Explore the mythology and spiritual significance of Lord Shiva in Hinduism, including his association with the use of bhang, a cannabis preparation. Learn about the historical use of cannabis in ancient India and its connection to medicinal and spiritual practices. Delve into the stories and legends surrounding the origins of Bhang and its connection to Lord Shiva.
Meet Lord Shiva, the ultimate savior who holds the power to prevent everything from falling apart. Dubbed as the “Destroyer” his strength is unmatched as one of the three in the revered “Trimurti“. Imagine a yogi living a peaceful life on the majestic Mount Kailash, also known as Kailash Parvat. He goes by many names such as Neelkanth, Gangadhar, Aghod, Gauri Nath, Rudra and countless others.
But one thing is certain, Shiva despises greed, arrogance, and hypocrisy. He is a humble God who can be pleased by anyone from around the world by simply by chanting his name with a pure heart and getting Shiva to answer your prayers. He is a complex combination of seemingly contradictory qualities. A disciplined ascetic and a loving family man, fearsome and beautiful at the same time. A dancer yet silence personified, worshipped by deities yet also worshipped by demons and negative energies. Lliving in a lush forest yet meditating in graveyards and amid burning corpses.
Lord Shiva & Cannabis
In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is known as the god of destruction and transformation. But did you know that he is also associated with the use of cannabis? In fact, the consumption of Bhang (a drink made from cannabis) is said to have its origins in the worship of Lord Shiva.
The history of cannabis in India can be traced back to the Vedic period (1500-500 BC), where it was used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The Atharva Veda, one of the four ancient Hindu texts, describes cannabis as a “source of happiness,” “bringer of freedom,” and “liberator”. It was also believed to have the power to cure a variety of diseases, and it was used in rituals to communicate with the gods.
WHAT IS BHANG?
Bhang, a cannabis preparation native to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, is a delicacy that requires a labor-intensive process. Many Indians opt for the convenience of buying ready-made bhang rather than doing the tedious work of grinding and blending the leaves themselves. This refreshing treat is usually served cold as a milkshake, also known as “thandai”. It is enriched with a tantalizing blend of spices to enhance the flavor. Imagine a cool, creamy drink enriched with the unique and complex flavors of bhang and spices for a unique experience for your taste buds. It is not just a drink, but a cultural tradition that has been passed down for centuries.
Lord Shiva, in particular, is said to have a special connection to cannabis. According to legend, Shiva discovered the plant while traveling and was so impressed by its powers that he made it his favorite food. He is often depicted holding a cannabis leaf or smoking a chillum (a type of pipe used to smoke cannabis).
The origins of Bhang are steeped in myth and folklore. One of the most popular legends is the story of the upheaval of the ocean, a myth that persists in Southeast Asia and is even depicted on the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. When the Hindu gods churned the cosmic ocean to extract the elixir of immortality, amrit, marijuana plants grew wherever drops of the elixir fell to earth. This solidified the plant’s reputation as a miracle plant.
The Samudra Manthan Incident
The story of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean, is one of the most famous myths of Hinduism. When gods and demons united to extract Amrita, the elixir of immortality, from the depths of the ocean, one of the unintended consequences was the creation of Halahal. The deadliest poison in the cosmos. Its vapors were so poisonous that they could kill gods and demons alike. However, Lord Shiva stepped in and saved the day by consuming the poison to protect all realms.
To relieve the burning sensation in his throat caused by the poison, Shiva’s consort, the goddess Parvati, offered him bhang. With her help, Shiva’s throat was cooled and the poison contained. Thus Shiva’s throat turned blue, earning him the name Neelkanth. He was the only god who could resist the poison and thus saved the entire creation. The throat chakra, which is associated with the ability to filter out negative substances, is said to have been activated by this incident.
Another legend states that Lord Shiva became enraged over some family squabble and went off by himself to the fields. There he noticed a tall cannabis plant which brought him a comforting refuge from the scorching sun. Curious about the plant, he ate some of its leaves and felt so refreshed that he adopted it as his favorite food. That is how he became the Lord of Bhang.
LORD SHIVA & TRADITION
The allure of Bhang lies in its “divine” origin, which made it especially attractive to upper caste Hindus who were forbidden to consume alcohol or other intoxicants. If you have ever lived in northern India, chances are you have experienced the euphoric effects of bhang at some point in your life. Cannabis has been used for spiritual enlightenment in India for thousands of years. It is also mentioned in the ancient Atharvaveda, where it is considered one of the five most sacred plants on earth.
Today, ascetics like the Naga Babas and Aghoris consume bhang daily to imitate Lord Shiva’s path to salvation. They even cover their faces and bodies with ash and retreat to remote caves for years to meditate. They leave the upper Himalayas only when it is time to participate in the MahaKumbh Mela, which takes place every 12 years.
This tradition is continued by people of all ages on significant dates throughout the year. For example Maha Shivratri, when India and neighboring countries like Nepal temporarily lift legal restrictions on cannabis use and give away tons of cannabis for free to people and sadhus. They then flock by the thousands to the major temples to celebrate. Bhang has also become a popular drink among young people in the West, especially in Europe, the United States, and Canada.
However, it is important to note that the consumption of cannabis, including bhang, is illegal in India. Many religious leaders and scholars argue that the consumption of bhang should be considered in the context of religious rituals and not as a recreational drug. They argue that the consumption of bhang in moderation and under the guidance of a spiritual leader can have a positive effect on the mind and body.
BHANG ACCORDING TO AYURVEDA
Cannabis has a long-standing history in Ayurvedic medicine, with over 80 ancient formulations including the plant, many of which can still be found in Indian pharmacies today. According to Ayurveda, the plant’s effect on the body is attributed to its heating, drying and astringent properties. It quickly penetrates the tissues of the body and acts lightly, which aids digestion and relaxes the tissues, relieving pain and anxiety. However, its drying and astringent properties can also cause constipation, drying of the skin, and other negative effects, especially with long-term use. Ayurveda advises against excessive cannabis use, as it can reduce energy levels and healing ability. This can result in dry, weak, and brittle tissues that no longer function properly.
According to Ayurveda, cannabis also has a profound effect on the mind, which has three characteristics. These are Tamas (delusion and lethargy), Rajas (hyperactivity) and Sattwa (calm, clear consciousness). When used improperly, cannabis intensifies tamas and rajas and clouds the mind. This is not a permanent problem and can be remedied with a healthy consumption routine.
Below is a common step by step recipe for bhang preparation:
Soak the seeds to be used in water for 2 hours before preparation to hydrate them and facilitate juice extraction.
Heat water in a small pot, add cannabis and boil for 10 minutes.
Pour off the water (it contains mostly chlorophyll and small amounts of terpenes) and decarb the weed to activate the cannabinoids for optimal potency.
Strain or drain through a cloth.
Grind mixture with hot milk in a pestle or blender.
Mix thoroughly and drain again in a muslin cloth, leaving the filtered liquid.
Grind seeds, spices and filtered liquid with the milk until a homogeneous mixture, then filter.
Finally, add honey or sugar, coconut milk and optional fruit
THE MIRACLE OF BHANG
For thousands of years, ancient myths surrounding bhang have extolled its numerous benefits for health and success. In the Vedic texts, which are among the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, bhang is described as a cure for a variety of ailments. These include epilepsy and depression. Today, scientists have found that bhang’s active ingredients, cannabinoids, can also be used to treat these diseases. In northern India, bhang is considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity, and dreaming of bhang is said to be a sign of future success. The origins of these myths are shrouded in mystery, but they remain an integral part of the cultural perception of Bhang in India. Ultimately, Bhang represents the deepest philosophy of Lord Shiva: what can destroy can also create.