Holi Shakes! Back With A Bhaang
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What better fit that you learn everything you need to about bhaang, an edible substance derived from the marijuana plant, than on the occasion of Holi? The origins of its uses in India date back to the olden times when it was considered to be of medicinal value in Ayurvedic science. Made by drying, soaking and grinding the buds of the Cannabis Sativa plant, this edible has been consumed in India for centuries. This paste is then added to food or drink that is often flavoured with spices or sugar. Bhaang is also mixed with pepper and sugar, to be then made into pellets or goli, as they are more commonly known.

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Bhaang & Indian Culture

Bhaang has played a significant role in ancient Hindu traditions for many centuries now. Dishes like lassi, pakoras and thandai are often spiked with a substantial dosage of the paste and consumed during special occasions such as Mahashivratri and Holi. In the traditional cusine of Uttarakhand, bhaang ki chutney, made with ground up hemp seeds, is known to be quite the delicacy. When used in food, it has a mildly grassy flavour, which, when paired with ingredients like green chillies, garlic and salt, tend to enhance the flavours of the dish. There is also an ancient practice associated with the preparation of bhaang in holy places like Mathura and Varanasi where Sanskrit hymns are chanted by priests in order to purify the process. Bhaang, due to its medicinal value, is also used in varied forms for the production of Ayurvedic medicines. Many scriptures have also referred to the substance as ‘God’s Gift’ or the nectar that was churned from the ocean of milk, from which Lord Shiva drank poison.

The tradition of consuming bhaang on Holi finds its root in a Hindu myth that suggests how Lord Shiva went into a deep, meditative trance after his wife, Parvati immolated herself, in order to overcome his grief. It is believed that Parvati then approached the god of love (Kamadeva) to help her bring Lord Shiva back to reality and marry him. To do so, Kamadeva shot an arrow laced with bhaang at Lord Shiva, who was enraged by this act and reduced Kamadeva to ashes, after which he went on to marry Parvati. Hence, bhaang was consumed on Holi to celebrate the return of Lord Shiva to the real world.

Legal Implications

While NDPS laws strictly prohibit the use or possession of marijuana amongst citizens, consuming bhaang has been touted as legal as per the NDPS act of 1985. As bhaang is prepared from the seeds and leaves of the Cannabis plant, it isn’t considered to be a narcotic or psychotropic substance. However, possessing any other part of the plant – which includes buds and stems, amongst others, is considered to be a criminal act. In fact, due to the laws enabling the consumption and sale of bhaang, states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh even have specially licensed shops that regulate these supplies. Paan shops are also allowed to sell bhaang ki golis with little to no regulatory practices in place.

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Health Benefits Of Consumption

It is touted that the consumption of bhaang was started off as a recreational activity by farmers in India. A largely agrarian economy, farmers were known to work in harsh weather conditions and toil for long hours, after which, they needed something to relax their muscles at the end of the day. This pain-relieving property of bhaang worked effectively in treating chronic bodily pains as well as nervous system pains. These cannabinoids have been proven to reduce the pain as a result of rheumatoid arthritis and provide momentary relief.

Apart from this, bhaang helps in reducing muscle spasms, seizures as well as induce an appetite amongst those struggling with digestive issues. The compounds present in the avocado-green paste soothe inflammations in the stomach and offer protection against cancer cells, although this is currently a discovery that is in progress. Medically, consuming bhaang has been known to reduce disturbances that happen due to sleep apnoea and improve the overall quality of sleep. It is also promoted as a remedy to those suffering from anxiety, stress, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), dementia and even Parkinson’s. Bhaang has been significantly known to improve overall functions in patients with mobility issues, due to any pains or stiffness in joints.

Additional Facts

Known to be amongst the least potent of all cannabis by-products, bhaang must be consumed with food or drink because of the small percentage of resin it contains. It also features prominently in the Atharvaveda and is also offered as prasad (the remnants of the offerings made to Lord Shiva) in temples. It is believed that the consumption of bhaang, as per Hindu culture, signifies complete surrender to Lord Shiva. This year around, bhaang has been taken a step further for the festivities where sweetmeat sellers are starting to offer bhaang burfis and rasgullas. A lot of cultural parallels can be drawn between the way soldiers in the west went to war after a few swigs of whiskey as well as the soldiers closer home, consuming bhaang to calm their nerves before a battle.

Disadvantages & Conclusion

While the process of grinding and consuming bhaang is an art in itself, like anything that is consumed excessively, bhaang is also known to have its share of downsides. When consumed recklessly or in large quantities, bhaang can cause temporary loss of memory, panic or fear in some people. Due to its psychotropic effects, bhaang could also cause psychosis, paranoia and poor judgement and co-ordination. Long-term usage of bhaang or starting off at a young age might hinder brain development lower life satisfaction and aggravate pre-existing disorders. When added to food or drink, the absorption might take a while in your body but when miscalculated and had more than required of, it can cause low heart rate and blood pressure.

If you happen to suffer from health issues, are pregnant or too young, it is best to steer clear off of the idea of consuming bhaang. That said, when done in moderation or once in a while, bhaang allows for us to experience our culture and traditions in the purest of ways, without using these traditions out of context, to our personal advantage. Familiarizing yourself with applicable laws and abiding by them is the safest way to not get in trouble and also stay well within the limits of the behaviour that is expected from citizens of this diverse country.