a derivative of the dried leaves and flowering shoots of the female cannabis plant. It is most commonly consumed as a sherbet, preferably as a thandai drink (see recipe). It’s also taken as a snack by crushing it with other additives (such as ghee, sugar, milk). In Delhi, it’s made into ladoos or simply swallowed as small balls called ‘antas’ (marbles).
The bhang high is characterised by a feeling of euphoria. There is an increased perception of colour and sound and a pleasant feeling of well-being. It also increases appetite. Some say it spurs creative or philosophical thinking and appreciation of music. On the downside, it can cause headaches and drowsiness. The psychoactive substance that causes the bhang high is tetrahydro cannabinol or THC. THC is associated with an energetic cerebral high. The effects of bhang, however, vary from person to person and can be different in different environments. It all, they say, depends on the state of the mind.
During Holi, there’s a tendency to over-do bhang. With most other intoxicants or with smoking marijuana, the effects are felt soon after ingestion. With bhang, it can take half-an-hour or more for the effects to set in. This time lag often creates a sense of complacency and over-consumption. So, check out the effects before having the next glass of thandai. Over-consumption can cause paranoia, especially among first-timers, hallicunation, followed by lethargy and drowsiness. The good news is that there hasn’t been a single case of fatality caused by bhang or any medically-established ill-effects of consumption. Bhang, or marijuana, isn’t addictive, either.
How did bhang consumption become almost a religious ritual? There’s a story that the gods, helped by the demons, churned the ocean of milk in order to obtain amrita or nectar. The demons tried to gain control of it, but the gods prevented this. When a drop of this nectar fell on earth, the first cannabis plant sprouted. The story, while fantastical, is consistent with history.
The marijuana plant is believed to have originated in Asia, and it’s very much an essential part of folklore and tradition. In fact, it’s believed that cannabis use in India dates back to at least 1000 BC. Lord Shiva, it is believed, spent most of his time at Mount Kailash, his abode, either in deep meditation or smoking marijuana. Rituals involving the use of bhang or marijuana frequently accompany festivals that revolve around worshipping Shiva.
Happy Days Are Here Again!
With winter neatly tucked up in the attic, it’s time to come out of our cocoons and enjoy this spring festival. Every year it is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March and glorifies good harvest and fertility of the land. It is also time for spring harvest. The new crop refills the stores in every household and perhaps such abundance accounts for the riotous merriment during Holi. This also explains the other names of this celebration – ‘Vasant Mahotsava’ and ‘Kama Mahotsava’.
“Don’t Mind, It’s Holi!”
During Holi, practices, which at other times could be offensive, are allowed. Squirting colored water on passers-by, dunking friends in mud pool amidst teasing and laughter, getting intoxicated on bhaang and reveling with companions is perfectly acceptable. In fact, on the days of Holi, you can get away with almost anything by saying, “Don’t mind, it’s Holi!” (Hindi = Bura na mano, Holi hai.)
Bhang, which is prepared from the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant, has become synonymous with Holi. Bhang that is otherwise hard to get in the city and banned, somehow finds a place in many household as part of the holi celebrations.
Begum Bazaar the commerce center of the city has a variety of shops selling bhang clandestinly during this time of the year. Additionally, there are plenty of families that get their bhang supply for Holi from places outside the state.
“Drinking Bhang is one of our Holi customs.
But we get the Bhang, which comes in the form of small round tablets from Bidar. Apart from the bhang thandai, bhang kachoris are also very popular in my family,” says Prakash Soni, a businessman.
Even though Begum Bazaar is a popular destination for Bhang in the city, it is sold only to the regular patrons of the shop. Sometimes the bhang thandai are served for free to friends and relatives as a part of the Holi celebrations.
“We have been celebrating Holi with Bhang for the past 30 years. We get the marijuana leaves, dry them and make it a powder. Then we mix it with water to make it a paste,” explains Kamal Kishore, who insisted that he doesn’t use bhang for money and it is only for celebrations. “When relatives and friends come over to our house for Holi we offer them bhang,” he adds.
Explaining the process of making bhang thandai, Kamal Kishore says, “Bhang along with almonds and pistachios and a glass of milk is enough to give you a high. It takes about half an hour to one hour for its effect to set in.” The bright and varied colors of Holi and the intoxicating euphoria of Bhang and the festive spirit in the air combined together is what reminds one of the lyrics of the evergreen Amitabh Bacchan’s Holi song from Silsila Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse Are kaine maari pichkaari tori bheegi angiya O rangrasia rangrasia:
Bhang, the drink patronised by Lord Shiva is the same drink with which Amitabh Bacchan tried wooing Rekha on screen in the ever green song Rang Barse in Silsila.
For Holi and Health, there’s Bhang!
Holi is around the corner and so are ‘bhang thandai’ and ‘bhang pakoras’! But not everyone knows of the enormous health benefits of bhang – known as cannabis sativa in medical language – that is widely used in ayurvedic treatments.
“The use of cannabis sativa in ayurveda varies according to the symptoms and causes of the disease. Once we identify the problem, it is combined with other herbs to treat the disease,” said Geetanjali Arora, a panchakarma expert.
Cannabis is used for a multitude of ailments such as pain, nausea and vomiting, weight loss associated with debilitating disease and neurologically induced spasticity . If taken in proper quantities, it has been found to cure fever, dysentery and sunstroke, clear phlegm, quicken digestion and appetite.
Many medical conditions respond favourably to it, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, depression, anxiety and others. It has also shown promise in treating skin problems.
“Many people suffer from roughing or cracking of skin and it has been found that the application of the paste of the fresh leaves helps in recovery,” said Vipin Sharma, an ayurvedic expert.
In many parts of the country, people consume bhang before their main meal because they believe it not only enhances the taste of the food, it also improves digestion.
While it is said that cannabis helps cure speech imperfections and lisping, the mechanism is unclear. But it has indeed been found to improve hearing power.
“Increasing exposure to noise pollution often impairs people’s hearing capacity and it has been shown that regular use of this particular medicinal plant leads to improvement,” said Sharma.
The seeds of the plant are not narcotic and its infusion is beneficial in gonorrhoea.
Moreover, the juice of the Indian hemp can remove dandruff and head lice.
The history of bhang lies in Hindu mythology and its preparations were sacred to gods, particularly Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the “Lord of Bhang”. He is said to have discovered the transcendental properties of the mixture.
In 1000 BC, bhang was used as an intoxicant in India and Atharvaveda describes it as a healthy herb that “releases anxiety”.
Sadhus usually consume bhang to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states. It was also said to be popular among Sufis as an aid to spiritual ecstasy.
The traditional recipe for bhang is simple – first soak leaves in water and grind them into a fine paste and mixing that with spices. When the paste is blended with milk, it is known as thandai.
At the same time, one should not forget that too much bhang can be harmful. It can cause psychosis, increase the heart rate and blood pressure.
“Like every evening our great cook Prem, in the Krishna guest house, helps me to do the special lassi! a lassi with the bhang (derivate of cannabis, legal in India)..the locals suggest to go to the holy lake after drinking it..for a mystical trip…and..I suggest it too..^___^”
A few more details about Holi via About.com:
Holi is also celebrated in memory of the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. The young Krishna would complain to his mother Yashoda about why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour on Radha’s face and see how her complexion would change. In the legends of Krishna as a youth he is depicted playing all sorts of pranks with the gopis or cowgirls. One prank was to throw colored powder all over them. So at Holi, images of Krishna and his consort Radha are often carried through the streets. Holi is celebrated with eclat in the villages around Mathura, the birth-place of Krishna.
Holi as a festival seems to have started several centuries before Christ as can be inferred from its mentions in the religious works of Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutra.
Making the Colors of Holi
The colors of Holi, called ‘gulal’, in the medieval times were made at home, from the flowers of the ‘tesu’ or ‘palash’ tree, also called ‘the flame of the forest’. These flowers, bright red or deep orange in color, were collected from the forest and spread out on mats, to dry in the sun, and then ground to fine dust. The powder when mixed with water made a beautiful saffron-red dye. This pigment and also ‘aabir’, made from natural colored talc, which were extensively used as Holi colors, are good for the skin, unlike the chemical colors of our days.
Colorful days, solemn rituals, joyous celebrations – Holi is a boisterous occasion! Draped in white, people throng the streets in large numbers and smear each other with bright hued powders and squirt coloured water on one another through pichkaris (big syringe-like hand-pumps), irrespective of caste, color, race, sex, or social status; all these petty differences are temporarily relegated to the background and people give into an unalloyed colorful rebellion. There is exchange of greetings, the elders distribute sweets and money, and all join in frenzied dance to the rhythm of the drums. But if you wanna know how to celebrate the festival of colors to the fullest through the whole length of three days, here’s a primer.
The day of the full moon (Holi Purnima) is the first day of Holi. A platter (‘thali’) is arranged with colored powders, and colored water is placed in a small brass pot (‘lota’). The eldest male member of the family begins the festivities by sprinkling colors on each member of the family, and the youngsters follow.
On the second day of the festival called ‘Puno’, images of Holika are burnt in keeping with the legend of Prahlad and his devotion to lord Vishnu. In rural India, the evening is celebrated by lighting huge bonfires as part of the community celebration when people gather near the fire to fill the air with folk songs and dances. Mothers often carry their babies five times in a clockwise direction around the fire, so that her children are blessed by Agni, the god of fire.
The most boisterous and the final day of the festival is called ‘Parva’, when children, youth, men and women visit each other’s homes and colored powders called ‘aabir’ and ‘gulal’ are thrown into the air and smeared on each other’s faces and bodies. ‘Pichkaris’ and water balloons are filled with colors and spurted onto people – while young people pay their respects to elders by sprinkling some colors on their feet, some powder is also smeared on the faces of the deities, especially Krishna and Radha.
Recipe for Bhang can be found here.